The Benefits of Long-Term Residential Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Long-term residential treatment for addiction is, for many people, the best way to recover from their obsessive-compulsive dependence on alcohol and drugs. 

An addiction involves a chronic dysfunction of the brains' reward system that prevents people from abstaining from addictive substances. It results in powerful cravings and a person's inability to control their behavior, often marked by a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of drugs or alcohol and the feeling of reward they stimulate. 

According to the addiction statistics in the U.S, about 23.5 million people nationwide would benefit from alcohol or drug treatment. However, only around 2.6 million people with addiction get the much-needed treatment. 

Addiction causes a lack of self-control and concern over consequences, making it impossible to stay away from the addictive behavior. This dependence on substances can lead to permanent health consequences and interfere with a person's ability to live productively. 

Recovery from addiction is an ongoing process, but it is possible. Long-term residential treatment for drug and alcohol addiction increases the chances of a person recovering from addiction and maintaining their sobriety. 

Studies have shown that long-term inpatient rehab is the most effective way to achieve and maintain sobriety. While this doesn't write off the benefits of intensive outpatient treatments (IOP), research shows people who commit to long-term treatment show higher recovery success rates. 

The longer a person remains abstinent of addictive substances, the more time their brain has to heal from the damage caused by addiction. Some research shows it takes at least a year for the brain to recover fully. A relapse, however small, resets the process back to day one.  

Why is Long-Term Treatment More Effective?

Long-term inpatient treatment for addiction typically takes a minimum of 90 days. However, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, no fixed length of therapy is recommended for addiction rehab, as every person progresses at their own pace. 

The prolonged treatment is more effective because it gives the person more time to work on their problems and address the causes of addiction. In other words, relapse rates fall significantly if a person remains in addiction treatment for longer than three months. 

Long treatment can produce recovery rates close to eighty percent when combined with an ongoing monitoring program, similar to mandatory oversight used for impaired professionals like commercial airline pilots, doctors, and veterinarians. 

Addiction recovery involves working on psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction, which are usually most difficult to change. This sometimes includes deep-rooted childhood traumas, which the addict may recognize or have blocked out.   

Moreover, long-term residential treatment for drug and alcohol addiction involves a more comprehensive approach, allowing clients to work on different aspects of their addiction. 

For example, the long-term rehab program may include various treatments such as:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • 12-step program
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Family therapy and a family program
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Recovery coaching
  • Sober & structured living

Long-term residential treatment for addiction allows individuals to combine treatments that fit their needs, allowing for a holistic approach to rehabilitation and recovery. 

Along with higher recovery success rates, long-term inpatient rehab has many other benefits. Some of these include: 

  • A substance-free environment 
  • 24/7 supervision and support 
  • Structured daily schedule 
  • An opportunity to break off unhelpful or harmful behavior patterns
  • Mental health services to address underlying or co-occurring disorders
  • Help in regaining confidence and life skills for a sober life 
  • An opportunity to develop healthy coping strategies
  • Time to heal physically
  • Restoring relationships with family and friends

Most importantly, though, long-term treatment for addiction focuses on altered brain chemistry in people who have developed a dependence on alcohol and drugs. 

This process of stabilizing the neural network disrupted by addiction usually takes months. Therefore, long-term treatment provides enough time for the brain to self-regulate, so the person is less likely to give in to cravings or suffer co-occurring mental health disorders. 

What Happens During Long-Term Residential Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

Long-term inpatient addiction rehab involves three primary stages of recovery:

  • Detoxification
  • Reflection
  • Growth

The first stage of recovery involves detoxication, during which the person begins abstinence and receives support through withdrawal symptoms, which may include medications to prevent seizures. The detox process depends on the chemicals the person is addicted to and how acute their addiction is. For example, were they an around-the-clock drinker or a binge drinker who could go all week without drinking but then on Friday night got blackout drunk. 

After this initial stage, the actual recovery begins, helping the patient adapt to sobriety. The patient's family plays an essential role in a long-term inpatient recovery program. But each residential center has its policy on how and how often residents can communicate with their families. The blackout period is designed to protect the family and the addict from added drama and distractions.

Comprehensive long-term inpatient rehab provides group, couples, and family counseling that focuses on the person struggling with addiction and implications on their family connections. 

Also, inpatient treatment for addiction provides a comprehensive and holistic approach to healing from addiction, helping restore health, relationships, career, and other aspects of successful recovery.


Who Can Benefit from Long-Term Residential Addiction Treatment?

Just as it took time to develop addictive behaviors and thought patterns, it takes time to replace them with new, healthy ways of thinking and behaving and heal. 

A person who decides to undergo inpatient or residential treatment must stay in a rehab facility 24 hours a day, protecting them from the numerous temptations they will face when they leave. I have said to treatment-resistant clients the rehab center is protecting you from yourself - if you leave treatment now, I guarantee you'll overdose.

Also, long-term treatment is beneficial for people whose close family is involved in their addiction. It allows them time to work on issues that cause relationship dysfunction within a family. 

Addiction treatment in residential rehab facilities typically focuses on various aspects of addiction, from mental health issues to social factors, providing round-the-clock medical care and mental health support. 

To sum up, the benefits of long-term residential treatment involve helping people develop the skills needed to prevent relapse and live a fulfilling, substance-free life. 

It is beneficial for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction because it gives them more time which may provide them with a greater opportunity to succeed. I tell families all the time to think of the initial recovery period as one year. 

It is more effective than short-term addiction treatment as it provides a substance-free environment for an extended period. It allows patients to end unhelpful behavior patterns that support an addiction. 

It also gives them enough time to normalize their altered brain chemistry, preventing future substance cravings or co-occurring mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. Also, staying in rehab for a long time allows a person to adjust to a healthy lifestyle, allowing their body to recover from the physical effects of addiction.  

Just as important, lifestyle changes can have a lasting effect on the overall well-being long after the person leaves residential treatment. There's a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: People, Places, and Things. This means you have to change the people you hang out with, the places you go, and stop doing the things you did in the past.

Marc Kantor is an interventionist and the founder of South Florida Intervention. He can be reached at 202-390-2273 or by email at