Why Addiction Treatment Is a Lifelong Process

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Addiction is a complex disease that can alter the way we think, feel, and make decisions. If you’re struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, knowing what to expect from treatment can help you achieve long-term recovery.

Rest assured that you’re not alone; many have broken the cycle of substance abuse then recovered and now live happy, rewarding lives.

Which Treatment Is Right for Me?

There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” addiction treatment program. The best treatment modality for you depends on several factors including:

  • Age
  • Frequency of use
  • Type of substance(s) used (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, methampetamine, etc.)
  • Physiological factors
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Co-occurring mental disorders (e.g., PTSD, schizophrenia, depression, etc.)

Look for a treatment center that offers individualized counseling and treatment plans. If you’re not sure where to begin, your doctor or physician can refer you to an addiction treatment specialist who can provide targeted care.

How Long Does Addiction Treatment Last?

Everyone proceeds through substance addiction treatment at their own pace. However, studies show that longer treatments improve a person’s chance of recovery. If your doctor determines that outpatient (in-home) treatment is right for you, expect to commit at least 90 days to treatment.

To treat long-term addiction, especially cases involving opioid abuse, medical experts recommend treatment lasting a year or longer. Even after a treatment program ends, true recovery requires a person to apply the strategies learned each and every day moving forward.

Keep in mind that addiction treatment isn’t a prison sentence; in fact it’s quite the contrary. Treatment is a journey of personal growth, learning, and recovery. With proper guidance, you’ll learn how to fight cravings, cope with withdrawal symptoms, and discover healthy, drug-free ways to achieve pleasure. Most importantly, you’ll learn to take back your life and rebuild relationships with family, friends, and opportunities.

What Can Help Me Stay Motivated During Treatment?

One of the biggest reasons people relapse is dropping out of treatment too soon, or enrolling in a treatment program not attuned to their needs. Both the person and the environment must facilitate recovery. Motivating factors that can improve your chances of recovery include:

  • Self-motivation to make a healthy change
  • Love and support from family and friends
  • Compatibility with the treatment program (e.g., treatment for co-occurring disorders, counseling, etc.)
  • Relationships with clinicians and fellow patients (in an inpatient treatment setting)
  • Clear understanding of the treatment plan and expectations
  • Availability of medical, psychiatric, educational, and social services
  • Pressure from family, an employer, or legal services

Choosing the right treatment program is crucial. Many treatment centers now provide holistic treatments focused on healing the whole person, not only the addiction. These treatments include art therapy, music therapy, swim therapy, yoga, and group outings. Many centers also provide accredited education programs to help adolescents during inpatient treatment.

What Happens When the Treatment Program Ends?

When you and your clinician decide that you’re ready to move on, it’s then up to you to maintain healthy habits for the rest of your life. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your clinician or fellow patients for encouragement, advice, or just a friendly conversation. Try to meet new people, explore new hobbies (or rediscover old ones), and look for pleasure in healthy activities such as playing sports, hiking, reading, etc.

At times, you may experience a drug craving; this is a normal part of recovery. Use the coping mechanisms you learned, and don’t give in. Even a small step backward can lead to a major relapse. If you’re dedicated to living substance-free, you can succeed.


  1. Vermont Department of Education, Module I: Chemical Use, Misuse, Abuse, Dependence & Recovery, Vermont Department of Education, http://education.vermont.gov/documents/module_01_chemical_use.pdf
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition), Drugabuse.gov, December 2012, https://d14rmgtrwzf5a.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/podat_1.pdf

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