Many people want to know the optimal amount of time to stay in drug and alcohol treatment to have the most positive effects. We posted a blog on this a couple of years ago, but the question is raised so often, that we thought we’d talk about it again.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Research has shown unequivocally that good outcomes are contingent on adequate treatment length. Generally, for residential or outpatient treatment, participation for less than 90 days is of limited effectiveness, and treatment lasting significantly longer is recommended for maintaining positive outcomes.”
So, why 90 days? Research has shown that drug abuse results in changes in the brain that persist long after a person stops using drugs. These changes in brain function often have many behavioral consequences, including an inability to control the impulse to use drugs and alcohol, despite negative consequences. Ninety days is the general length of time it takes for important neurotransmitters to reset, thus allowing the individual to override cravings and impulses, often referred to as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).
There are two stages of withdrawal.
- The first stage is the acute stage, which lasts from three days up to three weeks, depending on the type of addiction. During this stage, there are usually physical withdrawal symptoms. But every drug is different, and every person is different.
- The second stage of withdrawal is called Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). During this stage there are often fewer physical symptoms, but increased emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Post-acute withdrawal occurs because the brain’s chemistry is gradually returning to normal. As the brain improves, the levels of brain chemicals fluctuate as they approach the new equilibrium, and this causes post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
PAWS symptoms, including irritability, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, anxiety, mood swings, and fatigue, tend to occur around 30 and 60 days of sobriety, often the time when people are leaving treatment. This is why it’s crucial, whenever possible, to stay involved in some form of treatment for at least 90 days.