Alcohol Rehab Overview
Alcoholism is a powerful disease, rendering its victims almost powerless over cravings to drink, and once we start drinking – we’re almost powerless to stop.
It’s a disease that affects our health, mental health, work or school life and that damages important relationships. Alcohol gets so intertwined into life that it seems that everything we do revolves around it, and although most of us try to stop on our own, most of us end up needing professional help to break free from drinking.
Alcoholism pulls down quality of life, but it also destroys physical health from within, increasing the odds of myriad dangerous or fatal diseases, cancers and cognitive declines. Most alcoholics that fail to get help and stop drinking will eventually die from the drink.
Fortunately, addiction treatment works and alcoholics can learn how to stop drinking. One of the most intensive forms of addiction treatment for alcoholics is alcohol rehab, a residential period of care.
Who Needs Alcohol Rehab?
There are many varieties of addiction treatment, and not all are residential in nature. Outpatient treatment programs cost much less and allow you to stay at home and continue on at work, but will an outpatient alcohol treatment program help you stop drinking?
There are no one size fits all solutions, and addiction treatment is most effective when you are matched to an appropriate level of care. In general however, people who tend to benefit most from an alcohol rehab include:
- People with a dual diagnosis (co-occurring alcoholism and a mental health condition)
- People who cannot abstain from alcohol even for short periods of time (addiction treatment doesn’t work if you are drunk)
- People who have tried outpatient before without any success
- People who face severe health, career or social consequences if they cannot stop drinking
- People who do not have a stable or sober living situation
- People without strong family or social support
- People who are court or work mandated to a residential program
Although alcohol abuse and alcoholism are major problems in America, only a small percentage of people that need help, ever get it.
Alcohol Treatment Statistics
- According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, just over 7.9 million Americans are alcohol dependent (addicted to alcohol) and a further 9.67 million Americans abuse alcohol
- According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) only about 2.5 million Americans got treatment for an alcohol use problem in 2006, (the most recent year data has been collected) 1
Of the 18.4 million Americans abusing or addicted to alcohol, only 2.5 million will get any form of alcohol treatment in any given year. 2
The 3 Stages of Alcohol Rehab
According to the American Psychological Association, alcoholism addiction treatment occurs in 3 distinct stages:
- Continuing Care
Each stage is important - and those that exit treatment without following through with a continuing care program are at greater risk of relapse.
An alcohol rehab program will offer these 3 stages of care:
- Most alcoholics will need to first participate in a medical detox program prior to entry into the rehabilitation phase.
- The residential period in rehab is the rehabilitation phase, during which we learn about addiction and about why we drink and we’re taught techniques to help overcome cravings and avoid relapse. The rehabilitation phase may continue with a step down program into day treatment or an intensive outpatient program.
- The third phase, the continuing care phase, occurs at the end of the rehabilitation phase and consists typically of outpatient sessions and participation in community 12 steps groups. Continuing care programs help those new to recovery maintain the gains made during the rehabilitation phase and deal with stressors and temptations as they arise, with professional support. Ideally, continuing care should last for at least a year following the rehabilitation period.
What Happens in Alcohol Rehab?
No two rehabilitation programs will offer an identical schedule of treatments, but some of the program elements commonly offered in an alcohol rehab include:3
- A medical and psychological assessment and the development of an individualized treatment plan
- Frequent group counseling sessions
- Individual counseling
- Education about alcohol and alcoholism
- Life skills training (such as courses in anger or stress management)
- Relapse prevention counseling and education
- An introduction to the 12 steps or other self-help groups available in the community
- Medical care or referrals for medical care, if needed
- Psychiatric services or referrals to psychiatric a services, if needed
- Family counseling sessions
- Nutritional counseling, fitness programs, yoga, mediation and other wellness activities
- Recreation time
- Continuing care
The Benefits of Alcohol Rehab
Alcohol rehab isn't a good fit for everyone, but there are some real advantages to getting out of an environment of temptation and into an environment where you can focus exclusively on your own need for healing.
Some of the advantages of getting out of your home environment and into an alcohol rehab include:
- You can build an initial period of abstinence in a temptation free and no-alcohol environment.
- While in rehab you are freed from life, family and work responsibilities and so have the time and energy to work on your own recovery
- You get immersed in an intensive schedule of recovery programming
- You can build up your health and mental wellness through activities like yoga, meditation, fitness and nutritional therapy prior to re entering the community and temptation
- You gain an introduction into the 12 steps and foothold into a community support network
- You can access a multi disciplinary team of treatment professionals who are working together in a coordinated manner, on your care
Does Alcohol Rehab Work?
Alcohol addiction treatment works. It's not perfect and some people will need multiple bouts of treatment in a lifetime - but alcohol treatment works about as well as treatments for other chronic conditions, like diabetes or hypertension.
