The Value of Long-Term Care in Addiction Treatment

Talking with an addicted son.

Just a cursory glance at the news or CDC documentation will tell us that addiction can be and often is a fatal condition. Drug use is currently one of the top causes of preventable deaths in the United States. So with that in mind, we want our addicted loved ones to get the best, most comprehensive care possible to ensure they do not become a statistic.

But how does one pick the right treatment center for their loved one to go to? Given the different approaches that exist in addiction treatment, how can someone who’s never struggled with addiction or been to rehab know which program will be the right one for his or her family member?

One of the primary rules of thumb in addiction treatment is that the longer one can spend in rehab, the better. That principle must then be immediately balanced against the factors of practicality. Long-term care in addiction treatment is highly beneficial. However, treatment must be available and affordable. A treatment center must offer a successful recovery program that does not require a recovering addict to leave his life, career, and family for so long as to be unfeasible.

So what then, is the ideal length of time in treatment? Is there even a perfect length of time? What would be a sensible time-range in which recovering addicts could get enough care?

A Disparity in Current Treatment Approaches

Most people who struggle with addiction continue to use drugs and alcohol for years before they seek professional help for their habits. The standard advice is for addicts to seek help as soon as possible, and not to delay. However, most addicts do not reach a point where they are so inclined to seek help until their addiction has gotten so bad that they genuinely have no other option.

If we look at this more closely, we’ll find a disparity in how long people use drugs and alcohol before seeking help, compared to how long residential treatment centers offer care for recovering addicts.

Most drug rehabs offer 28-day programs. Except in very rare cases, this is almost never enough time to help people overcome their drug habits. We can look at this logically. How could someone who has been using drugs and alcohol for years be able to address their addiction effectively in just a few short weeks? We’re talking about a habit, a daily activity that has become a bone-deep part of that person’s life. It’s not something that will magically disappear after a four-week program. Four weeks is barely enough time for a full withdrawal off of drugs and alcohol, much less enough time to address the behavioral, mental, psychological, and spiritual aspects of addiction.

What’s more, there’s no medical evidence or even empirical data which suggests that 28-days is the correct amount of time necessary to treat addiction. First of all, it’s contrary to basic medical fundamentals to indicate that an exact, set period of days is sufficient for treating all patients. We’re talking here about individuals who struggle with a health crisis (addiction) that can manifest in many different ways. Secondly, 28-days is simply not nearly enough time for most recovering addicts to fully overcome their conditions.

A nurse is helping an old lady

And here’s the second part of the disparity. The reason why most drug and alcohol rehab centers offer 28 days of care is that most health insurance policies will only provide coverage for 28 days at a residential facility. In one of the classic downsides of our medical system, we see the factor of money being the deciding criteria in how much care recovering addicts receive. Suddenly, we are placed in a condition where profit-motivated health insurance companies are deciding how much time recovering addicts should receive in treatment. It’s become a corporate decision, not a medical one.

Long-Term Care—A Necessary Component in Successful Addiction Treatment

If you were seeking medical care for an illness that had spread through your body, would you want the rapid, sort of cursory treatment option that had a 50 percent chance of eliminating the illness? Or would you want the more thorough treatment that, though it might take longer and be more involved, would find and remove all traces of the illness? You would clearly choose the latter.

Addiction treatment is much the same. Long-term drug rehabs offer a more comprehensive model of addiction treatment. Because the recovering addicts stay at the treatment center for two to three months rather than three or four weeks, these long-term centers have enough time to address the multitude of issues that develop over the years spent using drugs.

We can’t nail down an exact, “ideal” length of time in addiction treatment. Different people respond to treatment differently, and that will influence how much time they need. However, about twelve weeks of treatment is usually enough time to address all of the aspects and facets of a drug problem. It’s enough time to make the treatment work and to offer a program that is still feasible and reachable for most people. However, even then, if a recovering addict needs more than twelve weeks, he just simply needs more than twelve weeks. The program he goes to should provide that if it is needed.

A person is arriving home after the program.

Another point that is sorely missing in most residential drug treatment models is a form of aftercare and transition. Aftercare services and transitionary plans are crucial to the recovery process. These approaches serve as efforts made by the treatment center to assist individuals who have graduated from the program in transitioning back into life after rehab.

Jumping back into day-to-day life after completing a rehab program can come as a bit of a shock to some people. It can be something of a trying and even difficult experience, challenging in a way, to transition from life in a treatment center to life at home. It’s important to have ongoing help from one’s treatment center even after one has completed the program and is back at home.

No Matter What, Make Sure Your Loved One Gets Help

Any treatment is better than no treatment at all. This article is not meant to discredit 28-day programs, as they are doing some good. But if you are seeking help for a loved one who struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, you should do your best to help them find and enter a long-term residential drug and alcohol treatment center.

Try to find a program that offers about ten to twelve weeks of care. Treatment centers like that have the most comprehensive services. They can help their participants focus on more issues, and they simply allow more time for addressing critical and challenging problems.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.