Last updated: 06 October 2023 & medically reviewed by Hailey Shafir
Deciding to attend an addiction treatment facility is one of the biggest steps on the road to recovery, but not knowing what to expect can make the process even more overwhelming. This article will provide information that will help you know what to expect when entering drug or alcohol treatment.
- Despite the specificity of addiction treatment required for each individual, there are many parts of the treatment process that will be generally the same between different types of rehab facility.
- During this assessment appointment, a medical or clinical staff will ask questions regarding your addiction history including what substances you’ve used, how much and how often you use, and the effects substance use has had on your life, health, and relationships.
- The objective of inpatient treatment is to get patients to a position where they can understand themselves, their triggers, coping mechanisms and to help them learn relevant skills before for long-term sobriety.
Table of contentsToggle table of contents ↑ ↓
Table of contents:
Steps to starting addiction treatment
Every individual requires a specific, tailored treatment plan for their needs, which is developed by a person in collaboration with a licensed clinician.  For example, someone with co-occurring mental health issues will require additional therapy, someone with a severe heroin addiction may require medically assisted therapy (MAT), and those with mild substance abuse problems may require less intense treatment. 
Despite the specificity of addiction treatment required for each individual, there are many parts of the treatment process that will be generally the same between different types of rehab facility. Below we look at the process of entering into addiction treatment (both inpatient and outpatient levels of care) and provide information about each step of the process. 
Screening & consultation
The first step to overcoming addiction and getting treatment usually starts with a screening phone call or consultation appointment. During this brief call or consultation, someone from the facility will be able to answer questions about the treatments offered at the center.
This is a great time to ask questions and gather information that can help you determine if the center meets your needs and preferences. During the screening and consultation, you can also expect to be asked questions that will help the facility understand your treatment needs, and in some cases, be recommended for a different type of treatment.
Admission & intake
After screening and consultation, the next step is to select a treatment facility and set up an initial appointment with an admissions staff. This is normally someone who is there to assist you in getting the necessary paperwork and administrative tasks completed in order to begin treatment.
The admissions coordinator will go through all administrative procedures to get them started. This will include taking personal details, removing anything considered contraband (drugs or alcohol, dangerous items, drug paraphernalia, etc.), and going over terms and conditions with new patients. The last part will inform patients of their legal rights regarding who has access to their medical information.
Assessment & treatment planning
After the admission, intake process, and paperwork are complete, the next step is normally for a person to schedule an appointment with a licensed clinician at the facility. During this assessment appointment, a medical or clinical staff will ask questions regarding your addiction history including what substances you’ve used, how much and how often you use, and the effects substance use has had on your life, health, and relationships. 
Being completely up-front and honest when being questioned about your drug and alcohol use is important, as the information gathered is used to verify your diagnosis and make informed recommendations for your treatment. Making a treatment plan is another crucial step in addiction treatment and one which will often be an ongoing process, with clinicians continuously assessing your progress towards treatment goals and making adjustments to treatment as needed. 
Principles of effective treatment
Research into addiction treatment has been an ongoing process since the 1970s, with many addiction professionals agreeing that successful treatment and ongoing recovery is built around a set of core principles, including: 
- Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.
- No single treatment is right for everyone.
- People need to have quick access to treatment.
- Effective treatment addresses all of the patient’s needs, not just their drug use.
- Staying in treatment long enough is critical.
- Counseling and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used and effective forms of treatment.
- Medications are often an important part of treatment, especially when combined with behavioral therapies.
- Treatment plans must be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.
- Treatment should address other possible mental disorders.
- Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of treatment.
- Drug use during treatment must be monitored continuously.
Options for drug & alcohol treatment
Drug and alcohol treatment can be broken into two broad categories: outpatient and inpatient care. Within each of these categories is a range of different options for treatment, which will offer slight variations in treatment, facilities, and amenities. Some will offer unique treatment options such as holistic therapies, others offer luxury accommodation, and most will offer group and/or individual therapy. Some programs will also offer services like medication to reduce cravings and withdrawals, case management to help link a person to employment, housing, or other resources. A review of some of the most common forms of addiction treatment is provided below.
