Alcohol Rehab

Alcohol addiction is the top reason people in the United States attend rehab centers. Rehab helps people safely detox from alcohol, overcome withdrawal and find support groups that help them live a life of sobriety.

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Alcohol addiction is the most common type of addiction, and it’s also one of the most difficult to overcome. But recovery is possible with dedication and the right resources.

People can achieve the benefits of quitting alcohol in different ways. Those with mild alcohol problems may be able to recover with the help of support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or a primary care physician. However, people addicted to alcohol require rehab to recover from the disease.

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Alcohol addiction is a brain disease that disrupts the way you think and how you feel. Rehab provides a safe setting to overcome withdrawal. It helps you understand why cravings and triggers lead to relapse. It also teaches you how to overcome those challenges. After receiving rehab from a quality treatment center, you’ll be prepared to live in sobriety.

More than 15 million people in the United States had an alcohol use disorder in 2016, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. About 1.1 million people went to rehab for alcohol, and an additional 1.1 million went to rehab for alcohol and use of another drug.

The survey revealed that 14 million people who needed treatment for an alcohol problem in 2016 didn’t receive it.

It can be difficult to determine whether you have a drinking problem and whether you need rehab. Those who can stop drinking on their own probably aren’t addicted.

Admissions coordinators at rehab facilities can help you determine whether you need treatment at an inpatient facility or an outpatient facility. You can talk to an admissions coordinator or find an alcohol rehab center near you by calling a hotline for alcoholism. The admissions coordinator will help you determine the cost and duration of rehab.

Depending on the severity of your condition, you may require between 14 and 30 days of inpatient treatment before transitioning to outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment may continue for several months.

Alcohol Rehab Timeline:

Day 0
Assessment and diagnosis
Days 0–3
Supervised detox
Days 3–28
Inpatient or residential rehab
Days 28–90
Outpatient counseling and therapy
Days 90+
Support group attendance and therapy as needed

Once you enter rehab, addiction treatment specialists will help you develop an individualized treatment plan.


Nanci Stockwell of Advanced Recovery Systems discusses comprehensive, high-quality treatment for addiction.

Determining the Severity of the Drinking Problem

Evaluating the severity of your drinking problem can help you determine if you need rehab for alcohol addiction.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s latest diagnostic manual, commonly referred to as the DSM-5, the presence of two of the following symptoms indicates an alcohol use disorder:

  • Drinking more than intended
  • Unable to stop drinking
  • Can’t stop thinking about alcohol
  • Alcohol causing work or family problems
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol

The DSM-5 uses 11 criteria, including those listed above, to diagnose alcoholism. You can answer a quick questionnaire to determine how severe your addiction to alcohol is.


Take our 11-question quiz to find out now.

The first phase of treatment is an assessment. Nurses or therapists will assess the severity of your alcohol use disorder by using questionnaires or by talking to you about your history. They may also perform a physical exam and run blood tests to check for other medical issues.

Testing for Co-Occurring Disorders

Many rehab centers perform psychiatric evaluations to test for co-occurring disorders. Therapists will help you determine whether you need a treatment plan that includes integrated mental health care.

Evaluating Multiple Addictions

You’ll also be evaluated for other types of drug addiction. If you’re addicted to alcohol and another drug, your treatment plan will be tailored to address your primary substance of abuse and any other substances that you’re addicted to.

Assessing Severity

Alcohol use disorder is the medical term for alcoholism or alcohol addiction. People who have mild alcohol use disorders and don’t experience withdrawal when they quit drinking may be able to recover with the help of support groups or a doctor.

People with moderate or severe alcohol use disorders need rehab. If you experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms — sweating, restlessness, clammy skin, anxiety, tremors or headaches — when you quit drinking, rehab can help you detox.

Alcohol Detox

The second stage of rehab involves detoxing from alcohol. Detox doesn’t cure addiction or help you live without alcohol. It prepares you for treatment so you can learn to avoid relapse and stay sober.

Many alcoholics show up for rehab under the influence. If they don’t drink before rehab, they’ll experience withdrawal. The first step during detox is to keep the person safe while they sober up, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Rehab centers keep intoxicated patients safe by:

  • Monitoring vital functions
  • Ensuring breathing
  • Preventing dehydration
  • Communicating with patients

When alcohol leaves your system completely, you’ll sober up. But you’ll also enter withdrawal. Withdrawal is the worst part of the rehab experience. It usually begins between six and 24 hours after the last drink, according to SAMHSA. The length of alcohol detox varies based on the severity of a person’s addiction.

Withdrawal is the worst part of the rehab experience, but it is necessary to recover from addiction. Treatment facilities employ trained medical professionals who know how to help people safely detox from alcohol.

It’s dangerous to detox on your own because alcohol withdrawal can cause hallucinations, seizures, delirium tremens symptoms and other life-threatening symptoms. Rehab centers keep you safe by treating those symptoms.

During detox, treatment facilities can also offer foods that are rich in nutrients such as lean red meats or pasta. An alcohol detox diet plan can help clients avoid nutrient deficiencies that can occur during the withdrawal phase.

Inpatient and Residential Treatment for Alcoholism

Most rehab centers don’t start alcohol counseling and therapy until after withdrawal. People usually can’t focus and learn during detox. They may attend support group meetings to receive encouragement and inspiration.

