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Drug Rehab

For many, finding a drug rehab center is one of the most difficult parts of entering into recovery. You might be wondering, ‘what is drug rehab?’ or ‘is there even a drug rehab near me?’ When you are in the early stages of recovery, it is important to find the right drug rehab center that fits your needs, and there can be many factors to consider.

This article will explain the definition and purpose of a drug rehab center, clarify the individual factors that go into your decision-making process when choosing a drug rehab center, and provide an overview of the different types of drug rehab programs that are available to you.

What Is a Drug Rehab Center?

Addiction, clinically known as substance use disorder, is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.”1 Addiction is a disease that impacts your brain, affecting your ability to use logic, manage stress, and practice self-control.1

Addiction is not a moral failing, and those struggling with drug or alcohol abuse can’t always simply stop if they want to badly enough. As many medical experts state, addiction is a brain disorder and therefore cannot be “cured by choice.” Most people need support to overcome addiction. You must accept what you can control and what you cannot. This is where drug rehab centers can help.

A drug rehab center is a site where addiction treatment services occur. There are many types of drug rehab centers and support services, including detox programs, inpatient settings, outpatient settings, sober living settings and aftercare settings. Regardless of the program you choose, rehab typically begins with an assessment and referral to an initial phase of treatment.1

Drug rehab is a long-term process, and remaining in treatment for its full duration is a critical part of maintaining your sobriety.2 For many people, this means entering into and staying in an addiction recovery center for at least 90 days; sometimes longer. Many others choose a 28- or 30-day rehab stay. Effective addiction treatment is not a “one size fits all” approach.2

There are many benefits that come with entering addiction rehab. A universal benefit is getting support from trained staff members to address your medical, psychological, social, occupational, and other needs as you adjust to a drug-free life.1 As you progress in addiction treatment, you will learn to cope without using drugs or alcohol, improve your physical health and interpersonal relationships, and resolve any legal or financial issues related to your substance use.2 Effective drug treatment addresses the needs of the whole person, including factors outside of someone’s drug or alcohol use.3

What Causes Drug Addiction?

People choose to use drugs for many reasons­—to alter their mood, to try to numb their emotions and mental health struggles, to focus harder at work or school, because of peer pressure, or to pique their curiosity.1 Though you might think drug misuse is harmless or easy to control, addiction to drugs and alcohol dramatically changes the way your brain functions.1

Over time, your brain rewires itself and needs larger or more frequent amounts of the drug you’re taking to feel the same pleasurable effects.1 Eventually, you do not feel the same pleasurable effect anymore; rather, you are avoiding uncomfortable feelings called withdrawal symptoms as your brain reacts to the absence of drugs and/or alcohol.1 This can lead to poor decision-making, erratic behavior, and difficulty with impulse control as you seek out more of your drug of choice.1

Some people can be more susceptible to addiction than others. This is due to risk factors which can be at the “biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural level,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).4 Risk factors for addiction may include genetic factors like having a close family member with addiction, a person’s age when they first tried drugs or alcohol, or aspects of a person’s social and living environment.2

The impact of someone’s environment on gene expression is called epigenetics, and it can account for as much as 40–60% of a person’s risk of developing addiction.1 Generally, the younger you are when you are first exposed to drugs, the more likely you are to develop an addiction.1 This may be due to social pressure from friends or classmates or because of parents or older siblings using drugs and alcohol at home, which can normalize use and/or make it more available to teens.1

Having a mental illness, like depression or anxiety, is another risk factor for addiction.1 An estimated 6 in 10 people with a substance use disorder also suffer from a mental illness.2

Patient Discussing about Drug Addiction with DoctorThe likelihood of addiction is also impacted by the specific drug used. For example, opioids like heroin are more addictive because of the way their chemical makeup mimics the brain’s own neurotransmitters, causing the brain to produce less of these chemicals naturally and thereby creating dependence.1

Why do some people become addicted to drugs and alcohol while others do not? In addition to risk factors, people have “protective factors,” which are characteristics that decrease the negative impact of risk factors.4 Protective factors may be biological or environmental and are specific to the individual.

No single risk or protective factor can entirely predict your likelihood of developing addiction.1 Some risk factors, like childhood trauma exposure, can have such a profound impact that even someone with robust protective factors may still use drugs to help them cope with painful feelings, memories, and other symptoms.5

What Types of Drug Rehab Programs Exist?

