What is Rehab Like?: Setting Expectations for Treatment

When considering an addiction treatment program, you might hesitate in taking the next step due to uncertainty or fears of what rehab is like. Knowing what to expect when entering rehab can help you feel confident choosing a rehab program that meets your unique needs.
In this article:

How Does Rehab Help?

Rehab helps people achieve recovery by addressing the stressors and triggers that lead to substance misuse and building healthy coping skills to deal with stress. According to long-term research that tracks individuals in recovery over an extended period, most people who complete rehab stop using substances, reduce criminal behaviors, and improve overall well-being.1

Attending rehab has many beneficial facets, including:

  • Sober, supportive environment to focus exclusively on your recovery
  • Comprehensive professional staff of doctors, psychologists, therapists, counselors, etc., to support you
  • Peer support from others in recovery
  • Structure and routine to help keep you focused and committed to your recovery goals
  • Medical monitoring and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) options
  • A wide variety of behavioral therapies

Therapy in Rehab

Behavioral therapy is an essential component of the treatment process, as it helps uncover and address underlying issues that may be contributing to drug or alcohol misuse. Some commonly offered behavioral therapies include:1,2,3,4

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps you recognize the connection between your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviors. You can learn to recognize the situations and thoughts that trigger you to want to use drugs or alcohol and learn how to avoid and cope with these triggers in healthy ways.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT utilizes the principles of mindfulness and acceptance to facilitate change. The goal of DBT is to help you build distress tolerance and improve emotional regulation to better cope with stress and reframe from substance use.
  • Contingency Management (CM): CM uses positive reinforcement by offering you vouchers for negative drug screens during treatment. Vouchers can vary but may offer monetary value or prizes.
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): Motivational enhancement therapy is a form of motivational interviewing that helps you resolve your ambivalence about substance use treatment and, ultimately, stop substance use. MET is a short-duration treatment model that seeks to rapidly increase motivation in just a few sessions.
  • Group Therapy: Group therapy provides you with added peer support during recovery. The therapist can introduce therapy models to improve stress resilience and coping skills while those in recovery can share their stories and support one another.
  • Family Therapy: Family therapy helps to address any dynamics within family or loved ones that may contribute to your substance use. It can also help provide family members with tools to support their loved ones in recovery.

Peer support groups, such as 12-step programs, are also often offered in rehab. These programs provide people in recovery with a sense of community and support. It is also helpful and inspiring to see peers who have successfully recovered and hear their stories.1

What is Inpatient Rehab Like?

Inpatient rehab refers to programs in which patients live at the facility 24-7 for the duration of the program, which usually lasts between 30 and 90 days. Programs that are 90 days are usually recommended so that you have enough time to truly address your addictive behavior and make the necessary changes to maintain your sobriety and prevent relapse following treatment. Research indicates that most people need at least three months to significantly reduce or stop substance use. Long-term residential facilities also exist where patients may reside for six months to a year or even longer in some cases.1

Daily Life in Rehab

Inpatient rehab facilities typically offer medical detox as the first line of treatment and then continue with counseling, peer support, and medication-assisted treatment when needed. Inpatient rehab centers maintain a strict daily schedule throughout treatment.

Your daily routine in inpatient rehab may look like the following:

  • Waking up early and eating a healthy breakfast
  • Group sessions, such as group counseling
  • Healthy lunch
  • Therapy sessions, such as individual, family, and/or group therapy
  • Possible supplemental activities or alternative therapies, such as art or music therapy, yoga, or exercise programs
  • Free time for recreation or religious practice in the afternoon
  • 12-step meetings in the evening
  • Bedtime at a decent hour

Visitor rules may vary depending on the facility; many inpatient facilities may not allow visitors during treatment or may have strict visitation hours and policies that patients must adhere to throughout their stay.1,2,3

Who is Inpatient Rehab Beneficial For?

Generally, inpatient rehab is best suited for people with the following: 1-3

  • Ability to reside in the facility full-time and be away from personal, family, and professional responsibilities
  • Insurance or financial means to pay for the high cost of treatment
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders or polysubstance misuse
  • Severe or long-term addiction
  • History of relapse or withdrawal complications
  • Lack of support outside of rehab
  • Unstable living environment outside of treatment

What is Outpatient Rehab Like?

Outpatient rehab refers to treatment programs that take place on an outpatient level, where the patient continues to reside at home throughout the treatment process. A variety of different outpatient treatment programs are available, and they can vary in their treatment model, approach, and setting.1

Outpatient rehab programs typically offer the same types of therapies and treatment options as inpatient facilities but on an outpatient basis. Outpatient treatment can take place in a variety of settings, including a rehab facility or a physician and/or counselor’s office.2

Treatment involves regular visits to the rehab center or provider’s office for counseling sessions, peer support groups, and possibly medical appointments if you participate in MAT. Programs can vary in length and duration. Some outpatient programs may involve daily visits to the rehab center, whereas others may just be two or three times per week.2

Who is Outpatient Rehab For?

Outpatient treatment is generally best suited for those with less severe addictions without a history of relapse. It offers more flexibility for working people and parents who need to continue to live at home and remain involved in their personal and professional lives. Outpatient rehab is also much more affordable than inpatient treatment and may be a better option for those on a budget.2

People in outpatient treatment should have reliable transportation, a stable living environment, and a supportive home environment.3 Because outpatient programs offer fewer treatment hours per day and week, program duration may be longer than inpatient rehab facilities.5

Partial Hospitalization Programs

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are also available for people who need more intensive services but cannot reside in a rehab facility full time. These programs are typically for people with severe addictions or mental illness who need more medical monitoring and care.

Treatment usually takes place at least five days a week and may be anywhere from four to eight hours a day or more. PHPs are sometimes referred to as “day treatment” because people are typically at the treatment center for the full day.5

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are for people needing more intensive care  but are unable to attend a residential rehab facility. People may also enter an IOP after being discharged from inpatient rehab as a form of step-down treatment.5

Intensive outpatient programs usually require a minimum of nine hours of treatment per week, in the form of three, 3-hour sessions. Some programs may offer even more sessions per week, and others may become less intensive over time and gradually step down to fewer hours each week.5

Finding a Rehab Treatment Program

No single treatment program or model is suitable for everyone.1 You can do some research and ask your health care or insurance provider questions to find a rehab program that best suits your needs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some important questions to ask when choosing a rehab program include:6

  • Are the treatment options offered backed by scientific evidence?
  • Will the rehab program tailor and adapt my treatment plan to meet my ever-changing needs?
  • Is the duration of treatment long enough for me?
  • Does the program offer 12-step programs or other peer support groups?

You should also consider the cost of rehab and whether your insurance will cover the costs. You can also talk to the rehab center about financial assistance that may be available to you.

If you or someone you love is considering addiction treatment and you are wondering what is rehab like, call 800-914-7089 (Info iconWho Answers?) to get help today.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide (Third Edition).
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2019). Treatment Options.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.
  5. McCarty, D., Braude, L., Russell Lyman, D., Dougherty, R., Daniels, A., Shoma Ghose, S., & Delphin-Rittmon, M. (2015). Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence. Psychiatric Services, 65(6): 718-726.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Knowing What to Ask.
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