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Therapeutic communities are a structured form of transitional living, with professional staff and services aimed at using the community itself as a therapeutic tool. Residents who may have spent years focused only on their own next fix must learn to cooperate with others, participate in groups, and contribute to the well-being of the entire community. Each community operates on a system of rewards for prosocial behavior and punishments for antisocial behavior. Residents follow orderly routines, and learn to make plans and set goals.
Traditionally, stays in therapeutic communities have run 18 to 24 months, but funding issues have forced many to try to keep patients 12 months or less.
Therapeutic communities are aimed at those who lack social and economic skills, either because they never learned them (habilitation) or because their addiction destroyed their ability to function in society (rehabilitation). Many patients join them after initial treatment in a drug or alcohol rehab.