What to Expect From Drug Addiction Treatment

There are two kinds of treatment centers: residential and day-only.  With residential treatment, you have to move into the center and stay there full-time, usually for a few months. 

With day-only centers, you attend in the daytime but sleep at home.  Some offer full-time programs that typically last from 9 AM until 5 PM.  During those hours, you attend educational classes, workshops and lectures to learn the skills you need to avoid reusing drugs. You also go to counseling sessions with a psychologist trained in drug issues. Some centers offer part-time programs that only take a few hours a day.

Residential treatment centers usually have better outcomes, because you are living away from your drug suppliers and drug-using friends, and you can make a fresh start.  You also get a head start toward a healthy lifestyle because the center will have regular times for meals, sleep, recreation, relaxation, exercise, and classes, and offer only nutritious foods.  Government studies from the National Institutes of Health conclude that people who stay several months in residential treatment and at least a year in aftercare treatment at home have better outcomes and are more likely to maintain drug-free lifestyles.

The first phase in any drug addiction treatment program is called “detoxification” or chemical withdrawal.  This can take a few hours or several weeks, depending on what drug you have abused, in what amounts, and for how long.  Residential treatment centers usually offer detoxification in a separate medical facility where doctors and nurses monitor you on a twenty-four hour basis.  Daytime treatment centers often are connected to a hospital or medical center where you undergo detoxification, again under medical supervision.  Symptoms vary according to which drug you abused. Withdrawing too quickly can cause life-threatening symptoms in some people, which is why you must be monitored by medical professionals.  Also, some drug withdrawal can cause symptoms that are difficult to manage, such as hallucinations, tremors, or severe flu-like problems including fevers, chills, nausea, muscle aches, etc.  With proper care and medications, however, most people can be made to feel comfortable.

After your chemical withdrawal is complete and your body is totally free of drugs, you enter Phase 2.  Phase 2 is about acquiring the skills you need to live a drug-free life.  Most former addicts need to learn healthy ways to relax and deal with stress.  They often have to learn how to better communicate with other people, speak up for their emotional needs, and enter into healthy new relationships.  Some addicts will have underlying psychological problems such as depression, or clinical disorders like bipolar or attention deficit, that need to be addressed as separate issues with medication and therapy.

A typical day in a residential treatment center usually follows a schedule something like this:

7:30 AM – Wake up, dress, meditation

8-8:30 AM – Breakfast in a community room

8:40-9:30 AM – Individual counseling sessions

9:40-11 AM – Indoor exercise programs, such as Pilates, yoga, racquetball, swimming, spinning, etc. Or outdoor exercise such as baseball, hiking, badminton, skiing, soccer, rock climbing, etc.

11-11:30 AM- Study and journaling

11:30-12:15 – Lunch in a community setting

12:30-1:30 – Lecture and discussion with trained group leader or workshops

1:40-2:30 – Art, drama, or music therapy

2:40 to 4:30 – Outing or social activity such as shopping, museums, beach, etc

4:40-5:30 PM – Personal time

5:30-6:30 PM – Dinner in a community setting

6:40-8:30 PM – Group therapy or support meetings

8:30-9:30 PM – Journaling and study time

9:30-10:30 PM – Personal time

10:30 PM – Lights out

After your counselors determine that you are ready to go home, you enter Phase 3 of your treatment.  This is follow-up or aftercare treatment.  Usually, your family has participated in therapy sessions while you were away in treatment, and this continues when you return home.  Typically, you attend weekly sessions with both a family therapist and an individual counselor. You also attend local group support meetings such as Narc-Anon, usually in the evenings and at no charge. Young people often undergo random urine tests for drugs as part of their aftercare program.  Most people remain in individual therapy for a year or so, and many keep up group support meetings for as long as they need them, sometimes even for decades.