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How Long Does Treatment Take?

Visit different websites and you will get different answer to that question. In most states, alcohol and drug addiction services boards set guidelines that a licensed addiction treatment facility must follow. Consider these descriptors as “rules of thumb” treatment options available in most areas:

Outpatient Treatment. This is when a person first decides that he may benefit from addiction treatment, and it generally involves meeting with a licensed treatment professional for an hour per week. This type of counseling is different from the sessions that are held when someone has emotional or psychiatric problems, because it addresses only substance use. How much is the person using? How does he use it? How often does his drug use take place? Because of the time limitation, however, the patient may in reality learn little more than basic drug education.

Intensive Outpatient Program. Commonly called IOP, this kind of treatment takes place when an hour per week isn’t enough. The patient generally reports three hours per week three to four times per week. The patient engages in both group and individual counseling sessions. He becomes educated about drugs and alcohol, and he will be evaluated for possible therapeutic sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist. His drug use will be monitored through regular and random urine screens. IOP counselors generally are prepared to provide crisis management for the patient struggling against relapse. The counselor will also help the patient explore community support services to aid with his concomitant needs such as food, clothing, education, domestic or legal issues, and so forth.

Partial Hospitalization. This kind of treatment is very similar to IOP. The patient will remain at a site, generally a rehab unit contained within a hospital, for 10 hours per day, five days per week, going home at night. It really provides the same therapeutic options as IOP, but treatment providers dealing with the insurance companies have noted that some of them will cover partial hospitalization, but they will not cover residential or IOP, for example. Or the insurance will consider the partial hospitalization to be one treatment experience, whereas the IOP uses up outpatient benefits for each session of participation.

Residential Treatment. Most people are not eligible for residential treatment unless they have failed at one of the other levels of care. If the person is injecting drugs or using heroin, he can enter residential treatment and bypass other levels of care.  Most of them are not lock-down facilities and the patient must be willing to engage in treatment, even if it’s only because of a legal issue threatening him. There are both short-term and long-term care programs. Some programs offer 30- or 45-day treatment programs, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration both recommend a minimum of 90 days. The person lives in the facility, with private or semi-private bedrooms.  He engages in group therapy every day and in individual therapy at least once a week. Initially his contact with the outside world is restricted, but as treatment progresses his privileges to have visitors, exchange mail, or make phone calls will begin and then gradually increase.  Besides the treatment aspects covered in all the prior levels of care, the patient will also learn how to create a recovery plan for himself, establish a support network, and work an aftercare plan. Often the patient finishes his treatment at an extended care facility before he goes home. Unfortunately, most insurance companies will pay only for the therapeutic sessions but not for room and board. Sometimes local addiction services board will subsidize those costs.

Do You Need Help? Most people fear that if they reach out for help, they will be slapped into a long-term, lock-down facility; and the reality is that there are many therapeutic options. If you or someone you know needs treatment, call your local addiction treatment facility to find out how you can get started.  

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