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What Happens in Alcohol Rehab?

Recognizing the signs of alcohol use disorder is the first real step in the long journey towards lasting sobriety.

How to Identify Alcohol Addiction, Checking In for Alcohol Rehab, Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal, Treatment Types & Therapy for Substance Abuse, Inpatient Rehab vs. Outpatient Rehab, Aftercare: What Happens After Rehab?, Rehab is Your Best Chance


According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 14.5 million people over the age of 12 had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019. It goes without saying that even today, substance abuse and addiction are still very common problems. In fact, alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the US.

Unfortunately, some people avoid rehab for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is because they are afraid of the addiction treatment process. They don’t know what to expect, and that intimidates them. But we are here to solve this problem. Today we will be shedding light on the alcohol rehab process, so that you know exactly what will happen when you enter this type of program.

If you or someone you love is dealing with alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, it is important to understand what happens during rehab. This will help motivate the person into getting the help that they need.



How to Identify Alcohol Addiction


Before we can dive into the process of substance abuse treatment, first we need to address one of the most common barriers to treatment: not knowing you have a problem in the first place. Some people do not realize that their alcohol intake is unhealthy, while others are simply in denial.

Recognizing the signs of alcohol use disorder is the first real step in the long journey towards lasting sobriety. Similar to drug abuse, alcohol abuse refers to severe intake of a particular substance—in this case, alcohol.

You can probably spot someone who has been drinking. Common signs include slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, and lowered inhibitions. You can also smell the alcohol on their breath. The real challenge is figuring out who is just drinking socially and who actually has a problem.

People with an alcohol use disorder may lie about their drinking habits or drink in secret. They may also find themselves in a state of denial regarding their condition. A person with an AUD may be unable to control their alcohol intake. They will drink in the middle of the day or even when they are alone. If they don’t drink, they may feel intense cravings and even withdrawal symptoms.

Those who have an AUD have a higher tolerance to alcohol. This means they need to drink more than the average person just to feel its effects. They won’t just drink alcohol to feel good, they will drink it in order to feel “normal”.

Someone with a drinking problem may have alcohol in hidden places. They may drink in secret because they feel shame over their drinking habits.

If a person has become addicted to alcohol, they will continue drinking even if they are already suffering from its adverse health effects. Addiction will not only impact their physical and mental health, it will also affect their relationships, their career, their finances, etc.

Keep in mind that even with these signs you cannot diagnose a substance use disorder. You need a medical or clinical professional for that. This should not serve as a replacement for an actual diagnosis from a professional treatment provider.


Checking In for Alcohol Rehab

Admitting that you have a problem and that you need help is one of the biggest obstacles for anyone with an alcohol addiction. People do not want to go into drug and alcohol rehab out of fear or hopelessness. If someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, you may have to stage an intervention with a professional and have them facilitate the process. This will allow you to express how their actions are affecting you, while also establishing boundaries and urging them to pursue treatment. There is a proper approach to this, which is why you need the help of a professional interventionist.

At the end of the day, the person needs to want medical treatment. It won’t work if they don’t actually want to participate. They need to commit to the process and put in the work, whether it’s a drug or alcohol rehab program. It will only be successful if they cooperate.

Once you have gotten over this hurdle, it’s time to check in. This will involve an assessment stage wherein the patient will be interviewed about their health and addiction. This allows for the creation of a personalized treatment plan that is based on their specific needs.

A personalized approach is always ideal because no two patients are the same, even if they both have an alcohol use disorder.

Most programs begin the moment the patient checks in. After completing the interview or filling in a questionnaire, they immediately go through the next step.

Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal

Alcohol detox addresses the physical aspect of addiction. The goal is to gradually lower the patient’s alcohol intake while managing their withdrawal symptoms. This is typically done in a treatment center where the patient’s condition can be monitored by medical professionals.

Withdrawal is usually an incredibly unpleasant experience. Withdrawal symptoms range from uncomfortable to painful. Sometimes they can even be life-threatening. This is the body’s reaction to the sudden absence of alcohol. For this reason, it is generally not a good idea to quit alcohol cold turkey, especially if you have been drinking excessively for a long time.

Physical symptoms of withdrawal may include: nausea, vomiting, shakiness, headaches, rapid heartbeat, fever, seizures, and sweating. Withdrawal is a sign that the person has become physically dependent on alcohol, and they can no longer function normally without drinking.

It may also cause some psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, hallucinations, insomnia, mood swings, nightmares, and agitation.

Hallucinations, fever, seizures, and delirium tremens (DT) are the most dangerous effects of withdrawal. DT is a severe withdrawal reaction that can be life-threatening. Medical detox is necessary for alcohol addiction.

