Why Does Longer Treatment Lead to Better Outcomes? Addiction Recovery with Sustainable Results

Many people approach addiction recovery as though it’s a microwave: systematic, straightforward, and—above all else—fast. The “30-day treatment” myth doesn’t help with these misconceptions either.

But does microwave cooking lead to the best-tasting and healthiest version of your food? Definitely not. The same goes for addiction recovery: does a “quick treatment” lead to your most sustainable and holistic recovery from substance abuse and addiction? The research says no.

Why are Shorter Treatment Times Appealing?

Unfortunately—and despite the lack of evidence to support it—the long-held 30-day treatment model quickly became a baseline normal for both insurance companies and treatment centers.

Among many reasons, one of the most convenient is the practicality of short-term treatment. In addition to coming to terms with one’s addictive pattern or substance abuse disorder, a person must also set aside time and space for the recovery process. These inconveniences may include:

–   Financial demands of treatment

–   Making work arrangements

–   Scheduling childcare

–   Putting school or college on hold

All of these requirements demand the person to leave behind (albeit temporarily) their day to day life in order to start the healing process. It quickly becomes obvious then why minimizing treatment time is so appealing to many people.

But as the study discussed below suggests, shorter treatment times have a much higher risk of relapse. Therefore, committing to longer treatment time up front reduces the person’s risk, not only of relapse, but also the financial, emotional, and time exertions that even 30-day treatments require.

What Motivates Sustainable Recovery?

As a whole, there has been much less research on the long-term recovery process than the short-term. However, recent studies, including from the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, have shown that longer treatments do produce better results and have a higher chance of preventing relapse.

It’s true that negative effects of substance abuse—such as physical, mental, social, and financial deterioration—are often the things that keep people sober in the early phases of recovery. But as time goes on, the motivators for sobriety change significantly.

Since recovery is a dynamic process, a person’s coping strategies and mechanisms must be as flexible and dynamic. Some of the most helpful motivators over the long-term include:

–   Support of family

–   Respect and support of peers and friends

–   Healthy work environment

–   Desire to be a responsible parent

–   Response to a spiritual or higher power

What Are the Options for Longer Treatment?

As more research is done on the positive effects of long-term treatment, medical professionals are starting to recommend treatment times between three and six months. The results are showing significantly better outcomes. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways a person can pursue longer treatments.

–   Residential treatment: For many people, residential treatment is often step one on their healing journey. A person can gain important coping skills in residential treatment, as well as personal insights and a sense of stability. But in order to maintain this stability and long-term sobriety, addiction and substance disorders require treatment throughout life.

–   Individual and Group Therapies: Groundbreaking psychotherapies, cognitive behavioral therapies, and pharmacological therapies cannot be implemented overnight. Sometimes these more in-depth treatments can take an additional month after detox and are often a key part of achieving the maximum benefit from residential care. Moreover, these options can reduce the likelihood of needing to repeat more treatments in the future.

–   12 Step Programs: Developing life skills is a key part of the recovery process, especially after more formal treatments. One of these skills is learning how to become self-sufficient while also staying in a recovery community that is committed to supporting the person. Building off of residential treatments and different forms of therapy, a person can learn to cope with stress and triggering emotions with the help of their 12-step group. And when they come to a difficult time or situation, having a group to turn to can save a person from turning to substances or other harmful behaviors.

Longer Treatment and Co-Occurring Disorders

Another important aspect of addiction that long-term treatments can address are co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders are additional mental, cognitive, and trauma-induced conditions that often accompany substance abuse and addiction.

Longer treatment times help to address and heal these disorders alongside the pursuit of sobriety. And with longer observation durations, professionals are able to perform better assessment and formulate more effective treatment plans.

When a person is experiencing PTSD or other co-occurring disorders, addiction is not the only thing that requires long-term treatment. With this knowledge, treatment centers have changed the way they approach recovery and healing, which can promote continued care and precent relapse cycles.

When a person is engaged in substance abuse and addictive patterns over a prolonged period of time, chemical changes occur within the brain. These changes can also induce or exacerbate dormant conditions like anxiety and depression. If the brain becomes dependent on the substances for everyday functionality, these patterns are even more difficult to detangle. But recovery is possible— it simply takes time and hard work for the neural pathways of the brain to rewire and heal.

Recovery as a Lifelong Process

Although new habits can be made by doing them every day for thirty days, the recovery process is more than just building new habits. Sustainable recovery with better outcomes over the long-haul does not happen overnight.

Over longer treatment durations, a person in recovery learns how to cope with difficult or triggering situations. But they also discover how to manage their cravings with healthy and life-giving behaviors.

Moreover, long-term treatment programs are better equipped to address any known or unknown co-occurring disorders, which affect more than thirty percent of people in substance abuse programs. Isn’t it worth the wait to give yourself the time, space, and holistic care you need? For better health outcomes and a truly sustainable sobriety, take the extra time to heal your physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Laura Harder, LAC, M.A.

About the Author:
Laura Bailey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from Temple University in Philadelphia, and a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling from Southwestern College in Santa Fe. Laura has worked in community mental health and residential settings throughout New Mexico and Arizona since 2013. Laura has a passion for treating addiction, trauma, and co-occurring disorders.

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Clinical Director

Lindsay Rothschild LCSW, CCTP, SAP

Lindsay Rothschild is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Substance Abuse Professional with a passion for assisting others in activating their own inner healing intelligence. She completed her Master’s Degree in Social Work at Arizona State University in 2011 and went on to study various ancient wisdom traditions for healing. Her training as a Clinical Trauma Professional and over a decade of experience working with trauma survivors has afforded her a rich understanding of the powerful impact of trauma on the mind, body and soul.

Lindsay studied holistic nutrition and trauma informed yoga at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts. Lindsay is certified in the Trauma-Conscious Yoga Method™ and is also a registered yoga teacher. She most recently completed training in Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP). Lindsay partners with the Arizona Trauma Institute to facilitate trainings for mental health professionals and educators in the community in an effort to promote awareness around Trauma Informed Care. Lindsay is also the owner of Roots to Rise, PLLC where she provides somatic psychotherapy, EMDR therapy, supervision, trauma informed yoga, and substance abuse professional services. Lindsay describes herself as having a wild and free spirit, an open heart and a belief that all humans have the capacity for transformation and growth.

Medical Director

Dr. Tracey Oppenheim MD

Dr. Oppenheim was born and raised in Michigan. She completed her medical school education, general and child and adolescent psychiatry training at the University of Michigan. Go Blue! She is passionate about the mind body spiritual connection and has completed additional training in integrative psychiatry. Dr. Oppenheim believes in each individual’s ability to heal through discovering their inner healing intelligence.