Addiction treatment centers can vary based on their area of focus or target population. A drug rehab program might focus on treating addiction to certain substances, offer gender-specific facilities for men or women, or treat people by age group, such as in the case of adolescent or seniors’ treatment centers. This is considered a principle of effective treatment—to provide addiction treatment that is specific to your personal factors.2

At the onset of treatment, you will have a meeting with an intake counselor to discuss your needs and preferences for treatment. From there, the counselor will give recommendations based on the severity of your symptoms, the drug/s you are using, and your individual risk and protective factors.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has developed a set of criteria, called the ASAM Criteria, that provides levels of care recommendations based on patients’ needs across the following 6 dimensions:6

  • Withdrawal potential.
  • Medical conditions.
  • Emotional, behavioral, or cognitive conditions.
  • Readiness to change.
  • Relapse potential.
  • Recovery/support environment.

After your intake assessment, you will be assigned to an appropriate level of care for your needs, whether that be detox, inpatient, outpatient, or another stage of treatment.6 The length of time you are in addiction treatment for may vary based on what level of care you start in—for example, inpatient rehab centers typically require stays of 90 days or longer.2 The timeframe over which you are in treatment should also be personalized to fit your needs, taking into consideration other risk factors like co-occurring or dual diagnosis mental and physical health conditions.3

Addiction treatment services vary between drug rehab centers and their different approaches. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common approach for addiction treatment, addressing the link between thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that reinforce substance use behaviors.2 Another common approach is contingency management, which provides tangible rewards or prizes for desired behaviors in treatment, such as negative urine tests or increased time in sobriety.2

Treatment is usually delivered in a group format with other people in recovery, but it may also include individual therapy, family therapy, or mutual support meetings, such as participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA is a mutual support group built on the 12-step approach in which group members with varying lengths of time in recovery provide peer support for each other.1

With so much variation in treatment settings, you may be wondering where to start your recovery journey. The next sections of this article dive deeper into the primary settings.


Detox, short for “detoxification,” is often the first stage of treatment for people who may still have drugs or alcohol in their system and who need support for medically managed withdrawal.7 Detox consists of medical interventions aimed at minimizing the harmful effects of drug withdrawal. It is a short-term intervention, as withdrawal symptoms typically last for less than a week.7

Inpatient Drug Rehab

Inpatient treatment provides care for participants 24 hours per day by licensed medical and mental health staff, typically in a non-hospital setting.2 Inpatient treatment can vary from long-term stays of 6 to 12 months to short-term options lasting 3 to 6 weeks.2 Also called residential treatment, inpatient care is a highly structured intervention with multiple facets that address how addiction has impacted all aspects of a participant’s life.2

Outpatient Drug Rehab

Outpatient treatment differs from inpatient in that participants do not reside at the treatment facility. This can make it a more flexible option for people with outside employment or family obligations.2 Outpatient treatment may follow an intensive day treatment model where participants meet in a group several times per week. It could also consist of weekly individual counseling sessions.2 Since outpatient treatment is less structured than inpatient, it is important that participants have strong social support and coping mechanisms.2

Sober Living

Sober living is a drug- and alcohol-free environment where residents who have completed treatment can cohabitate with other people in recovery.8 There are no formal treatment services offered in sober living houses, but residents serve as peer supports for each other. Participation in mutual support meetings like AA is encouraged, or sometimes required.8


Aftercare is often considered the last stage of formal treatment. Also called continuing care, aftercare adjusts the intensity of treatment based on the participant’s changing needs.2 Whereas an outpatient program may have had group meetings 3 times per week, aftercare may only meet once per week.2

Find a Drug Rehab Center Near You

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and you are unsure about where to start, our supportive admission navigators are available 24/7 to verify your insurance benefits and find a treatment option that is right for you. You may be able to locate state-funded rehab programs, free or low-cost rehab options or access to treatment without insurance.

If you are searching for detoxification centers, inpatient treatment, or outpatient treatment, American Addiction Centers (AAC) maintains rehab centers across the United States.

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Kristen Fuller, MD, enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies in educating the public on the stigma associated with mental health. Dr. Fuller is also an outdoor activist, an avid photographer, and is the founder of an outdoor women's blog titled, GoldenStateofMinds. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, backpacking, skiing, camping, and paddle boarding with her dogs in Mammoth Lakes, California, where she calls home.
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