About half of all people who complete a full period of treatment will continue into longer term recovery. Some people may need to go through treatment on more than one occasion before achieving lasting sobriety and some people that do achieve lasting sobriety will eventually relapse and again require treatment.
Addiction and alcoholism are considered brain diseases that last a lifetime. They can be managed through treatment and treatment can induce lasting or even permanent remission - but a person may need treatment several times over a lifespan.
You can help to improve your chances by staying in treatment, as the longer a person stays involved in addiction treatment, the better their odds of lasting recovery.3
People who are physically dependent on alcohol will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking (virtually all alcoholics are dependent on alcohol). The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms will depend on:
- How long you’ve been drinking
- How much you’ve been drinking
- Your genetics
- Your overall health
Alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous, even lethal, and so people experiencing moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms require medical observation and medication for safety and comfort.
Some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:
- Alcohol cravings
- Anxiety, irritability and depression
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically subside with a week or so, although some symptoms of withdrawal, such as insomnia, can endure for months.
Because alcohol withdrawal symptoms require medical care, and in some extreme cases emergency medical intervention, alcohol withdrawal typically occurs in a medical detox clinic.
People in a medical detox clinic receive medications, such as benzodiazepines, that can reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and increase the comfort of the period. Detox ends when you are stabilized and all physical risk has passed – when you are ready to begin the rehabilitation phase of alcohol treatment.
Detox is not considered addiction treatment, only a necessary preparation stage that readies a person to participate in addiction treatment. People that leave treatment after a medical detox are virtually certain to relapse back to drinking.
Although some larger alcohol rehab facilities may offer alcohol detox on-site, in most cases, you will need to detox prior to entry into a rehab facility. All alcohol rehabs have relationships with area detox clinics, which helps to facilitate a smooth entry into detox and an easy transition into rehab.4
Medications Used in Alcohol Rehab
In addition to medications used during a medical detox, doctors at an alcohol rehab may prescribe drugs that can help to ease the longer-term withdrawal symptoms and/or to reduce cravings.
Medications that are currently FDA approved for the treatment of alcoholism include:
- Acamprosate (Campral)
- Disulfiram (Antabuse)
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
Different Types of Alcohol Rehab Programs
Alcohol rehab works best when people enroll in a program that matches their wants, history, and worldview. Thankfully, with so many quality alcohol rehabs in existence, most of us can find a very well matched facility.
Some of the different types of alcohol rehabs to consider include:
- Christian or other faith based programs
- Long term programs
- Single gender programs
- Older adult programs
- Teen programs
- Wilderness programs for teens or young adults
- Sober living houses
- Holistic programs
- Non AA programs
Finding a program well matched to your needs and wants is a great first step on a recovery journey, but it’s also important that you find a quality program that’s going to offer you the best chance at success. Look for programs that have full state licensure and accreditation, these standards imply at least an acceptable level of care -and read through this next checklist for more ways to evaluate the quality of an alcohol rehab.
5 Ways to Find a Quality Alcohol Rehab
Since not all alcohol rehabs are equally effective, here are 5 ways to quickly judge the quality of any rehab under consideration.5
- Licensure and accreditation – although a government licensed and independently accredited rehab may not be excellent, it at least meets or exceeds recommended standards of care and operates according to accepted medical practices. With an unlicensed and unregulated facility, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get.
- Facilities that boast high completion rates – Take most alcohol success statistics with a heavy grain of salt, but value heavily a facility’s completion rate. The longer people stay in treatment the better their chances and so treatment programs that can retain their clients through to completion tend to provide better odds of success. Additionally, treatment programs that people want to stay involved with tend to be of higher quality.
- Alcohol rehabs that are clean, pleasant and organized – Unclean facilities and/or disorganization imply an overworked staff, under-staffing or ineffectual management. If they can’t keep the place clean, they won’t be able to offer high quality services in other areas.
- Medication, when appropriate – Medication can play an important role in the treatment process, limiting withdrawal symptoms, controlling symptoms of mental illness and reducing alcohol cravings. Medications are not appropriate for all people, but they should be an option for suitable candidates. Some alcohol rehabs object to medications on philosophical grounds. These rehabs which ignore clinical evidence that supports the use of medication should be considered with caution.
- Continuing care – Treatment should never end with the completion of a residential stay; aftercare is an essential component of the treatment process. Make sure to find an alcohol rehab that offers you continuing care as a part of the program.
- SAMHSA, Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Twelve-month prevalence and population estimates of DSM-IV alcohol abuse by age, sex, and race-ethnicity: United States, 2001–2002 (NESARC)
- SAMHSA – What Is Substance Abuse Treatment?
- National Institute of Health, Medline – Alcohol Withdrawal
- SAMHSA Guide to Finding Effective Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment
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