Some people seeking addiction treatment will have to go through detoxification, or detox before beginning group or individual therapy or other addiction treatment programs. During this time, individuals will be closely monitored by medical professionals to ensure they are going through any withdrawal symptoms safely and that substance cravings are managed. 
Detox is more likely to be needed with certain drugs like alcohol, benzodiazepines and opioids, which all can cause uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) withdrawal symptoms. Detox may include medications to manage the incredibly uncomfortable feelings of withdrawal and intense cravings. Detox makes the recovery process much more likely to be successful and ensures patients are starting from an even stance when beginning treatment. Find out more about detox here. 
Inpatient treatment for addiction (aka inpatient rehab) involves 24-hour treatment provided in a facility where a person eats and sleeps. Inpatient rehab facilities offer various therapies, activities, and programs to assist in long-term recovery including group and individual therapy, recovery skills classes, and other therapeutic activities.  Luxury facilitates may offer resort and spa-like amenities like massages, equine therapy, and high-end lodging and food. See our guide to learn what a typical day in residential rehab is like.
The objective of inpatient treatment is to get patients to a position where they can understand themselves, their triggers, coping mechanisms and to help them learn relevant skills before for long-term sobriety. Inpatient treatment usually lasts between 30 and 90 days and will always end with patients being offered the support they need to carry on their recovery journey in the regular world. Visit our guide for more information on inpatient treatment. 
Outpatient treatment for addiction is provided in offices, facilities, or sometimes, in-home or community settings. This type of treatment does not include overnight stays and instead offers group or individual treatment throughout the week. Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) involve going to a facility several times a week for groups, individual therapy, case management, and in some cases, medication.  IOP’s are often used as a step-down from inpatient or residential levels of care, or for people with moderate or severe addictions.
Traditional outpatient addiction treatment involves group and/or family and individual therapy appointments once or sometimes twice per week. Therapy sessions are usually provided by a licensed counselor, addiction specialist, or social worker, and will focus on helping a person in recovery maintain their sobriety. This type of treatment may be right for people with mild forms of addiction or those who have completed higher levels of care. You can learn more about the different kinds of outpatient treatments here. 
Planning for life after treatment
Preparing to reenter normal life after treatment is a huge step for all patients and no two people will experience the same. Challenges like financial/job insecurity, damaged relationships, exposure to triggers, and mental and emotional issues can all make the transition out of treatment difficult for those in recovery. Because of these challenges, it may be best to transition slowly out of treatment, and also to consider joining a support or recovery group (like 12 step meetings or SMART recovery groups) for additional help. 
When someone is ready to transition to the next phase of treatment, or if they are ready to re-enter normal life, they will be officially discharged from their rehab facility. At this stage, the treatment provider will give a final assessment as well as an ongoing recovery plan and or any guidance on what their next steps should be. Many treatment facilities provide case management services to help a person identify resources or supports that can help them maintain their sobriety after leaving treatment. 
*It is rare that treatment centers will recommend anyone leaves their treatment earlier than planned and will only give consent for them to leave once they feel they have reached a successful level of sobriety.
Addiction is considered a chronic disease, and many people benefit from ongoing treatment to prevent relapse. Support groups and 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous can offer guidance, structure, and peer interaction which often prove invaluable especially in the early stages after rehab. Sober living communities may also be of help to those who live in negative environments.  Ongoing therapy or counseling is also almost always recommended for people in recovery from addiction.
Final thoughts on the addiction treatment process
According to SAMHSA, 8.5% of the U.S. population ages 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem in 2014, but only 18.5% of them received it.  This is a major concern since research shows that treatment greatly increases the likelihood that a person will achieve lasting sobriety. If you or a loved one needs information about treatment or help entering into treatment for addiction, reach out to a specialist today.