12 Months of Addiction Treatment For Best Outcomes

When it Comes to Treatment, 12 (Months) is the Magic Number


The Latest Medical Studies and the 12 Month Milestone

The latest study published in the Open Journal of Psychiatry once again indicates higher success rates occur after longer periods of treatment.That study is the latest in a long line of medical research that indicates a strong correlation between length of treatment and long term sobriety. One of the most influential (and largest) studies of this kind was conducted in 2007 on over 1100 people 8 years after they had received treatment for addiction.Here are some key takeaways:• About a third of people who receive treatment will remain abstinent for more than a year• For those who achieve a year of sobriety, less than half relapsed in the 8 year period• For those who achieve 5 years of sobriety, less than 15 percent relapsed in the 8 year periodClearly the 12 month sobriety milestone is a crucial one, and there are many social and medical reasons for this. The person has typically adopted new behaviors and their brain chemistry has rebounded to the point where they are experiencing enough joy and increased self esteem that they recoil from the prospect of relapse (and respond to any stressful triggers proactively with new behaviors that they've adopted).[caption id="attachment_11836" align="alignright" width="300"]

addiction counselor

Treatment Works[/caption]Many of those who have achieved long term sobriety can identify a period that is a “tipping point’ of sorts where they turned a corner in their recovery and things got much more easier. For most people, this occurs sometime in the first year of sobriety, but not usually in the first 3 months.

Months 1-3: Detox and Primary (Acute) treatment


Depending on a wide variety of factors, the detoxification process can last anywhere from 1 day to 2 weeks (and occasionally longer). During this process, the recovering individual should be kept comfortable and safe, as the withdrawals from the drugs can cause much discomfort and are also potentially dangerous (for instance, alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawals can be fatal).During the detoxification, therapeutic processes like counseling and “process groups” are typically not participated in, as the individual will be in the process of becoming stabilized. NorthStar Transitions can provide for a clinically supervised detoxification, contact us for more information. After the detoxification is complete, the ‘primary care’ phase of treatment begins.

Primary Care

Primary treatment is typically where the recovering individual receives counseling and participates in therapeutic activities in a closely monitored environment. It's critical that the recovering person does not reside in their regular home where they had been living and using substances prior to treatment.The person in treatment should:

  • Have regular appointments with a consistent counselor
  • Participate in process groups and therapeutic activities
  • Work (with a clinical facilitator) on new responses to life's stressful triggers
  • Adopt new uplifting and esteem building activities
  • Start building a support network of other recovering individuals
  • Be regularly screened for drug or alcohol use

NorthStar provides all of the above and more in an inspirational setting in Boulder Colorado, which is simply a great place for early sobriety.

12-Step Participation

During this early phase of treatment, building a recovery support system is very important. Almost all treatment programs expose clients to the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12-Step community is an invaluable asset to the person who wants to stay connected to other recovering people in a support network with chapters in virtually every city in America (and most countries in the world).

New Activities and New Responses to Stress

It's important that recovering individuals participate in new activities, with new people, and respond to stress in different ways. The individual in primary treatment will be experiencing post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Post acute withdrawal symptoms (or PAWS) are physical and mental withdrawals that are less intense than what was experienced during detoxification but commonly are a precursor to relapse. PAWS can continue in lessening degrees throughout the first few years of recovery. Physical activities (even walking outdoors) seem to be an effective way to combat the stressors of life (which exacerbate PAWS). Having proactively prepared a plan to respond to PAWS (ie calling your sponsor or reaching out for help elsewhere) is an important component of treatment for addiction. Creating such a plan is regularly included in a relapse prevention workshop or series of classes like the ones offered at NorthStar Transitions.

Regular Drug and Alcohol Screening

Regular drug testing is is a must, but many people misunderstand this requirement to be punitive when it can be an affirming testament to the recovering person’s ongoing sobriety. NorthStar Transitions provides comprehensive urine and breathalyzer testing on clients at all levels of care.

Months 4-12: Stepping Down Through Levels Of Care

As the recovering individual continues their growth and builds a solid foundation of new behaviors to go along with their support system, they will want to re-integrate gradually back into 'normal' life by reducing their time commitment to clinical processes. During this stage, the person should live in a sober living environment, which is an apartment or home where other sober people are living and requires drug and alcohol abstinence as well as active participation in recovery activities. NorthStar Transitions can provide a sober living environment for those who are admitted to our various 'stepping down' levels of care:

Day Treatment or Partial Hospitalization

During Day Treatment (also known as a Partial Hospitalization Program or PHP), the recovering person will attend treatment on site with a group of other participants for activities that are facilitated by our clinical staff. Hours are typically Monday through Friday from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Day Treatment participants will also have two 90 minute sessions with a therapist per week, and psychiatric consultation if necessary.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

The Intensive Outpatient Program at NorthStar includes a shorter commitment on fewer days per week than Day Treatment (for instance Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30AM to 12:30PM or 5:30PM to 8:30PM). The participant also attend weekly individual and family therapy sessions in addition to their IOP curriculum.

Outpatient Program

The Outpatient Program is a 'step down' in care from the Intensive Outpatient program but still provides for regular and recurring meetings with a group of other recovering people and our clinical facilitators. Participants will be regularly screened for drugs and alcohol and will also have scheduled one-on-one meetings with their therapist (and psychiatrist if needed).

12 Months and Onward: Re-integration Into Society

After the first year of treatment and recovery, the individual has hopefully achieved that important "12 month chip" and is ready to resume their academic or professional career. If the person chooses to relocate away from the area where they received treatment, the 12-Step community can be very helpful in providing a support network at the person's new location.

Everyone is Different

It should always be remembered that every individual is different, with a unique medical, social, and family background, as well as a unique history of substance abuse. The above guidelines are based on the medical community's decades of addiction treatment research and practice, but in reality some people need longer treatment (and some, shorter).

Dual Diagnoses

Dual diagnoses (or co-occurring disorders) like anxiety, trauma, or depression are often present in those who are seeking treatment for a chemical dependency. Sometimes the the symptoms of these behavioral or mood disorders are a result of the substance use, or sometimes they are pre-existing conditions that are exacerbated by the drug use.Screening for dual diagnosis should be done upon admittance to detox and continually throughout the first year (and beyond, as needed). Treatment for addiction should integrate addressing any dual diagnoses that are present, as it is important to address all issues that affect the person's wellbeing in order to best prevent relapse.

Relapse is Not Failure

Along with the recent revelations from medical community that addiction is a medical disease (and not a matter of choice), comes a more tolerant view of relapse as setback that is to be expected during recovery for not just addiction, but diabetes, or any other medical ailment that requires treatment. In the event of a relapse, it's typical for the recovering person to 'step up' their level of care to a more intensive program temporarily until the relapse has been processed and learned from. Then the individual can return to the lower level of care and continue their gradual "stepping down" in treatment.

Get Help Today

If you or a loved one are in need of drug and alcohol treatment, NorthStar Transitions offers comprehensive care at every level discussed in this article. Contact us today via phone or verify your insurance HERE and an admissions representative will be in touch with you within 24 business hours.

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