Learn / Levels of Care: A Guide to Your Addiction Treatment Options

Levels of Care: A Guide to Your Addiction Treatment Options

Kayla Gill
 September 13th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

When you’re ready to get treatment for addiction, you might not know where to start. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Experts have clearly defined the different stages of recovery. Understanding them can help you plan for what comes next.

Some or all of these steps may resonate with you. However, everyone’s healing process is unique. At a qualified addiction treatment center, you’ll get expert support in every stage of recovery.

  1. Pre-Treatment (Early Intervention): In this phase, you’re just starting to plan for recovery. This is a good time to talk to the admissions team at a rehab center. If possible, you should also get assessed by a medical doctor.
  2. Early Recovery and Inpatient Rehab: This stage begins when you enter longer-term treatment. You’ve successfully detoxed, and you’re ready to focus on your mental health. Some people attend residential rehab during this period.
  3. Outpatient and Stepped-Down Addiction Treatment: Stepped-down treatment can be helpful after OR instead of residential rehab. Depending on your goals, this can be a short or long-term part of recovery.
  4. Aftercare and Ongoing Recovery: After initial treatment, most people benefit from ongoing care. There are countless ways to get support throughout your ongoing recovery.

Pre-Treatment (Early Intervention)

By the time you decide to enter recovery, you might have to move quickly. But even in an emergency, you can find a treatment program that meets your needs.

Finding the Right Program

First, learn about how to choose a rehab. This should help you understand your options, and start matching them up with your specific goals. For instance, if you’re a trauma survivor, you can look for a program that offers trauma-informed care.

Make a list of centers you think might be a good fit. Then, it’s time to reach out. Talk to their admissions teams and get answers to your most pressing questions. If you’re not sure what to ask, you can start here:

If you’re seriously considering a certain program, you’ll probably have a lot more questions. You have the right to ask all of them. Get the information you need to make an informed decision about what you’ll do next.


During detox, you’ll stop using drugs and let them leave your system completely.
Some people go through this at home, and others attend medical detox programs. Either way, it’s important to get a medical assessment before you start the process.

Talk to your doctor about your drug or alcohol use. Make sure to tell them how much you’ve been taking, and how often. This will help them determine whether you’re physically or psychologically dependent on any given substance. Either issue can be very serious, but they may require different forms of treatment. This information can help you either prepare for medical detox, or plan for other treatment.

If you’re in recovery from alcohol, opiates, or benzodiazepines, it’s vital to get medical care during detox. Stopping use of these substances can cause very serious side effects. With proper treatment, you can avoid life-threatening complications.

Early Recovery and Inpatient Rehab

After detox, many people attend residential rehab. While this isn’t necessary for everyone, it can be a powerful experience. By taking time away from your daily life, you can focus all your energy on this phase of recovery.

You’ll likely benefit from inpatient treatment if you need a high level of structure. Patients abide by certain rules and follow a clear schedule, working toward specific recovery goals. You’ll also engage in several types of treatment. Every rehab has its own approach, but most will offer at least some of the following modalities.


In traditional talk therapy, you’ll meet with a therapist 1:1 on a regular basis. During rehab, you might see them every day or a few times a week. These sessions let you process your feelings, your past experiences, and your own reactions to the treatment process. You might also learn practical skills, like what to do when you have cravings.

This is just one kind of treatment. In addition to 1:1 counseling, you may benefit from a more specialized kind of talk therapy. It’s important to note that the following modalities are no substitute for regular talk therapy. But as supplemental treatments, they can be extremely helpful.

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • motivational interviewing (MI)
  • psychodynamic therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

In these therapies, you can develop coping skills, work through past trauma, and reframe your own feelings. Some, like EMDR, also help you reconnect with your body in a healthy way.

Physical Recovery

Addiction can cause physical health problems.1 In early recovery, you may need help to stabilize. This could mean working with a team of doctors and nurses. If you don’t need as much support, you might work with a nutritionist or spend time in your rehab’s gym.

If you’re healing from an addiction to prescribed drugs, you may need more specialized care. And there are non-addictive medications that can treat most underlying conditions. To learn about your options, ask your treatment team about treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Community Support

Most rehab centers offer group sessions of some kind. There are many types of community support, but these groups normally fit into 1 of 2 categories:

  • Group therapy sessions are led by a trained counselor. You might spend time processing your feelings, go through a set curriculum, or both. Either way, these groups let you connect with people who share your experience of addiction.
  • Peer-led support groups are more focused on interpersonal relationships, and less on clinical work. In 12-Step groups, like A.A., long-term members can become sponsors, supporting new arrivals in recovery. There are also many non-12-Step groups, which may appeal to a wider variety of people.

