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What Happens in 90-Day Alcohol Rehab?

Alcoholism is a treatable disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends that person participate in an addiction treatment program for at least 90 days for optimal positive outcomes. There are a lot of shorter rehab programs out there, but staying in a program for a longer period of time can have many important benefits.

When a person struggles with addiction, their whole life is impacted. Physically, it can take some time for the brain and body to heal. There are numerous emotional, behavioral, and social ramifications surrounding addiction, and a long-term rehab program can address these. Alcohol rehab programs that are at least 90 days in duration provide the support, encouragement, skills, and tools for enhancing a person’s overall healthy, sense of wellbeing, and quality of life.

Developing and Fostering Healthy Habits Over 3 Months

A 90-day alcohol rehab program can allow a person time to build and develop habits that can be carried into recovery. It takes time to form a habit, and long-term rehab programs can provide this time in a stable and secure environment.

Behavioral therapies are one of the standard forms of care during alcohol rehab, and these therapies help individuals modify thought patterns that are self-destructive. These maladaptive thoughts can lead directly to negative behaviors and actions, including alcohol use. By uncovering the root cause for the drinking, a person can then learn how to find new coping mechanisms for stress and other difficult emotions that do not involve escaping through alcohol.

Alcohol consumption can often be a source of self-medication to dull intense emotions, difficult memories, stress, or mental health issues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that nearly 8 million adults in the United States suffered from both a mental health disorder and addiction in 2014, a condition known as co-occurring disorders. A 90-day alcohol rehab program can help clients navigate through all of these complexly intertwined emotional concerns and treat any co-occurring disorders that may be present.

Addiction has a relapse rate of 40-60 percent, NIDA publishes, and relapse prevention is an important part of a 90-day alcohol rehab program. Therapy and counseling sessions enhance communication abilities while also working to uncover potential triggers for relapse. During rehab, individuals also learn and hone coping mechanisms and tools for minimizing relapse.

Family sessions can highlight dysfunctions within relationships, and long-term rehab programs allow people enough time to work through these concerns. This helps to improve the overall family dynamic. Families can be an important aspect of recovery, and spouses, partners, and even children may be involved in some level of counseling, therapy, and educational programming, both together with the person battling alcoholism and individually in order to ensure that all parties are communicating and working together cohesively.

Life skills workshops and educational programs are often an important part of a 90-day alcohol rehab program. These can help a person better understand the disease of addiction and develop marketable skills for transitioning back into the workplace and society in general. While in an alcohol addiction treatment program, individuals can take parenting classes or anger management classes, and learn how to work through potential legal difficulties pertaining to previous alcohol use.

Clients in rehab also typically connect with support groups made up of peers who can offer encouragement, a sense of understanding, and empathy without judgment. It can be very beneficial to talk to others who really “get” it, and longer rehab programs allow these relationships time to develop and grow. Support groups can be an important aspect of recovery as they can provide a healthy outlet for individuals to vent and a supportive peer circle of those who have similar goals for sobriety. The Journal of Addictive Disorders publishes that people who participate actively in 12-Step peer support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), are twice as likely to remain abstinent over those who do not.

Generally speaking, the longer a person remains in rehab, the more skills and tools they will develop to minimize episodes of relapse and become more emotionally balanced.

90-Day Programs Allow More Time for the Brain to Heal

Additionally, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a brain disease since mind-altering substances like alcohol impact brain chemistry and circuitry. When a person drinks alcohol, changes are made to the chemical makeup of the brain. Naturally occurring chemical messengers in the brain are disrupted by the interaction of alcohol. Regions of the brain that are involved in helping to regulate body movement and moods as well as those related to decision-making, impulse control, and motivation are all impacted by alcohol.

With time and chronic exposure to alcohol, changes to brain wiring and circuitry can actually occur. For example, the reward pathway in the brain is altered in someone who struggles with addiction. Alcohol and drugs can create a kind of shortcut to pleasure, firing off signals that make a person feel artificially happy while intoxicated. When alcohol then wears off, opposite feelings can come out, leaving a person feeling depressed, anxious, and agitated. It can be difficult for someone who battles addiction to be able to feel any pleasure at all without alcohol. Things that used to make a person happy no longer will at this point. This is due to a physical dependence on alcohol being formed in the brain. The brain will have a hard time keeping brain chemistry in a healthy balance without alcohol once dependence sets in. Once alcohol wears off, difficult and intense withdrawal symptoms, which are both emotional and physical in nature, can occur.

