Individuals who are seeking addiction treatment are often curious about what a day in rehab is like. The way rehab is portrayed in movies and on television can give a bit of a clue, but as is the case with most entertainment, it leaves an incomplete picture.

The purpose of a residential program is to provide 24/7 support, supervision, and guidance for those who are unable to control their drug or alcohol use. For that reason, every day that a person stays at a residential rehab center is scheduled to offer the individual a balance of education, therapy, skills training, and free time, along with healthy exercise and nutrition.

The following example schedule shows what a day at rehab might be like, along with some of the background behind why each element might be included in the program. Of course, the actual schedule will depend on what programs the center has available as well as the individual’s mental and physical needs.

residential treatment schedule example with hand over paper

8 a.m. – Breakfast


Most rehab centers have nutritionists or similar professionals to develop meal plans for the residents in the program. In fact, nutrition can be an important part of recovery. For example, alcoholism often results in a thiamine deficiency, as described by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which can lead to brain damage. Alternatively, an article from Today’s Dietitian discusses the fact that stimulant use can cause general malnutrition because of the way these drugs suppress appetite. Therefore, individuals in treatment can expect balanced meals that will help to boost energy, health, and proper brain function.

9 a.m. – Group or Individual Counseling Session


Therapy is one of the foundations of substance abuse treatment, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

There are a number of different kinds of therapy that may be used to help the individual meet some of the goals of treatment, including:

  • Processing the emotions or events that may have led to drug abuse
  • Learning to recognize the triggers of cravings and how to change the behavioral response
  • Working with a group to learn how to approach challenges and modify behaviors
  • Role-playing exercises to practice resistance skills

Often, rehab provides group therapy. However, in the case of an individual who is not well suited to work in a group, only individual therapy may be provided.

10 a.m. – Family or Interpersonal Therapy


One of the major factors in achieving recovery is having a supportive family or social circle to help the individual resist temptation. For this reason, rehab often involves time for family therapy, which not only helps the individual come to terms with family relationships that may have contributed to the drug abuse, but also enables family members to learn how their actions and behaviors can either support their loved one or contribute to relapse risk.

In the case where the individual may not have a strong social circle or supportive family, interpersonal therapy can help the individual learn to build relationships that will be supportive. Research, such as a study from the journal Substance Abuse, shows that this type of therapy and the ability to draw on social resources can help women who are struggling with both alcohol abuse and depression to decrease both the symptoms of depression and drinking behaviors.

11 a.m. – Exercise, Meditation, or Outdoor Time


Some of the neurochemical pathways in the brain that are affected by drug or alcohol abuse are those that can also be stimulated through exercise, yoga, meditation, or other physical and mental workouts. For example, in one study from Mental Health and Physical Activity that provided an aerobic exercise program for people struggling with drug addiction, the individuals who attended 75 percent of the exercise sessions had better recovery outcomes than those who did not attend as frequently. In other words, exercise can have a therapeutic effect in a drug treatment program. Swimming, hiking, horseback riding, and other forms of exercise can also provide structured time for the individual to continue processing any of the emotions brought up during the morning’s sessions.

Similarly, meditation or yoga can have a soothing effect on the mind, enabling a person to work through a stressful situation that might otherwise trigger a relapse. The supportive effects of stress relief and brain chemistry balancing mean that these exercise, meditation, or other physical activity sessions double for skills training.

12 p.m. – Lunch


Another nutritious meal is provided to keep body chemistry even, provide vitamins and minerals that can help to heal some of the physical damage caused by drug abuse, and give the individual energy to dive into the afternoon sessions.

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1 p.m. – Art or Music Therapy


As is true with anyone, after lunch, those in treatment might feel a little sleepy. This is an ideal time for experiential therapies like art or music therapy, which can stimulate the mind while also encouraging relaxation.

As described in the Journal of Addictions Nursing, art therapy may have another important way of supporting addiction treatment; these types of therapies can contribute to the individual’s ability to process past events, emotions, frustrations, or concerns through creative work. Art and music therapy, as well as other types of creativity, are often used to help the individual deal with topics that are otherwise difficult to discuss in talk therapy.

2 p.m. – Behavioral Therapy


The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers in-depth analysis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy because it is a powerful tool in substance abuse treatment. In this type of therapy, the individual explores the path that led to drug abuse, the circumstances around it, and the people and places involved. Through study and analysis of these situations, the individual can begin to recognize the patterns and emotional states that resulted in cravings and drug use, also known as triggers.

Once triggers are recognized, the individual can work with the counselor to develop ways of avoiding or responding to the situations that would normally result in a triggering event. This can be avoiding the situation to begin with, developing behavioral responses that can interrupt the event or emotions that lead to relapse, or lowering stress levels through meditation or exercise to ease cravings that might otherwise arise.

3 p.m. – Educational Program


When faced with a chronic condition like substance abuse, an important element of recovery is understanding why abusing drugs and alcohol can lead to addiction, as well as how addiction affects the brain, the body, and the people around the individual who is abusing drugs. For some individuals, understanding the damage that drugs can do is a powerful motivation to keep up efforts to recover and stay sober.

4 p.m. – Skills Development


An educational session can lead to a practical session where individuals can rehearse some of the responses they’ve learned through therapy and education. They may participate in role-playing activities to practice the behaviors that might be needed in case a trigger is encountered, or they may map out a new way to walk to work that will avoid the neighborhood bar and the temptations within.

New habits and behaviors take practice to become automatic responses. However, once those habits are established through this type of practical work, it can become easier to engage the behaviors and tools that help to avoid relapse.

5 p.m. – 12-Step Group


Along with group therapy, 12-step support programs can provide important social support and experience to help people who have just started rehab learn from the experiences of those who have achieved and maintained recovery.

As discussed in a study from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, individuals who participate in these programs tend to have better outcomes than those who don’t. These programs provide continual motivational support, as well as a level of accountability and an automatic social support system, all of which are tools that can make it easier to avoid relapse.

6 p.m. – Dinner


A final meal of the day continues to support nutritional healing and healthy habits. Eating healthy foods throughout every day in rehab helps individuals to develop eating habits that will support them after treatment ends and potentially make it easier to avoid relapse.

7 p.m. – Free Time or Activities


The hard work of the day leads to an evening of calming or fun activities. These are both a way to unwind at the end of the day and a chance to learn about things to do that can distract from drug-seeking behaviors after rehab is over. This time can also serve as a way to relax the individual as the day winds down toward bedtime.

9 p.m. – Quiet Time


The time before bed may be used for more meditation, yoga, quiet reading, or other activities that reduce stress and prepare for sleep. This can be particularly helpful for those who are struggling with insomnia following detox and withdrawal from the drug of abuse.

This can be a vital element of treatment because getting enough sleep is also a way to allow damaged neurochemical pathways to heal. As described in an article from Mindfulness, substantial sleep leads to reduced stress, increased self-esteem and confidence, and more positive mood, all of which can help in relapse prevention.

10 p.m. – Lights Out and Bedtime


Now that the day is over, and the person is calmed and ready to sleep, it’s time for bed. Getting a good night’s sleep helps the individual wake up refreshed and ready for the next day of addiction treatment.

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