What is Rehab Like?

What is Rehab Like?

I remember the moment when I realized I needed to go to rehab. My life had been spiraling out of control for years and I knew that I needed help. At the time I was 18 years old and did not know many people who had been to rehab. My guesses about what it would be like came mostly from the media. I thought that rehab would be something similar to the psych wards portrayed in Girl, Interrupted or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

It has been six years since I went to rehab and I think the view of what it is like has changed but many people still don’t have a clear idea. Shows like Celebrity Rehab offered a different portrayal of addiction treatment. However, that still is not entirely accurate.

Of course rehabs vary drastically from place to place. I think overall the standards of what to expect are getting higher. There are more qualified people than ever before working in treatment and more and more oversight from accreditation boards. However, the spa-like private rehabs are still bound to be nicer overall than most state run facilities.

Rehab Schedule

Here is a sample schedule from the treatment center where I work.
7 am – Wake up and morning meditation
8 am – Breakfast
9 am – Morning Yoga
10 am – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy group
11 am – Individual therapy sessions
12 pm – Lunch
1 pm – Psychoeducation group
2 pm – Relapse prevention group
3 pm – Individual sessions or break
4 pm – Music or art therapy
5 pm – Break
6 pm – Dinner
7:30 pm – Off site recovery meeting
11pm – Bedtime

As you can see most of the day is spent in group or individual therapy. This is a fairly typical schedule for a treatment program. However, the types of groups may be different depending on where you are. Some treatment centers stress the importance of trauma informed groups while other have more holistic groups like nutrition or meditation.

This sample is for a normal weekday so there would usually be some differences on weekends. Many rehabs offer an outing like rock climbing, movies, or beach excursions on weekends. Generally a weekend schedule is a little bit lighter than the one above.

Treatment Groups

Many groups at treatment programs are focused around a specific type of therapy. Some examples might be dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or trauma therapy groups. Other groups are specifically focused on addiction behaviors like relapse prevention, step-work groups, or identifying triggers.

More and more rehabs are offering holistic groups like the ones mentioned above. This can often include mindfulness meditation, yoga, nutrition and more. Additionally many treatment centers offer some kind of psychoeducation group where they teach about how addiction affects the brain. Some places also offer groups with a psychiatrist who can answer any general questions about psychiatric medication.

Group Therapy

There are numerous different therapy modalities that might be offered at a treatment center. Some of the common ones are named in the groups section above. However, there are many more. If you are going to rehab you might want to ask what kind of therapy is offered. Some places will offer specialized therapy for different disorders.

One example of this would be rapid eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) for people who are coping with trauma. Other things like equine therapy might be available for people who are struggling with anxiety. Some places also do neurofeedback or biofeedback therapy.

Family Programs

In addition to groups and individual therapy many rehabs offer some kind of family program. These generally include family therapy, family groups, and time for family visits. Some centers provide family time on weekends where family members who live in the area can come visit informally.

In addition to these informal visits there is usually a designated family weekend or week where family members are asked to come to the center. Family programs can be as short as one day or as long as a week. On these days there might be a group for only family members where they can process their own experience and ask questions. There is also usually a group with family and residents. Finally, many treatment centers will set aside time for sessions with a family therapist.

Drug Detox

Rehab creates a really nice safe container for recovery. However, it is not without difficulties. The reason that you need all of these groups, family programs, and therapy is because it is hard. One of the hardest aspects of rehab is the physical and psychological withdrawal from drugs and alcohol. So what is detox like exactly?

The withdrawal from drugs can be relatively quick. For example, the half life of opiates is only about 30 minutes. Or the withdrawal can be a lengthy process. Physical withdrawal from Klonopin can take up to 80 hours. This uncomfortable experience can be one of the hardest parts of being in rehab. Your brain and body chemistry are trying to stabilize.

Treatment centers are equipped to handle this kind of withdrawal. If they aren’t, they will send you to a medical detox facility first. Generally while detoxing your schedule is restricted. You are not allowed to leave the facility. Also you usually do not have to attend every group because it is hard to participate while your body is going through this change. Also, many people are given detox drugs to help with the unpleasant symptoms.

The People

The people you might find at rehab centers vary. There are some facilities that are gender specific. Others are open to people of all genders. Some rehabs specialize in young adults and others are open mainly to older adults. There are even some centers that are specifically for executives. Finding the right place for you might mean investigating what type of people are there. It can be important to create strong social bonds in early recovery.

The Food

Rehabs in general provide three meals a day. Some places have private chefs who cook beautifully prepared meals. Others provide food or pay for food but you have to cook yourself. In general, you get what you pay for. If you are at a pricy private facility everything will be cooked and prepared for you.


It is becoming more and more common to not allow phones, computers, or iPads while in residential treatment. Some places still allow you to have your cell phone but hold on to it while you are not using it. Many rehabs have a common area computer that you are allowed to use. You are generally allowed to communicate with the outside world once you are out of the detox phase. You can almost always call people from a landline if you are now allowed to have a cell phone.

TV and Entertainment

Some facilities have common area TVs where residents are allowed to watch a nightly movie or sports game. Some places have TVs in each bedroom (although this is becoming less and less common ). Some places have no TV at all.

Aside from TV there are usually plenty of other ways to stay entertained. Everywhere I have worked has had numerous games or even ping pong tables. Generally, the idea is to provide entertainment that is engaging rather than isolating.

Who Wrote This?
This post was written by one of our staff writers at Addiction Rehab Blog!

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