The numbers on how many people actually get permanently clean after starting drug recovery vary wildly. It’s impossible to survey the entire ex-addict population of the US, and it’s also difficult to get numbers on people who have been sober for a specific or given period of time. So instead, people were surveyed to better determine the risk of relapse within a given time period. One study revealed that people who are sober less than a year have at least a 33 percent chance of relapse, while another notes that most (85 percent) recovering addicts relapse at least once in the first year after treatment. After five years, the chance drops to 15 percent, and decreases with time.
What this suggests is that recovering from addiction is hard, and clearly not a matter of willpower. Some researchers suggest that addiction should be considered a chronic disease like type I diabetes, that can be recurring and requires continuous treatment, be it in the form of therapy, group meetings, or just family support.
However, it’s also important to note that while over 20 million Americans live with addiction, only about 11 percent get treatment. With the right treatment, a person’s relapse rate can be drastically reduced. A good approach is to combine rehab programs and sober living homes.
Difference Between Rehab and Sober Living
Rehab programs, or residential treatment programs, are programs that usually last anywhere between a month and a few weeks, with the maximum time for the traditional model of treatment being about 90 days, although in some treatment facilities you can opt to stay for longer depending on certain circumstances. That being said, most rehab programs focus specifically on the earliest days of recovery, while helping recovering addicts look forward into the near future. Sometimes, rehab programs are meant to help people recover from relapses or enter back into a program if they’ve been in one before and feel they need another go.
Sober living is a different form of treatment. While therapy and group therapy can still be a part of the “program”, sober living homes and communities are more often than not a form of living arrangement, wherein recovering addicts live normal lives with an added set of rules, including curfews and drug testing. All tenants can stay for as long as they continue to pay rent, while being encouraged to either seek out a school or find employment. Sober living communities are less guided than a strict rehab program, and that added freedom gives many recovering addicts an opportunity to continue to grow and face distinct new challenges they couldn’t face in rehab, without the risk of relapse.
Making the Transition
Rehab programs are usually built to help people in the first and earliest stages of recovery. After quitting drug use, a number of physical and mental symptoms begin to manifest. The most common include irritability, social withdrawal, symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, as well as various symptoms associated with drug withdrawal, depending entirely on the drugs a person was using before they quit.
Other symptoms include post-acute withdrawal, wherein withdrawal symptoms can reoccur days or even weeks after the initial withdrawal period, as well as all the symptoms of early recovery/sobriety, which include serious moodiness, emotional rollercoasters, and powerful cravings.
All the while, rehab programs are often focused on helping recovering addicts address the issues that might have fueled or continue to fuel their addiction. Treating addiction can and often does involve therapy, because to help someone stay away from drugs, they need to learn to cope in other ways, deal with the fallout of months or years of drug use without relapsing and continue to live a healthy life both emotionally and physically to maintain their sobriety.
Taking the next step can be daunting, because sober living homes don’t offer the same sort of structure as a rehab program does – but they’re still structured. Most sober living homes encourage you to, on top of finding employment, also contribute to the community by doing odd jobs, taking care of certain chores, and encouraging you to stick to a regular schedule by scheduling group events and setting curfews. This can help you adjust to a better, more regulated life outside of treatment facilities, one where you can continue to take on a disciplined approach to living while dedicating yourself to your passions and responsibilities outside of rehab or sober living.
Addiction Isn’t Clear-Cut
And neither is recovery. There’s no real good way of telling how long it should take for you to “complete” recovery, in the sense that you’re no longer struggling with sobriety and can focus entirely on your new life. Some people say it takes a year to be sure, while others say that recovery is never really over.
Most rehab programs are meant to help someone through the early stages of recovery. It’s when you first stop using drugs that you’re at your most vulnerable. Cravings can be overpowering, and without the right sense of direction to help you know where you should be taking your life next, it can be difficult to keep yourself relapsing. The danger of relapsing increases even more as you begin to encounter some of the initial challenges of sobriety, alongside cravings and temptation.
However, that early stage of recovery does not end at any set point and will drag on a little longer than you want. While there is a biological limit for how long a drug can actively influence a user, everything else is highly individual. The time it takes for someone to physically and mentally recover from months, years, or decades of drug use depends highly on their mental and physical state, the drugs they took, and the quality of their recovery.
Sober Living is Worth It
Rehab can give you an excellent head-start – but jumping out of rehab into “the real world” can be a massive challenge for most people. There’s a reason the majority of people who go into recovery – including those who stay clean for years – usually relapse at least once within the first few months, up to a year. It’s only after anywhere between a year and two years that relapses become exceedingly rare, and it becomes easier to manage a sober life without ever feeling the overwhelming pressure that might tip one over the edge, despite everything.
That’s the primary reason why it’s a great idea to get into a sober living community right after rehab. The transition from rehab into sober living is at just the right level that you will continue to progress toward a completely new sober life. Because sober living homes actively encourage you to live a life outside of the community through consistent outside therapy and/or group help, as well as a job or school, you get to make a partial transition into living completely outside of any recovery programs, while still having the benefit of a professional, recovery-oriented environment.