The Importance of a Continuum of Care in Addiction Treatment

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Recovery from addiction doesn’t happen overnight. For many people, it is a long, extended process devoted to mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional healing. Still, when most people think of rehab, they think of a person attending a residential program, staying there for 28 days, and leaving with the skills they need to remain sober. Unfortunately, this isn’t a realistic depiction of what it’s like to attend an effective addiction treatment program.

While it’s true that many people do attend a short-term residential program when they begin their recovery journey, many follow a full continuum of care that allows them to transition from one level of addiction treatment to the next. For example, a person may spend one month in residential treatment, one month in PHP, and another month in a standard outpatient program before being discharged completely.

Addiction treatment that transitions patients to lower intensities of care is known as a “continuum of care.” Changing the intensity of a program as a person grows and progresses in their recovery slowly allows the patient to transition smoothly out of a structured rehab environment and into independent recovery. Without treatment that consists of multiple transitional levels of care, patients may be more likely to relapse.

What is the Continuum of Care in Addiction Treatment?

The continuum of care refers to a treatment approach that requires patients to “step down” to lower levels of care as they demonstrate progress in their recovery. This model revolves around the idea that the more progress you make, the less intensive care you require to maintain your sobriety. This approach also recognizes the fact that leaving a residential treatment facility can be difficult and that patients can benefit from slowly moving down from one level of care to the next.

Most importantly, this model reiterates the idea that it is essential to tailor treatments and therapies to the needs of the individual.

What Does the Continuum of Care Look Like?

Depending on a patient’s unique needs and the severity of their addiction, they may begin at a different level of care than their peers. However, most programs follow a similar format that consists of the following levels of care:

  • Inpatient hospitalization/medical detox – This is the highest level of care during which patients are under close medical supervision as they detox from drugs and alcohol. This is meant to be short-term (usually 3-10 days) to stabilize patients.
  • Inpatient or residential treatment – Patients live at the treatment facility and remain under 24/7 supervision. They attend therapy during the day and live amongst their peers while they address the underlying causes of their addictions. Residential treatment usually lasts 30-90 days.
  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) or day treatment – PHP is a step down from inpatient rehab. Patients attend treatment all day during the day, usually Monday thru Friday, but are able to return home in the evenings and on the weekend. PHP can last for a couple of weeks to months depending on the patient’s progress.
  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) – IOP is a step down from PHP. IOP provides about 2-3 hours of treatment for 2-3 days each week. Patients in IOP may be able to work, go to school, or care for their families.
  • Outpatient programs (OP) OP is a step down from IOP. OP can be compared to basic therapy sessions that patients attend 1-3 times each week for about an hour at a time. OP may also be offered via telehealth.
  • Aftercare services – Aftercare is the final pillar in the full continuum of care in addiction treatment. Aftercare services are designed to support individuals after rehab is over to make sure they stay sober. Examples of aftercare include recovery coaching, sober living, and alumni gatherings.

In addition to these services, patients who are taking MAT medications will have regular visits with their doctor and an addiction specialist to monitor their medication adherence and sobriety.

The Benefits of Participating in a Full Continuum of Care

Lack of long-term follow-up care can lead individuals to relapse. The longer a person participates in treatment, the more likely they are to stay sober and see better treatment outcomes. By slowly transitioning down from one level of care to the next, patients slowly adjust to living a life in recovery.

Specific advantages of participating in a full continuum of care in addiction treatment include:

  • Prevent relapse with continued care that is tailored to meet a person where they are at in their recovery
  • Provide extended monitoring and support to help individuals overcome various challenges they may face in recovery
  • Offer care at all stages of recovery including detoxing safely, addressing psychiatric needs, establishing a social support group, finding safe and sober housing, and preventing relapse
  • Help patients cope with various triggers that come up in different stages of recovery
  • Hold patients accountable to their recovery while their brains are still adjusting to functioning without drugs and alcohol
  • Establish healthy behaviors and coping skills that take time to develop
  • Avoid allowing patients to “fall through the cracks,” relapse, or overdose

Find Help for Yourself or an Addicted Loved One Today

Finding an addiction treatment center that embraces a full continuum of care can enhance your recovery and provide you with the services you need to stay sober. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, now is the time to get help. Please contact us today to speak with a dedicated addiction specialist about finding the right rehab center for you.

Medically Reviewed: January 19, 2022

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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