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5 Options for Drug and Alcohol Treatment

When you’re struggling with drugs or alcohol, deciding where to go for treatment is difficult. There are so many different levels of care, and you don’t really know which one is best for you without some help. Keep this information in mind when looking at your options for drug and alcohol treatment.

Options for Drug and Alcohol Treatment

Your options for treating substance use disorders range from those where you stay overnight to those where you visit with a therapist every so often. These options are outlined below.

Long Term Residential Treatment

When people think about “going to rehab” they’re thinking about residential treatment. Long term residential programs range from 90 days to two years. These programs usually involve a combination of group therapy, individual therapy, and on-site peer support groups. Long term programs also typically involve some other type of rehabilitation component, whether it’s a return to work program or something else.

Because you live on site at these programs, they can be fairly restrictive. Each program has their own rules about who can visit, what you can keep with you, and whether or not you are allowed to go off-property. You may be required to earn privileges and there may be punishments for rule violations.

Short Term Residential Treatment

Short term residential treatment is another option for people who need a more restrictive treatment setting. Again, this involves living at a facility. However, short term residential programs are limited to less than 90 days. In most cases, they last 30 days or less. You attend the same sort of group therapy, individual therapy, and on-site peer support groups that long term programs offer.

In most cases though, short term programs do not involve career programs or other rehabilitative things. Their focus is to teach you to be sober and get you back to your regular life as quickly as possible. As a result, you can expect to create a robust aftercare plan when leaving short term residential treatment, often including intensive outpatient or other outpatient services.

Intensive Outpatient

Intensive outpatient or IOP typically consists of group treatment three to five days a week for two to three hours at a time. Groups are often single sex, but some facilities have co-ed groups. If you have a preference about the type of group (co-ed vs single sex), you should ask that before you decide on a treatment facility, as many do not offer both.

Typically, groups will be a combination of education and “process” time. This process time is your opportunity to talk about your own recovery and how things are going for you. These programs vary in how they approach their curriculum. Some follow a set curriculum and you will jump in wherever you happen to join the group. Other groups do not follow a curriculum and the therapist prepares group topics each group.


Outpatient therapy can be either group or individual therapy. While both group and individual therapy accomplish the same thing, they do it differently. For group therapy, you will meet with your group one or two times a week usually for about two hours. Your group may have a specific curriculum that it follows, such as Seeking Safety. It might also be a “process group” which allows group members to just talk about what’s been going on for them. Some groups even combine both approaches.

Individual therapy you meet only with your therapist. In most cases, your sessions will be about an hour long and you will meet one or two times a week. Individual therapy can cover any topics you and your therapist agree to cover. For example, individual therapy is a great place to address trauma.

Inpatient Detox

Detox is a form of drug and alcohol treatment which is often confused with residential treatment. However, there are differences between the two. Inpatient detox treatment does involve an overnight stay. But these are usually very short term, often three to five days at the most.

Additionally, detox takes place in a medical setting. Medical staff closely monitor you for any changes and ensure that you withdraw from dangerous substances safely. While some rehab facilities offer both residential treatment and detox, they are typically in different areas and require different levels of supervision.

How Do You Decide on Drug and Alcohol Treatment?

You’ve made the decision that you need professional help with your substance use. But how do you decide what drug and alcohol treatment program is the best for you? How do you know if you need detox or if you can just go to outpatient treatment? You want to make the right decision the first time because you don’t want things to get worse.

First, remember that certain substances need detox anytime you are cutting back on their use. These include alcohol and benzodiazepines. To be sure you’re making the right decision about detox vs no detox, speak to your doctor about what substances you’ve been using and how often. If you do not have a primary care doctor, urgent care or the ER are also good options.

When it comes to residential vs iop vs outpatient, consider how much support you have getting sober. Someone who has a lot of support, has a job, and can attend outside support meetings might do just as well as someone who goes into residential treatment. Someone who does not have a lot of outside support may benefit more from attending a residential program than attending outpatient treatment.

Talk to the people who support you and get their feedback. If you’re in doubt, you can also trust that any facility you choose will redirect you if you’re not appropriate for their program. For example, if you clearly need a residential program but you’re contacting an outpatient therapist, she will give you referrals for a residential program instead.

Final Thoughts About Drug and Alcohol Treatment

Choosing to go to drug and alcohol treatment is a big step. It brings up many fears and questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions as you go. Rely on your support system. You do not need to figure everything out alone.


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