What to Expect When Entering Addiction Treatment

Whether you have been struggling with a drug or alcohol problem for a long time or it’s something relatively new for you, just the thought of starting rehab can be scary and overwhelming. While everyone’s journey is individualized, the basic premise is the same in most rehabilitation centers: First you must detox, then you will go through a period of intensive therapy, then you will be released from the program and will begin an aftercare program. Knowing what to expect from the process can make it seem less scary and can reduce your stress levels. Also, keep in mind that the goal is that you will be well on the path to recovery by the time you leave the rehab center.

The Detox Process

If you are physically dependent on substances, you will be encouraged to go through the detoxification process, which is often called detox. Stopping certain drugs cold turkey can be extremely uncomfortable, and in some cases, even fatal. If you are dependent on benzodiazepines (like Xanax or Valium), barbiturates, or alcohol, you will need to have your dosages lowered gradually and be medically supervised to prevent potentially serious complications. Other types of drugs should also be supervised, though you might not need to wean off of them.

Trying to quit substances abruptly and without proper support can make the chances of a relapse more likely, so talk to your physician or substance abuse specialist about whether you need to go through a specific detox program and what it is likely to entail.


Not everyone going through rehab has to take medication, but some do. You might be prescribed drugs that will make the detox process less dangerous and unpleasant, for example. If your addiction is concurrent with some type of mental health condition like anxiety, depression, or a psychotic disorder, you will receive medications to help you manage that condition. Sometimes, addiction is caused or made worse by a mental health disorder, so this can be considered a vital part of your treatment.

It’s important to note that while you might receive medications as part of your rehabilitation, the medicine is not a stand-alone treatment. You will still need to go through the other stages of your treatment plan to give you the best shot at recovery.

Individual Therapy

Part of the rehab process is going to therapy. If you are in an inpatient or intensive outpatient program, you will likely have several different types of therapy. One type is where it will be just you and the counselor or other mental health or addiction specialist. There are several types of psychotherapy, but one of the most popular is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT will help you take a look at what specific circumstances have caused you to turn to your substance of choice, then you will learn new ways of handling your cravings and your feelings when these circumstances arise again. You’ll practice them before being confronted with the stressful situations, which will enable you to follow through on the healthier options when you have a craving for drugs or alcohol.

Group Therapy

In addition to individual therapy, you will likely attend some group therapy sessions. Some advantages of group therapy include being able to bounce ideas off of other people, being able to spend time just listening, and building up a support system of people who know what you are going through. You might end up forming lifelong friendships with some of the people in your group therapy.

You might also have therapy with other members of your family, which will help you mend relationships while you are still in treatment. It can also help your family members understand how to better support you as you go through the recovery process. If you are struggling with severe stress, an eating disorder, anger, or other conditions in addition to your addiction, you may also attend therapy focused on these issues.

Free Time & Healthy Activities

One thing that some people with addictions have trouble with is finding alternate activities to occupy their time after treatment ends. When you are in rehab, you will obviously not be able to participate in activities having anything to do with alcohol or drugs, and you will likely be limited when it comes to using electronics like your smartphone or tablet. This will force you to interact with others and focus on learning healthy behaviors that will help you after your treatment is done.

Depending on the center you choose, you might have access to art therapy, exercise programs, animal therapy, and other activities that are meant to be relaxing and therapeutic. You’ll also have free time to spend writing letters, playing games with other participants, reading, engaging in sports, and doing a variety of things that you might like to continue once you return to your home.


As your intensive treatment phase winds down, you’ll be encouraged to look into the type of aftercare you’d like to continue with after you go home. For many people, this includes a 12-step support group program like Narcotics Anonymous or something similar. You may continue seeing the same or a different addiction specialist on a weekly or less often basis, or you might attend group therapy sessions regularly or occasionally. All of these can help you keep in touch with the people you’ve met, stay accountable, and continue learning how to handle various challenges.

As you enter rehab, you’re bound to have a lot of questions and concerns. You should talk to your addiction specialist about these concerns so they can be addressed and so you can feel comfortable with the care that you’re getting. Don’t be afraid to depend on your counselors and, to an extent, on the other participants in your program. It’s important to build up a support system that will help you make better choices once you are back at home and learning how to incorporate your recovery into your daily life.