I. The Basics of Alcohol Rehab

Whether attending rehab for a drug addiction, an alcohol addiction, or both, the rehabilitation process is the same. However, medication for alcohol addiction is a component that’s often added to the detox and therapy stages, which are shown below.

For more information, read our guide to the rehab process

Rehab Settings

The different types of rehab facilities fall into two categories or “settings.” The two settings are inpatient (full-time rehab) and outpatient (part-time rehab). Inpatient means the client lives at the facility, and each step of the rehab process is typically completed there. Patients who attend an outpatient facility return home after treatment each day and often complete the steps of rehab at different facilities. Below is a comparison of the most common program options within those two rehab settings.

Overview of Treatment Settings
SettingType of TreatmentDescriptionTime CommitmentDuration
InpatientShort-term residentialIntensive treatment, sometimes in a hospital setting. Therapies offered are extensive. Medical treatment is available to those who qualify.Hours per Day: 2414-30 days
Days per Week: 7
Long-Term ResidentialIntensive treatment in a non-hospital setting, most often a therapeutic community facility with other patients. Therapies offered are extensive. Medical treatment is available to those who qualify.Hours per Day: 243-12 months
Days per Week: 7
Partial Hospital-
ization
Intensive treatment in a hospital setting. Patients do not stay overnight. Referred to as “inpatient” due to the hospital setting, extensive services provided, and the near full-time commitment every week. Medical treatment is available to those who qualify.Hours per Day: 6-814-30 days
Days per Week: 5
OutpatientIntensive Day TreatmentPatients receive the extensive services of an inpatient program but return home after. After completion, patients often transition to less intensive counseling. Therapies offered are extensive. Medical treatment is available to those who qualify.Hours per Day: 2-43-4 months
Days per Week: 3
CounselingBoth individual counseling and group counseling focus on short-term behavioral goals to develop coping strategies. Therapies offered are moderate. Medical treatment is not available.Hours per Day: 1-2As long as desired
Days per Week: 1-3
Support GroupsSelf-help groups are recommended to help maintain abstinence after another form of treatment. Typically meet one day a week for 1-2 hours.Hours per Day: 1-2As long as desired
Days per Week: 1

Alcohol Rehab Demographics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that patients who identify alcohol as their only substance of abuse made up 19% of admissions into rehab in 2015, while another 15% of admissions were for those who primarily abuse alcohol, but use other drugs as well.

II. Assessments for Alcohol Addiction

Anyone with a drinking problem should get an assessment

Professional assessments are always the best first step towards recovery, and they are especially important for anyone who feels they may have a problem with drinking. Since alcohol is legal, and drinking is culturally acceptable, many people who have an AUD (alcohol use disorder) might not realize the extent of their problem. A professional assessment is the only way to be sure.

Contact your family doctor or an addiction professional

Since those with moderate to severe alcohol addiction can benefit from medication that must be prescribed by a medical professional, start with your primary care physician. He or she can start the assessment process, work with an addiction counselor to provide the right prescriptions, and monitor your overall health during the recovery process. Alternatively, you can contact a counselor or rehab facility directly to schedule an assessment and begin the rehabilitation process.

For more information on alcohol addiction and the assessment process, read our guide on alcohol addiction.

III. Detox for Alcohol Addiction

Whether you decide on inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, detox is an essential beginning step towards recovery. Because of the potentially serious medical concerns of alcohol withdrawal, we recommend professional detox (rather than quitting cold turkey at home). Detox can be completed in an inpatient or outpatient facility depending on the severity of the addiction and any medical complications that are present.

For more information about the specifics of detox, read our guide to drug and alcohol detox facilities

Withdrawal Symptoms

Regularly using alcohol leads to dependence. When a person stops using alcohol, the brain reacts negatively to the chemical imbalance, leaving the user with the side effects of withdrawal.

Most people only have mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms

For most people, withdrawal symptoms are only moderate or mild and disappear within 2-7 days of the last drink, not requiring medical attention. However, the symptoms are still unpleasant and can be complicated by other addictions or medical problems.

A small number of people may experience life-threatening symptoms

For 5-10% of those undergoing alcohol withdrawal, a serious complication called delirium tremens (DT) can occur, which is potentially fatal – more so for those with serious medical conditions or those who don’t receive treatment. Those with a long history of heavy drinking or previous experience with alcohol withdrawal are at a higher risk of DT.

Alcohol’s Withdrawal Symptoms
 BodyMind
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Jumpiness
  • Shakiness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Not thinking clearly
Less-Common Withdrawal Symptoms
  • Sweating, clammy skin
  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pallor
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremor of the hands or other body parts
N/A
Delirium Tremens (DT) Symptoms
  • Body tremors
  • Deep sleep that lasts for a day or longer
  • Bursts of energy
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, touch
  • Stupor, sleepiness, fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Delirium (sudden severe confusion)
  • Changes in mental function
  • Agitation, irritability
  • Excitement or fear
  • Hallucinations
  • Quick mood changes
  • Restlessness, excitement

For more information about withdrawal, read our guide on Alcohol Addiction

Detox Medications

There are three FDA-approved medications that are typically prescribed during the detox process and are used throughout the therapy process to support recovery. For more information, read our section on therapy for alcohol addiction below.

