How Long Should a Person Stay in Treatment?

How long someone stays in treatment typically depends on several factors. The first thing most people consider when seeking out a treatment facility is what type of care they need. The vast majority of people in treatment are there on an outpatient basis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recorded 1,249,629 people being in treatment on a given day in 2013, and 90.2 percent of them had opted for outpatient care.

While this form of treatment is sufficient for many, inpatient care does have its place for those individuals who need it. Aside from the type of care needed, clients have to consider other factors that will impact how long they’ll need help. These factors include:

  • The cost of treatment
  • The severity of their addiction
  • The presence of any co-occurring mental health disorders
  • What resources and support they have lined up post treatment

The Cost Factor

doctor speaking to patient about how long she should stay at a treatment program

The cost of treatment is a big factor most people. The Nation Survey on Drug Use and Health reported 37.3 percent of people who needed treatment between 2010 and 2013, and didn’t receive it, cited a lack of health insurance or an inability to pay for it as their reason. Because of this, a lot of people who drop out of treatment early may do so because of the accruing costs that arise during their stay.

Insurance often factors into how long a person stays in treatment. Most insurance plans have limits on the amount of treatment that will be covered; this may be dictated in terms of number of days for an inpatient treatment stay, or it may relate to an overall maximum coverage amount. Before enrolling in treatment, check with the treatment facility and your insurance provider to determine your exact level of coverage.

Substance Use Disorder Severity

The severity of the substance use disorder directly affects length of treatment. For example, a person suffering from heroin or a long-term prescription painkiller addiction generally requires inpatient care, sometimes with medication-based treatment, whereas a person suffering from a short-term marijuana addiction may do well in a more flexible outpatient treatment program. The severity of the substance use disorder will directly affect the type of care required and the duration of that care.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends that all substance abuse treatment programs last a minimum of 90 days, and people do generally see better treatment outcomes with long-term programs. In addition, individuals who have relapsed following shorter stints in rehab may need to stay for a longer period of time the next time around.


Mental illness is no stranger to the world of addiction. It affects 37 percent of people who abuse alcohol and 53 percent of those who abuse drugs, HelpGuide reports. Individuals with co-occurring disorders often require more intensive rehabilitation, as well as medication management and additional forms of therapy. All of these factors combined generally mean a longer stint in rehab will be necessary.

Safe Havens

For those clients who can’t stay in treatment as long as necessary due to life commitments, other interventions can be put into place to ease them into the transition period of acclimating to life without drugs or alcohol. Sober living facilities or live-in sober escorts are both great options for these individuals.

Sober living facilities are safe places for recovering people to stay, on a short-term or long-term basis, that provide a buffer from the outside world. Much like a treatment facility, there are no environmental triggers, since drugs and alcohol are not allowed on the premises. In addition, rules are in place to ensure the facility is safe and supportive of sobriety. Individuals who can’t return home because family members are using drugs and alcohol often choose to stay in sober living homes.

A sober escort is someone who accompanies the client to events where triggers to use might be present. This person can serve as a form of support, helping the individual to resist relapse. In some instances, sober escorts may reside with the client for a period of time.

The Verdict

Research continues to show that lengthier stays in rehab are beneficial. A minimum of 90 days is considered the standard time that should be spent in treatment. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids supports this recommendation. The organization cites research that compares people who abused cocaine and were treated for fewer than 90 days with those who were treated longer, noting that 35 percent of the group with shorter treatment durations relapsed the year following treatment, whereas only 17 percent of the group that engaged in longer treatment durations did.

That being said, there is a time when a person has to leave a rehab facility and adjust back into “normal” life. When the comforts of treatment take over and make clients feel safe from relapse out in the real world, the treatment model is a success. But clients need to be prepared to reintegrate themselves into society and their daily lives at some point. They must return home to their families and go back to work. Work is done in treatment to prepare for this transition.

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