The most intense stage of alcohol withdrawal usually lasts one to three days. After that time period, most patients begin therapy. However, some lingering effects of withdrawal, such as sleep problems, fatigue and irritability, can linger for multiple weeks, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.


Dr. Kevin Wandler of Advanced Recovery Systems discusses the types of treatment that occur during inpatient or residential rehab.

Medication-assisted treatment may begin during inpatient therapy. The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved medications for use during alcohol detox, but it has approved three medications for alcoholism.

Medications used to treat alcoholism:

Disulfiram (Antabuse)
Causes uncomfortable effects when patients drink.
Acamprosate (Campral)
Reduces cravings and some prolonged symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Naltrexone (Revia)
Blocks the pleasurable effects of alcohol.

The medications aid patients during recovery, but they don’t cure addiction. They are most effective when combined with therapy, according to SAMHSA.

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Counseling and Therapy During Alcohol Rehab

Withdrawal is one of the reasons recovery from alcohol addiction is difficult. But it isn’t the only reason. Most people who struggle with alcohol drink for reasons that aren’t obvious.

They may have a history of trauma, abuse or pain. They may self-medicate negative feelings or emotions with alcohol. People who grow up around the substance or begin drinking at a young age may think drinking is normal.

Therapy teaches you healthy ways to cope with negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. It helps you understand that alcohol doesn’t have to be a part of your life.

Common therapy techniques for alcohol addiction and other co-occurring mental health issues include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management
  • Motivational enhancement

It’s important for alcoholics to receive therapy in a residential setting after detox. Outpatient therapy can help people who have a strong support system and safe living environment. For most people, it’s important to develop coping skills before facing challenges in the real world.

Group Therapy and 12-Step Support

Most rehab centers introduce people to support groups during rehab. Alcoholics Anonymous is the most famous and popular support group for people with alcohol problems. Many rehab centers hold AA meetings in the facility.

Some centers walk patients through the 12 Steps of AA or other 12-step programs. Twelve-step facilitation therapy can increase a person’s likelihood to access support groups after rehab, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Other forms of therapy can also be performed in a group setting. Group therapy helps people learn from peers, realize that they aren’t the only ones struggling with alcohol and form support systems to rely on after rehab.

Supplemental Therapy

Inpatient facilities also offer supplemental therapies to aid recovery from alcoholism. Different forms of therapy may be appropriate for different types of patients.

Animal-assisted therapy can help individuals who are skeptical about addiction treatment build stronger relationships with their therapists. It also teaches them about responsibility and empowerment, according to a variety of studies, including a 2009 article in the journal Anthrozoös.

Yoga and meditation can help patients relieve stress and improve concentration. It may also help improve self-awareness, which can reduce the risk of alcohol relapse, according to a 2013 review published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Other forms of supplemental therapies for drinking problems, including art therapy, music therapy and acupuncture, may be beneficial for some people.

Outpatient Alcohol Treatment

Inpatient therapy for alcoholism usually lasts 30 days. Treatment programs that last at least 90 days are usually more effective, according to NIDA. However, insurance doesn’t always cover multiple months of residential treatment.

More than 15 million people in the United States had an alcohol use disorder in 2016.

Outpatient rehab is the best option for people who continue treatment after inpatient rehab. Outpatient therapists use the same counseling techniques as inpatient therapists, but they usually meet with clients less often. It’s a less intensive phase of treatment.

During outpatient treatment, you’ll talk about ways to avoid alcohol and triggers. You’ll create strategies for overcoming cravings. After practicing those strategies in the real world, you’ll discuss what you learned with your therapist. You’ll determine what worked, what didn’t work and discuss new ways of approaching situations.

Depending on the rehab facility and your insurance plan, you may still be able to attend group therapy and supplemental therapy sessions. Many people attend 12-step programs or other support group meetings between outpatient therapy appointments.

How Carly Found Sobriety

Carly’s blog about her battle with alcoholism helps others overcome the disease and find their epic selves.

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Aftercare and Life in Sobriety

The final phase of recovery from alcoholism is indefinite. Rehab may officially end when you leave your last therapy appointment, but many people in recovery stay connected with their rehab provider for months after treatment.

Aftercare includes establishing a support system, finding safe housing, maintaining employment and accessing resources for alcoholics. Top rehab facilities help clients create aftercare plans so they’re set up for success after their last appointment. Therapists and case managers can guide clients toward helpful resources in the community during this final stage of treatment.

Some addiction treatment centers own sober housing units that clients can transition to after treatment. Others recommend independent sober living homes. The alcohol-free living units house individuals in recovery who support one another during the initial months or years of recovery.

Many recovering alcoholics continue attending support group meetings for the rest of their lives. Others slowly stop attending as they create other reliable forms of support, such as relationships with friends, family members and co-workers.

Attending rehab for alcoholism is a major commitment. Most people are more likely to quit drinking after rehab if they’re motivated to get sober. If you are skeptical or hesitant about sobriety, your chances of recovery are low. People who work hard and believe they can stay sober are most likely to stay sober after alcohol rehab.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.
Medical Reviewer
Ashraf Ali
Psychiatrist, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health

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