Millions of Americans struggle with substance abuse and very few can overcome this problem without professional help. For this reason, it is important for such individuals and their families to understand the addiction treatment process and why each step along the way is important:


Medically managed withdrawal and detoxification–detox–are the initial phases of drug abuse treatment. Detox is the period during which the drug is cleared from the person’s physical body. Medically managed detox is essential, as it is designed to control the potentially dangerous physiological side effects of withdrawal from a controlled substance. It is these withdrawal symptoms that typically drive those with addictions back to their drug of choice.

However, it is important to understand that detox alone is merely an initial step to cleanse the person’s system from the substance. It does not address the psychological problems associated with the addiction, and therefore does not guarantee the long-term behavioral changes required for a successful recovery. For this reason, detox must be immediately followed by a formal evaluation and a referral to the appropriate treatment program.

Residential Treatment

Once a person has successfully detoxed from the substance to which he or she was addicted, the next step is residential treatment. There are two types of residential treatment programs from which to choose: short-term andlong-term. Only a professional can recommend the best choice, as circumstances vary greatly from one patient to the next.

Short-Term Residential Treatment

Short-term residential programs offer relatively brief, but intensive treatment, and are often based on a standard or modified 12-step program. Short-term programs were initially created to help those addicted to alcohol, but are now recommended by many drug counselors for a broad range of substance abuse disorders. Most short-term treatment programs consist of a 4-12 week hospital stay, followed by long-term outpatient therapy and participation in a support group.

After one’s stay in a short-term residential treatment facility, long-term outpatient therapy is essential, as it addresses the challenges and struggles patients face after returning to everyday life. Such programs help patients lower their risk of relapse after being discharged from the residential setting.

Long-Term Residential Treatment

Long-term residential programs provide 24-hour care, generally in a hospital setting, followed by long-term treatment in a “Therapeutic Community,” also simply referred to as a “TC.” The length of time one stays in a TC facility is typically between six and 12 months. The goal is to re-socialize the patient through the use of a specifically designed “community,” which includes other residents and staff.

During the patient’s stay, professionals help him or her to recognize the psychological and social impact of the addiction, and treatment centers on helping the person to develop responsibility and accountability, as well as become a productive person in society.

Treatment is quite structured, and at times can be confrontational, but this is because activities are designed to assist patients to examine their destructive behavioral patterns, negative self concepts, and damaging beliefs and replace them with more constructive, harmonious ways to interact with other individuals. Many facilities of this type provide comprehensive services, including support services, employment training and life skills counseling. Research has proven that Therapeutic Communities can be tailored to fit patients with special needs, such as homeless individuals, those with psychiatric disorders or individuals who have criminal records associated with their drug use.

Partial Hospitalization

Day treatment programs–also referred to as partial hospitalization programs–are supervised outpatient treatment services for those seeking drug addiction recovery. These services include access to medical care, individual therapy and group counseling.

Patients usually attend the treatment center for approximately six hours a day for 3-6 weeks, while residing in their

normal home environment. Partial hospitalization programs are more intensive than standard outpatient programs, the latter of which may only require a few hours of the patient’s time each week.

Partial hospitalization programs are frequently used after the person has completed an inpatient rehabilitation program. However, they work best for those who do not need 24-hour supervision, yet would still benefit from the highest level of support possible without hospitalization.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment covers a broad range of services, all of which vary with regard to intensity and the type of program offered. Outpatient treatment programs are usually less expensive than inpatient or residential programs, and are often more appropriate for individuals with hard-to-replace jobs or who have a strong circle of support in their normal environment.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand the low intensity treatment may only involve drug education and counseling by a social worker. It is believed that those seeking outpatient treatment programs should choose one that also offers group therapy, as this may greatly increase the effectiveness of the treatment, depending on the person’s individual needs. Outpatient programs are also available for those who suffer from mental health disorders in addition to their substance abuse problem.

Sober Living

Sober living houses–SLH–are facilities designed to serve as an interim environment by those who have made major steps in the recovery process, but are not yet ready to face mainstream society. Such facilities offer a highly structured atmosphere in which counselors stress the importance of adhering to a specific routine and recognizing triggers that may lead to relapse once the person has returned to normal life. Sober living facilities can greatly benefit certain individuals and ensure that they are fully prepared to face the world again after recovery.


Following a drug rehabilitation program, aftercare must not be overlooked for any individual. This is because appropriate aftercare helps lower the risk of future relapse.

Individualized drug counseling is an essential part of aftercare for anyone who struggles with substance abuse. Such counseling helps recovering addicts to come to terms with the underlying conditions or emotional problems that led to the addiction, and how best to avoid repeating negative behaviors from the past.

The emphasis of this type of counseling is a short-term behavioral goals, during which patients develop appropriate coping strategies and learn emotional and mental exercises to ensure abstinence is part of their everyday life. Addiction counselors almost always encourage participation in a support group as well, and will make the necessary referrals if psychiatric care, supplemental medical care, or employment services are needed by the patient.

Addiction is a destructive disorder, but help is available for those seeking sobriety. Anyone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol should reach out to a staff member at a treatment facility to begin the recovery process as soon as possible.