If you’re used to relying on drugs in social situations, groups can be overwhelming. These meetings let you practice your interpersonal skills in a safe and supported setting. Recovery doesn’t just mean stopping drug use; it’s also a chance to get to know yourself again. Connecting with other people can help you understand your own needs and values.

Complementary Therapies

Healing is hard work—but it can also be inspiring. In fact, doing things you enjoy is a vital part of recovery. Alternative therapies can help you connect with your spirituality, learn a new skill, or just take time to process your feelings. Depending on your program, you might have access to some of these modalities:

Inpatient rehab isn’t right for everyone. And fortunately, it’s just one of many options. You can also get treatment in a less intensive program. Some clients even do both, starting with rehab and moving on to an outpatient setting.

Outpatient and Stepped-Down Addiction Treatment

For some people, less intensive treatment formats are much more accessible. You might not be able to take time off work or away from family to stay in a rehab center. Or, your insurance might not cover inpatient services. Don’t let these concerns stop you from getting the help you need.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

You can think of a PHP as part-time rehab. You’ll spend most of your waking hours in the treatment center. In that time you’ll go to therapy and get medical care, just as you would in a residential program. Patients return home to sleep, and have some time to themselves each day. This is a good option for people who need a lot of support, but can’t easily step away from their other commitments.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)

IOPs are much like PHPs, but with a less demanding schedule. You’ll likely attend about 10 hours of treatment each week. This can include 1:1 therapy, support groups, and more.

IOPs aren’t just an alternative to inpatient treatment. These programs can also help you transition out of rehab and back into your daily life. You’ll have time and space to get back out in the world, but you’ll also have plenty of expert support.

Sober Living Environments

Most sober living environments aren’t treatment centers; they’re communities. Residents must follow certain rules to stay in good standing. For example, you may have a curfew, take regular drug tests, and do chores around the house. You’ll probably also be required to attend therapy, support groups, or both.

Some of these programs are peer-run, and others are led by healthcare professionals. They may be a good fit for people who aren’t ready to return home after rehab, but don’t need the structure of an IOP. Sober living can also affect the outcome of your recovery process. According to 1 study, staying in a sober living environment can lower your risk of relapsing in the future.2

Aftercare and Ongoing Recovery

Recovery doesn’t just end when you finish rehab. There’s no clear finish line. Over time, your needs will certainly change—but it’s hard to predict how, or when, that will happen.
Before you leave treatment, make sure you have a clear plan for aftercare. To get started, consider some of these options:

Regular Therapy Sessions

You probably won’t be able to keep seeing the same therapist after rehab. Instead, you’ll need to look for a new provider once you return home, or switch to outpatient treatment. Some residential programs can help you find a therapist even before you leave the center.

Ongoing treatment will help you acclimate to life after rehab. As you encounter new triggers, your therapist will help you stay grounded. Many people think of talk therapy as a lifeline, and keep going long after they start recovery.

Support Groups

Addiction recovery support groups are very accessible. Most of them are free of charge and open to new members. You can find in-person meetings around the world, or join online sessions from afar. This can be very helpful if you get triggered late at night, and need immediate support. There might be an early-morning meeting in another time zone, just a click away.

If you attend the same group on a regular basis, you can build community with like-minded people. Together, you might just find ways to have fun without drugs or alcohol.

Building Your Support Network

Social support is an invaluable part of healing. With strong relationships, you can do more than recover from past trauma. You can move forward to build a life you love.

From book clubs to softball teams, there are countless ways to meet people. You can even join an online community! Strong relationships can help keep you accountable during recovery, and give you something consistent to look forward to.

With the right support, you can successfully navigate every stage of addiction treatment. Connect with a rehab center to take the first step in your recovery journey.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. Addiction and health. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/addiction-health []
  2. A deeper dive into recovery residences: Who’s most likely to use them and how do they affect engagement with outpatient care. (2022, March 24). Recovery Research Institute. https://www.recoveryanswers.org/research-post/deeper-dive-recovery-residence-participants-who-more-likely-use-them-how-affect-engagement-outpatient-care/ []

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