Treatment Types & Therapy for Substance Abuse

Medical detox is there to make it safer for patients to slowly drop their drinking habit. Medical professionals can monitor their progress and administer medications as needed in order to keep their withdrawal symptoms under control. This is all done in a safe, clinical environment that is designed to keep the patient as comfortable as possible throughout this stage of treatment.

While detox helps patients get sober, the next stage is all about teaching patients how to stay sober. Behavioral therapy begins once the person has finished detox. However, some programs do both of these simultaneously. Different alcohol treatment centers may have different approaches.

A typical day in rehab may involve individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. Some facilities offer couples therapy as well.

This is where most rehab facilities vary. There are many different treatment types out there, including inpatient treatment or residential treatment, outpatient treatment, partial hospitalization, 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery, and other support groups.

Each program will feature different treatment plans and therapies. Some of the most common methods include cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma-focused CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), interpersonal programs, contingency management, etc. There are also alternative treatments that work best when complementing traditional behavioral therapies, such as art therapy, dance therapy, music therapy, equine therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, exercise programs, yoga, etc.

The goal of behavioral therapy is to get to the bottom of addictive behavior. This helps people understand their motivations and why they keep drinking even when it is already harming them. They can understand what triggers their behavior and then work towards a solution.

They can also learn to recognize unhealthy thoughts and use healthy coping mechanisms to steer themselves into a positive direction that is free from alcohol.

Inpatient Rehab vs. Outpatient Rehab

When choosing a rehab program, you may come across this particular choice, whether to go for an inpatient program or an outpatient one.

Neither one is necessarily better than the other. It’s just a matter of figuring out which one would be better for the patient in question. Those with severe alcohol addiction and those who are at risk of intense withdrawal should look for an inpatient treatment provider. They may benefit from the intensive approach of residential treatment.

Inpatient rehab involves staying in a treatment facility for the duration of the addiction treatment program. Some of these inpatient programs last for three months, while others last even longer. It all depends on the patient’s specific condition.

The structured environment of inpatient rehab allows patients to stay focused on their recovery. It takes them away from their usual toxic environment, including their usual triggers and temptations.

On the other hand, outpatient treatment is less intensive, but patients do not have to stay in a rehab center. It involves frequent visits to a treatment center but patients get to stay in their own home. This flexible setup allows those in recovery to receive the help that they need while managing their other responsibilities. They can go to work, attend classes, or take care of their family while getting treated for their addiction.

This, however, is only suitable for patients who have mild to moderate cases of addiction. They are not at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms, and so they do not need round the clock care from medical professionals. This is also ideal for those with a strong support system at home.

Whether you go for an inpatient program or an outpatient program, what you need to keep in mind is that relapse does not mean failure. Relapse is a common thing for those who are going through the addiction treatment process. With that said, relapse prevention is one of the goals of rehab.

We need to consider relapse as a common part of recovery. It is important to understand that sometimes patients need to reach new goals or adopt a healthier mindset. Mistakes and missteps happen. It simply means the patient needs to try a different approach.

Aftercare: What Happens After Rehab?

Now that you know what to expect from alcohol rehab, we can talk about what happens after you finish one of these programs. Life after rehab is challenging and different. You have to adjust to a daily routine that is not as structured as you used to have. You need to try all the coping skills you learned from your therapists and counselors. At the same time, you have to try and unlearn a lot of toxic thought patterns and behaviors.

Life after rehab can get messy. You have to rebuild your relationships and establish healthy boundaries. You may even have to cut off some people who are keeping you from sobriety. All of a sudden, you have to rebuild your life—and that sounds intimidating for anyone. But during rehab, you will prepare for all of this. Aftercare planning is part of a complete rehab program.

Aftercare is all about keeping you on the right track and making sure you are implementing all the right chances as you transition back into your normal life and back into your old environment. Proper preparation can make this much easier for you.

You may learn about some resources that are available in the community which will help you during your post-treatment recovery. And speaking of community, you may find comfort in joining support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

A lot of rehab facilities maintain connections with their “graduates” long after treatment has finished. These alumni programs foster a continued support network that is essential for sustained recovery.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only about 10 percent of people who have an alcohol use disorder get treatment from a rehab facility. As such, it is not easy to define how successful rehab programs are. There is also no standard for measuring the success rate of rehab centers, simply because there is no standard definition for rehab. As you can see, there are many different ways rehabilitation can be done, and it is largely dependent on the patient’s condition.

With this in mind, seeking professional treatment is your best bet when it comes to safely and effectively recovering from alcohol addiction. Look for addiction treatment facilities near you today and find out what alcohol rehab programs they offer.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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