IV. Therapy for Alcohol Addiction

Therapy is the third step in the rehab process, sometimes intermingling with the second phase (detox). Therapy deals with the root of the addiction and is crucial for long-term success.

The method that’s proven to be most effective in treating alcohol addiction is to use medications alongside traditional behavioral therapy. However, medications are underutilized in alcohol addiction treatment, and many people are not even aware that they exist. Behavioral therapy involves individual or group counseling, and it equips addicts to overcome their addiction by giving them coping skills and addressing any other mental health needs.

Medication Therapy

The FDA has approved three medications to use in alcohol addiction treatment. All three are non-habit forming and can be used long-term to help prevent relapse back into alcohol abuse. The three drugs approved by the FDA are:

  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone makes drinking less pleasurable and reduces craving by blocking opioid receptors, and it has been shown to reduce relapses for some people. Vivitrol is an extended-release version that is administered once a month by injection.
  • Acamprosate: Also known by its brand name (Campral), acamprosate reduces withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and dysphoria. Acamprosate is especially useful for addicts who are heavily dependent on alcohol.
  • Disulfiram: Disulfiram (Antabuse) interferes with the way a person’s body process alcohol, and produces a very unpleasant reaction that includes flushing, nausea, and palpitations. Because of the unpleasant reactions to drinking alcohol, patients often neglect to take the medication, which limits its usefulness. Disulfiram is most effective when administered under supervision, such as by a spouse or clinic.

Behavioral Therapies

Also referred to as “counseling,” behavioral therapies involve one-on-one or group therapy with a certified professional in order to change the behaviors that lead to alcohol abuse. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) list four features that most behavioral therapies share:

  • Developing the skills needed to stop or reduce drinking
  • Helping to build a strong social support system
  • Working to set reachable goals
  • Coping with or avoiding the triggers that might cause relapse

While there are quite a few behavioral therapies that can be used to treat alcohol addiction, the NIAAA recommends the following four options:

  • Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy: This form of therapy is focused on helping patients to avoid relapse by identifying each person’s unique “triggers,” or feelings and situations that lead to heavy drinking, and managing stress. The goal is to help patients develop the skills necessary to cope with situations that lead to problem drinking.
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy: This therapy is a short-term approach that aims to increase a patient’s motivation to engage with addiction treatment by identifying the pros and cons of seeking treatment, forming a plan to make changes, and building the skills needed to stick to the plan.
  • Marital and Family Counseling: Since alcohol abuse often deeply impacts the family of the addict, this type of therapy incorporates spouses and other family members in the treatment process and can play a large role in repairing relationships damaged by the addiction. When done properly, it builds up the patient’s support system and increases the chances for long-term recovery.
  • Brief Interventions: This approach consists of short one-on-one or small-group counseling sessions. The counselor provides information about the individual’s drinking pattern and potential risks, and he or she works with the client to set goals and provide ideas to make positive changes.

V. Aftercare for Alcohol Addiction

According to the NIAAA, relapse is common among those who are recovering from alcohol addiction. Without aftercare (the final step in the rehab process), relapses may escalate from a small setback, to a total return into alcohol abuse and dependence. The most commonly-known form of aftercare is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but there are many other options that are outlined below.

Over half of all admissions into treatment programs are a result of relapse

While the exact percentage of patients who have relapsed after treatment for alcohol addiction isn’t known, data from treatment facilities shows that 57% of those admitted into treatment programs (for alcohol abuse only) have previously been treated. For those with a secondary drug addiction, about 70% are there as a result of relapse.

Replase Rates by Drug Type 2015

There are four main factors that cause addicts to relapse

  • Stressful situations
  • Lack of a positive support system
  • Triggers (events that “trigger” positive memories or feelings of using the substance)
  • Unaddressed mental health issues

Ongoing Counseling

Patients often choose to maintain a relationship with a counselor and continue treatment less frequently in an outpatient setting. Even meeting once a month can be helpful in staying accountable and continuing to make progress towards long-term recovery.

Mutual-Support Groups

One of the most common forms of aftercare is mutual-support groups, such as AA. Since AA’s approach faith-based, 12-step approach isn’t right for everyone, other types of support groups are also available. Whatever option you choose, regularly attending groups can help you maintain abstinence by providing a support system with positive relationships from which to draw encouragement.

Click your state from the list below to find AA meetings near you

To find Alcoholics Anonymous meetings near you, click on your state from the list below. From there you will be able to find the local organization that coordinates the meetings. They will be able to provide the most up-to-date information about the time and location of meetings, as well as the contact information for group leaders.

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York State
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

VI. Finding Rehab forAlcohol Addiction

Our directory of rehab programs includes a comprehensive list of available treatment centers and programs as provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In the directory, you will find tools to filter the programs by setting, price, and location.

Find out more by reading our guide to Choosing the Right Rehab

Click your state from the list below, then input your zip code to find rehabs near you

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York State
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

VII. Take Action

Alcohol addiction is notorious for hurting families and relationships, but it can be overcome if you are willing to seek help. To find out more about finding the highest-quality facilities, read our guide on Choosing the Right Rehab.

Whether researching for yourself or a loved one, read more about the chemistry of alcohol addiction and how it affects the human body and mind.