How Long Does it Take a Person to Overcome Their Addiction?

Depending on someone’s personal struggles, mental health, and other risk factors, overcoming an addiction takes a different amount of time for each person.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disorder that is generally characterized by compulsive drinking or drug use, even despite the occurrence of negative consequences and sometimes even personal danger. It is a mental health issue that affects the way that the brain regulates behavior in response to drastic changes in the reward and pleasure centers of the person living with the addiction. 

How Long Does it Take to Overcome an Addiction?

According to the SAMHSA, a ”…study found that 22.3 million Americans have overcome an alcohol or other drug problem — that’s 9% of U.S. adults at the time we did the survey! That nearly 1 in 10 U.S. adults have overcome a substance use problem is a testament to the fact that not only is addiction recovery possible, but it’s also common. To further contextualize this finding, in the year these data were collected (2015), there were more people who endorsed having resolved alcohol or other drug problems in the U.S. than had active alcohol or other drug use disorder (22.3 million vs. 20.8 million).”

While new habits can be developed in just 21 days, it will take longer than that to overcome an addiction. Psychologists will admit that your new behaviors developed in those 21 days can be beneficial and even crucial to recovery. But, it can take up to 90 days to completely break an addiction. 

A Habit Can Take Up To 90 Days to Change

Researchers from Yale University discovered that the brain’s prefrontal cortex needs 90 days to regain proper decision-making and analytical functioning. This discovery, also known as the “sleeper effect,” may help explain why 90-day rehab programs have higher success rates than shorter-term addiction treatments. Those with substance use disorder or alcoholism typically benefit from longer-term programs. 

The Reality of Overcoming an Addiction: Addiction Lasts a Lifetime

Even once 90 days of recovery across various treatment options has been reached the recovery process is far from over. At this point, if the individual does not actively maintain their recovery with behavioral therapies, self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and other activities to reduce the risk of relapse, they will likely fall right back into those addictive behaviors. The process of overcoming an addiction will be ongoing for the rest of your life, and at times it may even be a grueling daily struggle. 

Learning Ways of Coping and Finding Support

Learning new and more effective ways to cope with stress and potentially triggering events is one of the keys to a long and successful recovery. A study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors showed that even something seemingly minor, like incorporating mindfulness and meditation into the addiction treatment and recovery process showed a reduction in the risk of relapse. It also showed that the very pathways that may be responsible for triggering a relapse can be retrained and “fixed” by practicing mindfulness exercises. 

Addiction Treatment Options

There are many different treatment options for individuals struggling with addiction. They are distinct from each other in the level of commitment, time, and focus that they will require from the individual entering treatment. Because addiction is a medical condition, it is important to choose the right treatment option for the best recovery results.


An inpatient treatment program is also known as a residential program, and it requires the highest level of commitment since the individual will be living at the facility for a period of time. They will generally undergo a detox stage, often utilizing medication-assisted treatment to increase the patient’s comfort and success. Once the inpatient program ends, the patient will often step down to other treatment options. 


IOPs, also known as intensive outpatient program, is similar to standard outpatient treatment, but more intense. It requires longer visits at more frequent intervals throughout the week. For many people coming out of treatment programs like inpatient, IOPs can be an ideal way to begin getting back into daily life outside the center. An IOP helps to still keep a narrow focus on integrating recovery into that daily life.

Day Programs

Day programs are also known as partial hospitalization programs, PHPs, or simply “partial care”. They are a blend of inpatient and outpatient care. The patient will check in each morning, spend the day in treatment activities, even eat lunch at the center, and will check out in the afternoon or evening to go home for the day. Day programs are another common option for those leaving inpatient care, who want to maintain a more scheduled day, where their activities are still largely managed by the treatment center.


Counseling, both in groups and individually is crucial for the recovery process. It helps the individual to learn more about their thought processes and how to recognize the faulty thought patterns that lead to relapse and substance abuse. Counseling will often include cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as other methods, to help the patient develop a resilient toolkit against relapse.

Support Groups

Support groups are common ways for people in recovery to maintain a social connection. The groups are built around similar addictions, so there is already a level of connection that makes sharing and working through tough feelings much easier. Support groups provide a safe place for people to share about difficult experiences and challenges that they have faced with addiction and recovery. 

When is it Time for Treatment?

If you think that you or someone you care about might be struggling with addiction, and are wondering when it might be serious enough to find treatment, there are some easy ways to tell. The first, and most obvious reason is that treatment should be sought if there is a suspicion of addiction. A professional clinician can always verify one way or the other for you. 

The second sign that it may be time for professional treatment is if stopping the substance or alcohol use for a few days creates withdrawal symptoms in the user. This is a sign that the body has developed a chemical dependency and is now relying on that substance regularly.