I'm a substance abuse counselor. My clients have an average residential stay of about 30 days. Recently a prospective new admit asked me, "Why should I stay for 30 days? Why not 45? 10? 365? Where did this 30 day model come from?"
I was at a bit of a loss.
Pop psychology tells us it takes 30 days to change a habit. (Like eating cold pizza in bed at 1:00AM… I’m still trying to break that one.) Yet there has to be some greater rationale for the 30-day-stay, right? Most treatment centers operate on a 30 day model, including Sanford House.
So I did some research.
I've been lied to
As it turns out, little data backs our commitment to the number 30. Scholars all conceptualize this differently, but most agree:
30 days is arbitrary, and usually not enough time.
One article suggested the Army instituted it... When Vietnam soldiers left active duty to seek treatment in the 1970's, Uncle Sam could only spare them for a month.
But it takes the body 45-90 days to repair itself after addiction. So some folks believe several months in treatment is best. Several months of the consistent and tenacious support, resources, and habit-building that occurs in a rehabilitation environment.
In fact, The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends a 90-day-stay for best results (i.e. long term sobriety). 90 days at least.
Can you imagine spending a cool 100 days at a rehab in Malibu, eating clean and watching the water and working on yourself?! I don’t mean to trivialize the work that goes on in rehab (it’s tough and dirty stuff), but man oh man…
So what it comes down to, unsurprisingly, is money. Insurance companies start to bow out around the 30 day mark. And as those of us in the Human Service field know, insurance companies don’t exactly bend over backwards to serve their clients (that’s our job!).
However, we’ve hit on a pretty complex inquiry here. There are a number of factors at play; the scope of an individual's addiction is particularly important. A (prolongedly) addicted brain requires about a month and a half of sober time before it returns to homeostasis. During that time the brain rids itself of toxins, makes repairs, and the individual begins to think and emote more authentically. A longer addiction time leads to a more intense detox from physical symptoms (as well as from triggers, unhealthy coping, cravings, and interaction styles).
Recovery is a process
So… where am I going with this?
Many clients come into treatment with the mentality:I don’t have time for this. I don’t have 30 days to be away from my kids, my job, my responsibilities.
My response? You're investing in yourself. You're giving yourself permission to learn how to experience connectedness, authenticity with your family and your boss. Taking away time now means eliminating the possibility of living a half-life later.
30 days (or 14 days... or 90 days... ) is just the beginning. Recovery is a process without a real end point, and residential treatment is the beginning. Rehab is where you gather tools, think critically about your decision-making, and focus inward.
I mentioned this in a previous post- it is of utmost importance to understand your treatment. Whether it's rehab, a surgery, or a facial, I encourage you to ask questions.
“Can you explain the rationale behind my stay? How do I know this is long enough? What type of treatment goals are realistic during this timeframe?”