A 90-day alcohol rehab program allows the brain time to reset itself and restore healthy balance without alcohol’s disruption. The journal Scientific American publishes that over time damage done to the brain from excessive alcohol use may be reversed with abstinence. Cravings and prolonged withdrawal symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, cognitive difficulties, depression, and anxiety, can linger for several weeks to months, SAMHSA warns, and a longer addiction treatment program can manage these side effects while helping to minimize relapse.

Medications may be part of a 90-day alcohol rehab program, as they can help to stabilize brain chemistry and reduce cravings for alcohol. It can be dangerous to stop drinking “cold turkey” since the brain can experience a significant rebound effect. Instead, medical detox programs can slowly taper down the amount of alcohol consumed or replace it with another central nervous system depressant medication, such as a benzodiazepine. These medications can be continued into rehab and slowly weaned off over a set period of time, allowing the brain time to regulate itself naturally.

A longer alcohol rehab program can also aid in restoring a person’s physical health and wellbeing. Someone who battles alcohol addiction is often malnourished and may not make healthy physical choices. A 90-day alcohol rehab program will typically include nutritional planning services, healthy and balanced meals, and physical fitness opportunities and programs. Holistic and complementary treatment methods are often introduced during long-term rehab programs with offerings like yoga, mindfulness meditation, spa treatments, expressive therapies, massage therapy, vitamin and mineral supplements, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. A 90-day alcohol rehab program will promote overall health and wellness, both emotionally and physically, allowing the body and brain time and space to heal.

A Typical Rehab Daily Schedule

A person may begin alcohol addiction treatment with a medical detox program prior to admission into a rehab program. Medical detox can help a person to become physically stable, often with the aid of medications for managing difficult withdrawal symptoms. Then, a 90-day alcohol rehab treatment plan will progress throughout the duration of the program. This means that treatment services may change as the person moves through the program and their needs change. For example, an individual may progress from more intensive and structured workshops and sessions focused on identifying stressors and becoming emotionally balanced, into life skills trainings, and then into transitional programming to prepare a person for re-entrance into society. Relapse prevention techniques and education on what to expect during recovery are important components of a long-term rehab program as well.

Individuals may need time at the beginning of rehab to settle in, and families are often included more toward the middle and end of a 90-day alcohol rehab program. Programming may go from very intense to less demanding over time. Trained counselors and providers will regularly evaluate and assess people throughout the duration of rehab in order to ensure that the level and type of services being provided are just right.

In general, a typical daily schedule for a 90-day alcohol rehab program will look something like this:

  • 7:30 a.m.: wake up
  • 8-8:15 a.m.: morning reflection
  • 8:15-8:45 a.m.: breakfast
  • 8:45-10:15 a.m.: group counseling session
  • 10:15-11:15 a.m.: fitness, exercise, and/or nutritional planning program
  • 11:15-11:30 a.m.: mindfulness meditation
  • 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: lunch and reflection
  • 12:30-2 p.m.: behavioral therapy/skills training session
  • 2-3 p.m.: expressive therapy
  • 3-4 p.m.: afternoon recreation
  • 4-5 p.m.: individual counseling/therapy session
  • 5-6 p.m.: dinner
  • 6-7:30 p.m.: support group meeting
  • 7:30-9:30 p.m.: sober recreational activities/ free time
  • 9:30-10:00 p.m.: evening reflection and journaling
  • 10 p.m.: lights out

There are many variations on this schedule, as each person will have different needs. For instance, a person may need medication management, or they may engage in holistic and adjunctive therapies, such as massage therapy, yoga, spa treatments, or chiropractic care. Specialized treatment for co-occurring disorders or specific groups of people (gender-specific, polydrug abuse, spiritual beliefs, etc.) may be included. Family therapy may be added in at different intervals, and specialty educational programming and events may occur on a weekly basis as well. Weekend schedules may include visitation times or additional workshops.

Alcohol rehab is tailored to each individual; therefore, each person’s daily schedule may be slightly different. As a person moves through a 90-day alcohol rehab program, the structure and programming can change as well. NIDA reports that staying in an addiction treatment program for at least three months can help to minimize relapse and enhance long-term recovery.

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