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What is Rehabilitation?

Drug rehabilitation (often shortened to drug rehab or just rehab) is a term for the processes of biological, psychological and/or sociological treatment, for dependency on mood altering substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and non-prescription amphetamines.

The purpose of drug rehabilitation is to repair the behaviours and unmanageability of life inherent to drug addiction, in order to avoid the psychological, biological (physical), financial, legal, and social consequences caused by protracted drug abuse.

Drug Rehabilitation – The Process

Drug rehabilitation is a term used to describe the entire process by which an individual gains the understanding and tools to rebuild their lives and learns to live a normal life free from the bonds of chemical dependency. Often, recovery from drug addiction involves not only the process of going through a structured treatment program at a drug rehabilitation center, but also a life-long commitment to abstain from the use of mood altering substances. Generally, drug rehabilitation consists of 3 main phases:

  • First and usually most physically demanding, is the detox phase. It is in this phase of the rehabilitation process that the toxins resulting from drug abuse are removed from the addict’s body. Depending on the drug of abuse and the severity of the physical dependence on that substance, this process can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. The therapeutic phase of most drug rehabilitation programs cannot be effective until the body has broken its dependence on the drug’s harmful and addictive toxins.
  • Second, is the educational and life-skills-building phase. In this phase, the addict meets with counsellors and undergoes group and individual therapy to understand the nature of addiction and the most effective ways for that individual to overcome his or her disease. The length of this process depends on the individual, the severity of the addiction, and the parameters of the rehabilitation center attended. Often, for more serious addictions, long term drug rehab programs are recommended, lasting anywhere from 2 to 3 months to a year or more.
  • The third, and final phase of drug rehabilitation begins after the rehab program has been completed. It is in this “post-treatment” or maintenance phase that an addict must take the skills learned at the drug rehab center and apply them in the “real world” in order to maintain sobriety. This process will continue for the rest of the recovering addict’s life, and it is here that many addicts experience relapse, forcing them back into the drug rehab process, starting back at the beginning with the often painful detox phase. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the “revolving door” of addiction treatment.

Today, drug rehabilitation programs offer a variety of levels of care, including outpatient, day treatment, short-term residential and long-term residential treatment, and sober living. In the fight to regain control over their lives, addicts and alcoholics must determine what level (or combination of levels) of care offer them the best chance of achieving long-term sobriety. Some individuals’ addictions are adequately addressed by outpatient drug rehab programs. Here, the addict can attend therapy and counselling sessions on a group and individual basis several times a week for a few hours after work, then return home at the end of the day. Many of these programs are coupled with support group meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics Anonymous.

For more serious addictions, many drug rehabilitation centers offer residential treatment programs. Here, an addict will undergo more intense therapy in an inpatient setting where they will live amongst certified counsellors and therapists for whatever length of time is necessary. Generally, the minimum length of time spent at a residential treatment center is 28-30 days, otherwise called “short-term” drug rehabilitation. Depending on the severity of the addiction, some addicts may require longer stays up to and beyond 3 months in length, also known as “long-term” residential treatment.

For many addicts, it is recommended that they attend aftercare once the rehab program has been completed. Aftercare can take many forms, but often entails continuing care in the form of outpatient treatment and support groups coupled with living in a sober living home. This is a transitional living environment where recovering addicts live amongst one another in a substance-free environment while attending work, school, and other outside activities. Sober living serves as a setting in which addicts can apply the skills they’ve learned in drug rehabilitation to the real world, while still remaining under an umbrella of support.  Sober living can ease the transition from treatment back into society.

The decision to get involved in a drug rehabilitation program is often not an easy one to make for addicts and alcoholics. By its very nature, addiction convinces the addict they need the drugs or alcohol to sustain any sense of normalcy, despite glaring negative consequences. Once an addict has fallen under the grip of addiction, sobriety often seems like an impossible goal, but with dedication and the help of drug rehabilitation programs and addiction treatment professionals, recovery can be achieved.

It takes an addict’s understanding that he or she is powerless over the disease of addiction, and a sincere desire to change their lives for treatment to be effective. Rehabilitation centers are designed to provide a blueprint and lay the groundwork for recovery.

Addicts rarely overcome their addictions on their own. With substance addictions, the assistance of medical and mental health professionals is central in the rehabilitation process. Many addicts not only suffer from addiction problems, but also co-occurring mental health disorders, requiring the expertise of dual diagnosis treatment programs. There is a strong correlation between addiction and mental health issues.  If an addict suffers from a co-occurring mental health disorder, it must be concurrently addressed in order to effectively treat the addiction.  If the mental health issue isn’t treated, it often leads right back to active addiction.