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The Levels of the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Cycle

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When I first entered the world of drug and alcohol treatment, it was a flurry of chaos. People rushing around, talking about drugs and God and medications, and always counting the days that they had spent in detox, or moving to PHP or IOP. I had no idea what anyone was talking about, but I didn’t want to seem green so I stayed quiet, ever pretending I was up to par on treatment lingo. After a few relapses, and now working in the field a few years later, the whole treatment cycle makes a little more sense. If you are still confused, or if you are a parent who doesn’t know what the heck level of care your child is in, keep reading.

The Detox Process

This is always going to be the very first level of care that the user enters into as long as they have been using for a substantial period of time before getting help. Detox is the highest level of care, which provides users with constant, around the clock monitoring in a hospital-like environment. This is usually when the person is experiencing the worst of their withdrawal symptoms, and require medications to alleviate the most invasive side effects, ranging from night terrors, to restless legs, to dehydration, and inability to eat. Doctors and nursing staff will be present around the clock, constantly checking patient’s’ vitals and administering emergency services if necessary. Detox stays usually range from 2 days to a few weeks depending on the severity of the pre-existing condition. Detox will sometimes not be deemed medically necessary for some users, for example, people recovering from cocaine addictions are not considered life-threatening cases, whereas users of benzodiazepines or alcohol will always be accepted. The qualifications will vary depending on how the drugs affect the body during the detox process.


This is always the second level of care, and it stands for Partial Hospitalization. Users will have completed the initial stages of their detoxification, and will now be required to attend group therapy and drug and alcohol classes anywhere from 5-8 hours a day. They will be assigned a personal therapist who can create a structured recovery plan based on the specific needs and history of the patient, for example, if someone struggles with trauma or codependency issues, their treatment will be more structured around coping with those issues. PHP allows for clients to have mostly a structured day, while also allowing time during the evening to be exposed to 12 step based programs, such as AA or NA meetings, or even H&I meetings, where 12 step workers can bring a meeting into the hospital setting. PHP usually ranged from 2 weeks to 2 months depending on the mental and physical state of the patient.

group therapy in treatment

Intensive Outpatient

Intensive Outpatient level of care will be the next stop on the treatment program. This can usually consist of anywhere between a few weeks to a few month span. Patients are usually required to attend 9 hours of group therapy and an hour of individual therapy per week. Patients will be administered Urinary Analysis tests to ensure they are staying sober, and at this point, they will usually be living off campus in halfway house settings. Since at this point they will usually have a few weeks to a few months of sobriety, they will not be monitored around the clock, but IOP level patients are usually encouraged to attend frequent outside meetings, find a job, get a sponsor, and work on successfully assimilating back into everyday society.


This is usually the last level of care for people who participate in the full spectrum of the treatment cycle. Achieving OP status, or, Outpatient, is the final stop before the patient is expected to get their own apartment or move into 3/4 housing. For clients who are at an outpatient level, they are only expected to attend 3 hours of group therapy, and one hour of individual therapy. They may stay in OP as long as they choose, to ensure that they are provided with the structure and accountability of their treatment program. Some people like to stay in OP for months, as it keeps them responsible and in frequent contact with a therapist.

Regardless of the level of care, the treatment cycle can only truly be effective when worked in the order it was designed to be completed it. From detox to outpatient, the levels of treatment help to assimilate recovering addicts and alcoholics back onto the path of healthy, responsible, everyday living. Treatment gives people access to frequent therapy with a licensed therapist, assistance with job searches and if necessary, with communication with probation officers and court systems. The treatment cycle allows people who are estranged from family members a new support system, and it helps people stay accountable to a program that can truly work.

If you are planning to enter into a new and sober chapter of your life, but are unsure of the steps you need to take, your best bet is to start with detox. From there, you will be opened up to a whole new world. I experienced my first AA meeting in detox when an H&I speaker came in to share her story with us. To be honest, I don’t remember a word she said, but I remember thinking that she seemed happy. She used the same drugs that I had been, and she had used them for a lot longer, but when I heard her speak, she had several years of sobriety, and she was… well.

Seeking Treatment for Alcoholism and Addiction

Getting clean and sober from drugs and alcohol is the most important thing that an addict or alcoholic can do in their life. At Pinnacle Recovery, we understand this and we are here to help you through the anxiety that going to a treatment center for alcohol can bring. With help from our professionals, you can find a new life in sobriety with the least amount of resistance possible, and you can learn what it means to achieve a sustained and happy recovery. So call us today at 1-866-301-0573 and begin your journey to recovery the right way, with Pinnacle Recovery.

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