Thinking of Going to Rehab? Here’s What to Expect

As a latchkey kid in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I grew up in front of a television set. Sitcoms and after-school specials informed my understanding of many adult “real world” topics, including addiction. So when I first came to the realization that I might have a drinking problem (all the way back in 2005, when I was 30), I assumed that going away to rehab was the one and only solution. That’s what everyone did on TV, after all — and they always came back cured.

Eighteen years and four rehabs later, I’ve learned that going to a treatment facility is not a prerequisite for getting sober. It’s also not a magical cure-all that strips you of your obsession simply because you decide to go. But it is an option that works wonders for many people, especially those who find it difficult to get distance from their substance of choice (people who work in a restaurant or bar, for example). So if you’re thinking about going to rehab and wondering what to expect, here’s a quick and general rundown.

Medically Supervised Detox

Depending on your level of physical dependence, you may need to undergo detox before starting a residential treatment program. It’s crucial to do this under medical supervision to ensure your safety. Medical professionals will monitor your condition, provide medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, and offer emotional support to help you through the discomfort. Some residential rehabs offer medical detox as part of their program, others may recommend a hospital-based program for you to attend before they accept you for treatment.

In my experience, detox was a lifesaver. Once I reached a level of complete physical dependence on alcohol, I believed sobriety was impossible — and that belief kept me hopeless for a long time. But once I learned I could get a safe, medical detox, I knew I had a chance.

Residential Treatment

Residential rehab

Residential rehab (also called inpatient treatment) provides a supportive, structured environment where you live onsite for an extended period, typically ranging from 28 to 90 days. In these programs, you’ll engage in individual and group therapy sessions, participate in activities promoting emotional healing, and learn essential coping skills. The immersive nature of residential treatment allows you to focus entirely on your recovery, away from the triggers and stressors of daily life.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) offer a more flexible approach to rehab. They allow you to attend therapy sessions and support groups while still living at home and continuing with your daily responsibilities like work or school. IOPs provide a higher level of care than standard outpatient programs, ensuring you receive the support you need to maintain your sobriety while managing your day-to-day life.

I’ve been in four residential treatment programs, one of which lasted for five months. At the time, I thought anything more than one month was ridiculous. But I agreed to stay because my family wanted me to, and I was fortunate enough to be able to take the time off. Looking back now, I see just how much it helped. It kept me away from triggers and gave me the opportunity to practice my new sober living tools (and make mistakes) in a safe environment where relapse was virtually impossible. 

Often, IOPs are offered as a step-down treatment following residential rehab. IOP’s are also an option if your work schedule or other circumstances make it impossible for you to go away for 30, 60, or 90 days. 

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient rehab programs offer therapy sessions and support groups on a part-time basis. They are typically designed for people who have completed more intensive treatment or for those with milder addiction issues. Outpatient programs empower you to apply the skills you’ve learned in rehab to real-life situations, with the ongoing guidance and encouragement of addiction professionals.

After my five-month stint in residential rehab, I went to outpatient treatment at the Freedom Institute and it was incredibly helpful. It kept me close to recovery while allowing me to venture out into the real world and live my life.


Recovery doesn’t end when you leave the formal rehab program; it’s a lifelong journey. Aftercare, also known as continuing care, provides ongoing support to help you maintain your sobriety. This can include individual therapy, support groups, and regular check-ins with addiction counselors. 

My continuing care consists of bi-weekly therapy and regular support group meetings. Some people need more, some people need less. Fortunately, there are many many options out there.

What’s Next?

If you’re able, I suggest doing some research into residential rehab programs to see if there’s a facility that might be a good fit for you. A website like is a good place to begin because you can narrow down your options — it lets you filter your search by state, type of treatment (residential, outpatient, etc.), insurance coverage, special focus (LGBTQ, veterans LGBTQ, etc.), and more.

Have you been to rehab? Was it anything like what you expected? Tell us about your experience and misconceptions in the comments!


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