How Long Does It Take To Break An Addiction?

Addictions take time to break, although the exact time varies from person to person. Eliminating the physical presence of drugs and alcohol from the body may not take long, but detoxification doesn’t mean you’ve broken the habit of using addictive substances. Even though many psychologists agree that it takes approximately 21 days to create a new habit, research shows that 3 weeks isn’t nearly enough time to break an existing habit, especially one as strong as addiction.

The time needed to break an addiction can depend on a variety of factors such as:

  • How long you’ve used addictive substances
  • The behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that encourage your addiction
  • The social, physical, and emotional rewards you seem to experience when you use substances
  • Your motivation to change

The time needed to recover from addiction can be different for everyone. But the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends that people spend at least 90 days in an addiction recovery program. Here’s why.

Why 21 Days Isn’t Enough

The assumption that it takes 21 days to break a habit comes from a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. In the book, author and plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz noticed that his patients need about 21 days to get used to their “new” faces. But addiction is more powerful than an ordinary habit, and recent studies show that for most people, 21 days isn’t enough time to see any substantial change.

Research shows that it takes about 66 days to change repetitive behavior patterns. One landmark study conducted by researchers at the University College London discovered that the time individuals needed to change their behavior patterns varied from 18 to 254 days. The study also concluded that most people take at least 2 months to develop new behavior patterns.

Why Research Suggests At Least 90 Days of Treatment

Researchers from Yale University discovered that the brain’s prefrontal cortex needs 90 days to regain proper decision-making and analytical functioning. This discovery, also known as the “sleeper effect,” may help explain why 90-day rehab programs have higher success rates than shorter-term addiction treatments.

About 40 to 60 percent of people relapse after addiction treatment, but a large portion of these numbers can be attributed to people who were in treatment for less than 90 days. According to a study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry:

  • 35% of people in treatment for less than 90 days used drugs the year after they attended a recovery program
  • 17% of people in treatment for 90 days or more relapsed the year following addiction treatment

Even though 30 and 60-day recovery programs remain popular, remaining in treatment for 3 months allows you time to:

  • Let your brain heal from the effects of drug and alcohol use
  • Master skills learned in recovery
  • Let new patterns you’ve learned become habits

Here at Meta Addiction Treatment, we offer 3 different tiers of outpatient recovery programs for precisely this reason. After attending one program, our patients can participate in our subsequent recovery programs and clinical services until they feel fully empowered and equipped to take charge of their own recovery. We believe that time is a recovering addict’s best friend.

Participating in a professional recovery program for 3 months or more can help you better:

  • Focus on your recovery. You need time to focus entirely on the changes you want to make and even more time to make those transitions happen. Longer programs can help you immerse yourself in treatment activities.
  • Change harmful habits. The brain needs about 90 days to relearn how to manage emotions, reframe negative thoughts, resolve conflict, reduce stress, ease anxiety, and resist cravings. The more time you have to practice these skills, the more prepared you’ll be to face challenges.
  • Maintain sobriety. Being in rehab for 90 days or more decreases the risk of relapse. Leaving treatment before you’ve fully changed hurtful habits can increase your risk of relapse.

The Reality: Addiction Lasts For A Lifetime

Even though 90-day recovery is now considered the gold standard of treatment, you can’t put a timeline on recovery. The reality is that addiction is a lifelong enemy of recovery and a daily journey. Luckily, our flexible recovery programs can help empower you to change your life for the better.

Empowering You To Break The Cycle of Addiction

Here at Meta Addiction Treatment in Massachusetts, our mission is to empower and equip you to take charge of your recovery. Recovery may take time, but our programs can help you overcome addiction and maintain sobriety. Contact us and let us help you get there. We’re ready and willing to help you recover no matter how long it takes.

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