Substance Abuse Treatment

The Difference Between Long-Term Rehab & Extended Care

Many who are new or learning about substance abuse treatment and recovery mistake long-term treatment and extended care as one and the same. As a matter of fact, these terms refer to two separate components of the journey to recovery.

Long-term substance abuse treatment refers to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, with a strategy tailored specifically for the addicted individual and is designed to overcome the dependency on the substance, while healing multiple facets of his or her life.

Extended care refers to continuing support in recovery in which one participates in individual therapy, group counseling, and/or other therapeutic approaches in an outpatient setting, to enhance a healthy, abstinent lifestyle after a substance abuse program has been completed.

How do Long-Term Treatment and Extended Care Differ?

The National Institute for Drug Abuse likens addiction to other chronic illnesses such as diabetes or asthma. A lifestyle change in which one habitually makes healthy choices can reverse many of the negative effects of addiction.

Substance addiction recovery can be maintained with appropriate treatment; however, research has indicated that relapse is still likely to occur for many.

If a relapse occurs, despite the best efforts that are provided, it may be signaling that an adjustment in current treatment is needed. It’s like an asthma attack that could occur despite prior successful treatment, signaling that a treatment adjustment is necessary.

In addiction recovery, this adjustment would be made in extended care, after long-term treatment is completed.

Long-term substance abuse treatment and extended care in recovery are elements that work together to promote a long, substance-free lifestyle.

Detox and intensive therapy create the foundation for this lifestyle in long-term treatment. The addicted person fills all aspects of life with his or her dedication to sobriety.

Extended care is the network of support, counseling meetings, and peers that enhance and help to protect the progress achieved in long-term substance abuse treatment.

In early recovery, much of one’s time is dedicated to protecting his or her progress, while this need tends to dissipate with time for many.

Extended care has the flexibility to serve these needs until the recovering person is ready, if ever, to carry on in his or her sobriety without it.

While these two components work together to help one maintain a healthy, substance-free lifestyle, long-term addiction treatment and extended care—often referred to as aftercare—have quite similar methods.

How is Long-Term Substance Abuse Treatment Similar to Extended Care?

After long-term rehab, extended care is the next natural step. Extended care is a widely recommended approach to taking another step toward personal accountability in sobriety.

Long-term substance abuse treatment is a structured system with a beginning and an end, whereas many rely on extended care in some capacity to preserve and grow the progress that was made in treatment for the rest of their lives.

Extended care in a sober living home is most similar to inpatient substance abuse treatment. A supportive unit of peers works together to strengthen recovery in a healthy environment while minimizing vulnerabilities, such as triggers, old acquaintances, or unhealthy routines.

The following are some of the most common characteristics of sober living homes.

  • Complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs is expected from all residents in the home.
    • If a medication is prescribed, usage of the medication must be strictly restrained to the directions given by the prescribing doctor.


  • Adherence to other house rules is expected as well. Some examples of common rules in sober living homes include paying rent and a portion of the utility bills, maintaining personal accountability in the care and management of the home, or being present for all house meetings.


  • Residents’ involvement in the sober community is usually mandated or strongly urged. This could include intensive outpatient care, group therapy – such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or other 12-step group meetings.

This lifestyle outside of an inpatient treatment facility in a sober living home facilitates a smooth transition from a structured environment to another structured environment, but with the freedom needed to expand a life in recovery.

The Benefits of Long-Term Rehab Followed by Extended Care

Experts encourage all addicted individuals to follow long-term drug and alcohol addiction treatment with extended care.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol does not occur overnight; it builds with each use and becomes abuse often before the individual realizes they have an addiction.

While 90 days in a long-term substance abuse treatment center can recover a healthy brain and body, the damage done to cognitive processes, important relationships, and self-image require a longer-standing effort in a safe environment.

In addition to the sober-living community, other outpatient programs that are defined as extended care consists of recovery-oriented systems of care, recovery support services, work therapy and group counseling that will refine an individual’s plan to avoid relapse as necessary.

Extended care is pertinent for this goal as a longer measure of time in the world outside of the treatment facility allows for a more thorough evaluation of triggers and other vulnerabilities that may stimulate the possibility for relapse.

Many long-term treatment graduates find the environment that extended care provides an enhancement of the achievements they were able to accomplish on their personal healing.

It’s Time

The addicted brain puts a lot of doubt in the mind of a person longing for a life free of substance abuse. However, countless individuals live the happy, healthy life they thought they could never have while in active addiction by completing a long-term treatment program and participating in extended care treatment.

There’s no reason to wait; if you’re ready to break the chains of addiction and enjoy life the way you imagine you can, contact us today.

We are here to show you how and where to start. Your fresh start could be just a phone call away. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.


About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

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