Tuesday June 19th 2018

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What happens during alcohol rehab treatment?

Alcohol Rehab

Q: What’s in store for those who seek help for alcohol problems?
A: Evidence based treatment that follows certain protocol.

In fact, if you or a loved one need alcohol rehab there are common treatments that most rehabs employ. Here, we review the basics of alcohol rehab treatment. Then, we invite your questions at the end. Note that we try to respond to all questions with a personal and prompt reply.

Alcohol rehab treatment definition

To begin, let’s address the question, What’s rehab treatment in the first place? Treatment for alcohol problems helps addicted men and women to stop compulsive alcohol seeking and use. What’s more, treatment will address WHY you drink. It aims to get to the root of the problem so that you can adapt new behaviors and health patterns that replace drinking.

Treatment can occur in a variety of settings, take many different forms, and last for different lengths of time. Because alcohol addiction is typically a chronic disorder characterized by occasional relapses, a short-term, one-time treatment is usually not sufficient. For many, treatment is a long-term process that involves multiple interventions and regular monitoring. Alcohol rehab usually includes three (3) main treatments:

  1. Behavioral Therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, or Contingency Management)
  2. Prescription medications
  3. Their combination

The specific type of treatment or combination of treatments will vary depending on your individual needs.

Alcohol rehab treatment goals

While each individual in treatment will have specific long- and short-term goals, all specialized substance abuse treatment programs have three similar generalized goals:

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Goal 1:  Reducing substance abuse or achieving a substance-free life

The primary goal of treatment is attainment and maintenance of abstinence, but this may take numerous attempts and failures at “controlled” use before sufficient motivation manifests. Until someone accepts that abstinence is necessary, rehab staff usually try to minimize the effects of continuing use and abuse through education, counseling, and self-help groups that stress reducing risky behavior. Additionally, rehabs will encourage that you build new relationships with drug-free friends, change your recreational activities and lifestyle patterns, or reduce the amount and frequency of consumption, with a goal of highlighting individual responsibility for becoming abstinent.

Goal 2:  Maximizing multiple aspects of quality of life

Most people who seek alcohol treatment experience multiple and complex problems in many aspects of living, including medical and mental illnesses, disrupted relationships, underdeveloped or deteriorated social and vocational skills, impaired performance at work or in school, and legal or financial troubles. These conditions may have contributed to the drinking problem… or are the result of problem drinking. Substantial efforts must be made by treatment programs to assist patients in resolving these problems so that they can assume appropriate and responsible roles in society.

Goal 3:  Preventing or reducing the frequency and severity of relapse

Long-term studies find that “treatment works” – the majority of people who attend alcohol rehab eventually stop compulsive use and have less frequent and severe relapse episodes. The most positive effects generally happen while the a person is actively participating in treatment, but prolonged abstinence following treatment is a good predictor of continuing success.

What happens during alcohol rehab treatment?

Upon entering treatment, you will participate in a complete diagnostic evaluation that will lead to an individualized treatment plan. The evaluation and treatment plan are used to determine the types, level and intensity of services you will receive and to manage the course of the treatment over time. If you are wondering what you shouldn’t or should bring with you to alcohol rehab, click on the link to learn more.

Several typical treatment strategies may be offered singularly or in combination to people. They include the following:

1. Detoxification – Some people have such a serious physical dependency that they may have to be carefully withdrawn from the chemicals (including alcohol) to address the potentially serious medical consequences of abruptly stopping usage. A physician often supervises this process. Because it does not treat the behavioral or psychosocial causes leading to the chemical dependence, detoxification should be followed by behavioral treatment.

2. Individual Therapy – Typically, you will work with a professional therapist (counselor, social worker, psychologist) to understand the factors that lead to alcohol abuse, and to develop coping strategies to deal with the compulsions in order to live differently. Once you establish therapeutic trust with your counselor, you’ll be on the way to  learning new ways of living. Many therapeutic approaches exist.

3. Group Therapy – Most alcohol treatment rehabs make professionally led group counseling or therapy a central part of treatment. By offering mutual support, these sessions allow participants to use the group format to share insights, reinforce member therapeutic gains, and to exert group accountability on individual behavior. Often, group therapy is provided to individuals who share some common experience or unresolved issue such as trauma survivors, gender specific focus, criminal justice involvement, parenting focus, etc.

4. Pharmacological Therapy – Some patients receive medication – in combination with psychotherapy – to help decrease the physical craving for alcohol. By relieving the symptoms or creating strong symptoms to deter drinking, medications such as naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate can help you participate more easily in other aspects of treatment.

5. Toxicology Screening and Monitoring – Most alcohol treatment programs incorporate a process for monitoring continued abstinence from alcohol. Generally, this is accomplished through urine, blood and breath testing. For patients required to attend treatment by another system (court, child welfare, public assistance), reporting back to the judge or other identified official on the results of clients’ toxicology tests will likely be a requisite component of the treatment regimen with client consent.

6. Vocational Rehabilitation – Although many people in treatment programs are employed full time, many others enter treatment unemployed with few marketable skills. With the enactment of welfare reform, vocational rehabilitation services have now become core services of many treatment programs. So, during rehab you can work with trained vocational specialists who assist them with skill development (resume writing, job seeking skills), gaining work experience, educational assistance, and with finding and maintaining employment.

7. Health and Medical Services – Normally, treatment programs give a complete physical examination or arrange for one to be provided upon initial admission. They also monitor other health conditions and diseases. Treatment programs are especially alert for certain diseases that are highly prevalent among drinkers (hepatitis, tuberculosis, or liver disease).

8. Family Strengthening – Because alcoholic drinking strains and sometimes fractures important family relationships, treatment programs may offer – directly or through referral – services to strengthen family functioning and promote family reunification. These include a wide range of services depending on your circumstances and could include:

  • family counseling
  • parenting education
  • childcare
  • services to prevent or respond to domestic violence, trauma, or child abuse

9. Case Management – The multiple, complex needs of most people who enter alcohol rehab extend beyond the chemical dependence services. For example, people may need help with housing, transportation, court advocacy, childcare, or child welfare services. Rehabs often work with you to arrange these critical services, make referrals, and assist in the exchange of vital information with other human service agencies. They can also help you overcome difficulties accessing or participating in such services.

What happens after alcohol rehab treatment?

You don’t really graduate from alcohol treatment. Instead, rehab is viewed by experts in the continuum of prevention, intervention, treatment, and aftercare. As with all continuums, the boundaries are not always clearly drawn.

The goal of aftercare and continuing care is to support the person’s abstinence through relapse prevention after primary care and throughout their recovery. Aftercare is the stage following more intensive services. Related aftercare and relapse prevention services for individuals who are part of a treatment continuum include but are not limited to:

  • Access to local social services
  • Sober housing
  • Regular outpatient aftercare (continued psychotherapy)
  • Recovery support groups
  • Relapse/recovery groups
Reference Sources: NIH: What is drug addiction treatment?
NCBI: Specialized Substance Abuse Treatment Programs
King County: Prevention-Intervention-Treatment-Aftercare
NY State Department of Health: What is Addiction Treatment?


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