Key takeaways:

  • Every rehab facility will all operate differently, depending on the level of care they provide and whether they treat a specific form of addiction, but the majority will offer the same basic day structure, therapies, and activities
  • Once lunch is finished, the afternoon schedule in an inpatient drug or alcohol rehab normally involves structured individual or group therapy, skills training, or other programmed therapeutic activities
  • Once dinner is finished there will often be a short group session. This will usually be in the form of a 12-step or SMART program and is recommended to cement relationships and explore any emotions that have arisen during the day

For most people going into a rehab facility for the first time, the day-to-day routine may seem like a daunting prospect. This article will aim to provide an accurate depiction of what to expect in inpatient drug or alcohol rehab.

What is drug and alcohol rehab like?

Some may have misconceptions from film and television about how a rehab treatment program is structured and what is expected of those who attend. These are often exaggerated for dramatic effect, giving people the wrong impression of what rehab is really like. In reality, rehab is very organized and structured, providing a routine that balances therapy and recreation appropriately, with a fixed daily plan that will last the full course of treatment. 

Every rehab facility will all operate differently, depending on the level of care they provide and whether they treat a specific form of addiction, but the majority will offer the same basic day structure, therapies, and activities. 

Some of the amenities will vary from facility to facility, but most drug rehab schedules involve group therapy, individual therapy, meetings with the doctor or nurse (if needed), educational times to teach people about addiction and coping skills, and time for recreation and meals. [1] Many programs also have visitation hours when friends or family can come to visit patients. Below is a rough outline of what a day in residential rehab typically entails.

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Get help during Covid-19

At Recovered, we recognize the impact COVID-19 has had and the continued challenges it poses to getting advice and treatment for substance use disorders. SAMHSA has a wealth of information and resources to assist providers, individuals, communities, and states during this difficult time and is ready to help in any way possible.

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Morning

Expect to start your day early with a healthy breakfast with other patients (sometimes alone if in luxury rehab). This may be followed by a holistic therapy session such as meditation or yoga. Like most of the rehab process, the aim of early mornings, healthy breakfasts, and activities centered on well-being is to replace negative behaviors with positive healthy habits that will become part of daily life post-treatment.

After breakfast, meds may be administered, and then there will often be a group session. This will be led by a counselor or addiction specialist and will focus on the treatment process, 12-step or other programs, and recovery. Some addiction rehab centers specialize in specific kinds of treatment like CBT, Motivational interviewing, or use a structured manual like the MATRIX model. Other high-end facilities may offer specialty therapies like art therapy, equine therapy, and may even allow patients to choose from a selection of activities and groups. [1]

The topics and activities explored in groups will vary, but most rehab groups teach patients about addiction, help them identify root causes and triggers for substance use, explore the consequences of addiction, and learn new ways to cope. The aim is always to help prepare each patient with education and skills that will help them maintain their sobriety after they discharge.

Afternoon

The core parts of therapy and treatment in an addiction treatment center often occur during the afternoon and early evening. Once lunch is finished, the afternoon schedule in an inpatient drug or alcohol rehab normally involves structured individual or group therapy, skills training, or other programmed therapeutic activities. [2]

Individual therapy

Individual therapy is a component of most inpatient rehabs and involves meeting 1:1 with a licensed therapist or counselor who specializes in addiction treatment. The type of approach used will vary depending on the therapist and the protocols of the facility but some of the common approaches are behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, or solution-focused therapy. [1] Often, individual therapy sessions provide a more private and safe space to explore personal issues like past trauma, preexisting mental health conditions, or family problems that may be contributing to the addiction.

Group therapy

Group therapy allows patients to share their experiences and struggles with substance abuse with others with similar lived experiences. Normally, group therapy sessions are led by a licensed counselor or therapist but involve a lot of participation from the patients. In group therapy, patients can not only get support and advice from the therapist but also give and provide it to one another, helping to form a support network. Research has found that group therapy is most effective when combined with individual therapy, which is why both tend to be standard in drug rehab programs. [1]

Additional/specialized therapy

Some treatment centers may offer additional therapy for specialized conditions, such as co-occurring mental health disorders. These can be to help cope with anger management, depression, anxiety, stress, or grief counseling and will focus on how to cope with these conditions without relying on drugs and alcohol. Other times, specialized types of therapy like art therapy, equine therapy, or mindfulness or yoga classes may be offered to patients. [2]

Family therapy

Family support therapy is an intrinsic part of the substance abuse treatment process and most rehab centers will include some form of it as part of their program. [2] Addiction can ruin families and friendships in many ways, by forming dangerous co-dependency, resentment, anger, and enabling behaviors. Family therapy allows the person in treatment to face and resolve a wide and complex range of emotions towards their loved ones, and vice versa. Having a support network at home is vital for long-term recovery.

Visiting speakers

Occasionally, a treatment facility may host guest speakers and life coaches to talk about addiction and recovery. These speakers are often recovering addicts who have gotten their lives back on track after successfully quitting substance abuse. They may give talks on how to rebuild your career, reconnect with the world, build healthy relationships, avoid triggers, and a wide range of other topics. These speakers are designed to serve as inspiration to those going through treatment and to demonstrate that a happy life without drugs or alcohol is possible.

Holistic therapy and non-traditional treatment

Some rehab centers may offer alternative treatments and therapies to the conventional ones found in most. These are often designed to help find pleasing activities that help recovering addicts find peace and well-being, as well as activities that don’t involve drugs or alcohol.

These may include: [2]

  • Art or music therapy

  • Outdoor activities

  • Dance therapy

  • Biofeedback

  • Neurofeedback

  • Exercise programs

  • Equine therapy

Free time

Once afternoon therapy and treatment sessions have finished, residents will often have an hour or two of free time. This can be spent doing recreational group activities such as pool, table tennis, sports, or swimming (if the rehab center has the appropriate facilities). Some may choose to spend this time alone, either reading or writing, or participating in meditative activities like yoga or walking.

Evening

Between afternoon sessions, free time and dinner, those who require medication treatment (people who are in the early stages of detox and need help managing withdrawal symptoms, for example) will be given their daily dose. Once dinner is finished there will often be a short group session. This will usually be in the form of a 12-step or SMART program and is recommended to cement relationships and explore any emotions that have arisen during the day. 

Like early mornings, bedtimes at a sensible hour are encouraged in order to create a healthy routine. Getting a good amount of sleep means patients will be more alert and rested, resulting in more engagement during therapy and treatment.

Get addiction treatment today

Treatment is a crucial part of addiction recovery, giving the tools and relationships needed to achieve long-term sobriety. While not everyone needs inpatient drug or alcohol rehab, starting your recovery in a structured, drug-free environment has many advantages. Also, inpatient rehab centers tend to offer the most comprehensive addiction treatment, with doctors, nurses, therapists, case managers, and recreational coordinators on-site. If you or a loved one is considering inpatient rehab, reach out to a referral coordinator to learn more about your options.