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How long does alcohol rehabilitation take?

The Rehabilitation Process

Alcohol rehabilitation: How long does it take?

There are three main types of alcohol rehabilitation programs. Each of these programs are different in a number of ways and each takes a different amount of time to complete.

1.  Inpatient alcohol rehabilitation – Inpatient alcohol rehab programs are residential by nature. Recovering alcoholics in these programs will typically spend 28-30 days in a rehab facility while they undergo several psychotherapy and counseling sessions per week, and engage in educational and group work.

2.  Long-term inpatient alcohol rehab – Individuals diagnosed with severe alcohol addictions will usually need much more intensive treatment. Long-term inpatient rehab is an option in this case. This type of alcohol rehabilitation generally lasts anywhere from 90 days to a year or more. Average stay is between 3-6 months, and long term rehabs link up clients with aftercare services which include sober living, outpatient treatment, and/or psychotherapy.

3.  Outpatient alcohol rehabilitation – Outpatient rehab can be used as a primary treatment or can be recommended after a person has completed inpatient alcohol rehab. Recovering alcoholics in outpatient rehab do not need to reside in a rehab facility, but they do have to attend therapy and counseling sessions daily or weekly. Outpatient alcohol rehabilitation can last for several months or years, as needed.

Alcohol rehabilitation duration and average time

The average time spent in a typical inpatient rehab program is roughly one month. Long-term residential treatment can take several months to complete. Time spent in outpatient alcohol rehabilitation can be extended to a year, or more, although an average session is 10-12 weeks long.

Inpatient vs outpatient alcohol rehabilitation

Outpatient alcohol rehabilitation can be very effective for some people, especially those who need to continuing working or have responsibilities at home. However, outpatient treatment requires commitment, and is usually recommended for those who have a high motivation to get sober.

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Inpatient alcohol rehab is usually recommended for most alcoholics who need to get out of their usual environment. Inpatient alcohol rehabs are effective mostly because while residing in the rehabilitation facility, recovering alcoholics have no access to alcohol. Inpatient rehabs are safe, secure, and allow you to focus on your internal process. Inpatient treatment for alcoholism also gives people a different environment to take a “time out”; a time for personal assessment. This time is usually spent in therapy and counseling to treat the addiction and any underlying psychological problems.

Alcohol rehabilitation: A timeline of what happens

Nearly all alcohol rehabilitation programs progress in roughly the same way, separated into a few distinct stages.

First days: Screening

Upon entering any alcohol rehabilitation program, you can expect both physical and psychological screening. The process usually lasts for less than a few hours, but you may be required to take a pee test (urinalysis) and sit down for a psychological evaluation. At the very least, clinician evaluating alcohol dependence perform a physical exam, order laboratory tests, assess psychiatric status, obtain
substance use, treatment, and social histories, and assess motivation for change.

Week 1: Detoxification

Many alcohol rehabilitation facilities require alcoholics to be completely free of alcohol. Oftentimes, individuals seeking help for an alcohol problem have the option to go into an alcohol detox facility, which (in moderate cases of alcohol dependency) usually takes three to five days to complete. After complete medical detox from alcohol, a person can progress to the next stage of alcohol rehab.

Weeks 1 to 4: Psychological and medical treatments

For the duration of an alcohol rehabilitation program, a recovering alcoholic will be required to go through daily therapy and counseling sessions. Behavior therapy is particularly useful for helping individuals change their habits and the way they perceive drinking. Group therapy and family therapy is also quite common during alcohol rehab. Psychological treatments will also usually continue even after a person completes an inpatient alcohol rehab program.

Additionally, doctors or psychiatrists may complement psychosocial alcohol treatments with medications. Naltrexone, acamprosate, or disulfiram may be prescribed at different intervals of alcoholism treatment in order to help manage withdrawal, cravings for alcohol, or deter drinking. Additionally, some clients may benefit from prescription medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. A treatment plan involving medications should outline:

  • The medication to be used and a rationale for its use
  • Criteria for discontinuing the medication
  • Initial and maintenance dosages
  • A schedule for follow-up office visits and laboratory testing for monitoring health status and progress

Weeks 4 and onward: Transition

Making the transition from a monitored and safe facility back into society can be difficult for many recovering alcoholics. Alcohol rehabilitation programs can plan for this by helping recovering alcoholics prepare a relapse prevention plan, schedule housing, and connect with social services.

This is why most rehabs plan for a transition phase, which is also sometimes referred to as a step down program. During this time, a recovering alcoholic make reside in a halfway house and still attend daily therapy sessions while counselors prepare them for their reintroduction back into society. This transition stage can last from several weeks to a few months before a recovering alcoholic goes out on her/his own completely.

Lifelong maintenance

Completion of an alcohol rehabilitation program does not guarantee that a person will be completely cured of addiction. Oftentimes, recovering alcoholics will find that they need periodic psychological treatments and support in order to remain abstinent and sober. For many, the need for this ongoing support will last for the rest of their lives.

Can alcohol rehabilitation be forced?

In order for alcohol rehabilitation to be most successful, a person must willingly enter into a program and want to change.

Sometimes alcoholics can be nudged in the right direction after their loved ones stage an intervention. During an intervention, a group of close family members and friends gather together to confront an alcoholic about his drinking. Using specific examples, they attempt to show an alcoholic how his drinking is hurting himself and the ones he loves. Addiction specialists may also be present at interventions as well.

If an intervention is unsuccessful, a person may also be able to force a loved one into an alcohol rehabilitation program legally. Anyone looking to take this route will need to check with their local district court or state Attorney General’s office for the proper procedure. It usually involves filing a petition for involuntary commitment, and proving that a person is a danger to himself or others.

Alcohol rehabilitation time and questions

Hopefully, we’ve enlightened you about how time is spent in alcohol rehabilitation. Any additional questions about the addiction rehabilitation process can be asked below, in the comments section. We strive to help our readers every step of the way and look forward to your questions and comments.

Sources: SAMHSA TIP 49: Incorporating Alcohol Pharmacotherapies Into Medical Practice
NIDA: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)
New Hampshire HHS: Addiction Treatment Services
New York HHS: What is Addiction?

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