Alcohol addiction rehab treatment: What to expect

What happens when you go to rehab? A review of how alcohol addiction is treated in a formal medical setting here.

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Rehab facilities can help remove us from unhealthy patterns of thinking and acting in order to overcome an alcohol addiction. However, it can be quite scary entering alcohol rehab treatment if you’re unsure about what to expect. Read on to find out more about what to expect during alcohol addiction rehab treatment. Then, we invite your questions at the end.

The first steps of rehab: Assessment and detox

The main goal of alcohol rehab is to help you cope with alcoholism and to begin to lead a life of abstinence and sobriety. Treatment in alcohol rehab usually occurs over the course of 8-10 weeks (or more) in outpatient care, and starts at about 28 days in inpatient care. Inpatient alcohol rehab treatment can be extended from one month to several months, or even a year, if necessary.

Since alcohol addiction rehab treatment can a very long-term process, it is typically broken down into several stages. The first stage of alcohol addiction rehab is the initial assessment. During this stage, you will be screened for mental illness and evaluated by addiction specialists. You may also be asked to submit urine for a urinalysis drug screen and undergo a medical exam. This evaluation is used to diagnose the extent of your personal problem with alcohol and create an alcohol addiction treatment plan.

Then, if you need to go through alcohol withdrawal, an alcohol rehab may place you under medical supervision. This next phase of treatment may not be mandatory, however, and is generally reserved for those who have become physically dependent on alcohol.

As your body tries to adjust to functioning without alcohol – which it has become physically dependent on – you will most likely experience several withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, fatigue, nausea, and tremors. Medical detox can address these and more severe withdrawal symptoms,  hallucinations or such as seizures, in the initial days after your last drink. Doctors can prescribe medications and treat symptoms as they occur. Not everyone undergoes medical withdrawal during alcohol addiction rehab treatment, however.

The next step of alcohol rehab: Treatment itself

What is alcohol rehab for? A big part of your alcohol addiction treatment plan will center around psychological treatments or modalities that address your drinking pattern, thoughts, and beliefs about alcohol. Counselors will ask you probing questions about your alcohol use and help you understand the real causes behind problem drinking. Treatment for alcohol addiction usually includes some kind of combination of:

  • individual behavior therapy
  • treatment for mental disorders
  • group therapy
  • family counseling

Attendance at self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is also usually encouraged. Still, psychotherapy forms the backbone of any alcohol rehab program.

Some alcohol rehab facilities and supervising medical staff can prescribe medications to help those going through alcohol addiction rehab treatment. Depending on the medication used, you may feel ill if you drink alcohol, experience reduced cravings for alcohol, or derive no pleasure from drinking. When used in combination with behavioral interventions, pharmaceutical treatments for alcohol addiction can be very useful.

Continued education in alcohol rehab

You can also expect extensive education sessions during alcohol addiction rehab. These kinds of “adult education” groups are often used to help addicts better understand the cycle of addiction. You will most likely learn about the disease model of addiction, which states that alcoholism is a disease and can be treated. The idea behind learning how your body, brain, and “self” process and adapt to alcohol is this: by gaining a better understanding of substances and how they create addiction, you will be better equipped to fight it rationally.

Ongoing services during alcohol rehab treatment

Alcohol addiction rehab treatment is only as good as the supportive services that it offers. Most alcohol rehab programs will help you with such things as case management, vocational services, educational services, and housing. Providing these types of services during and after alcohol rehab helps reduce the chances of a relapse.

What to expect after rehab and treatment

Once you complete an alcohol rehab program, you still have a long road ahead of you. Upon leaving alcohol addiction rehab treatment, you will first be encouraged to create a relapse prevention plan. You can then work with your counselors to devise an exit strategy.

An exit strategy is designed to help you make the transition from a rehab facility with no alcohol back into a society chock full of temptation. Your exit strategy may include where you will live as well as a strategy for finding employment. Counselors can refer you to housing in a transitional living facility, or halfway house.

If you’re completing an inpatient rehab program, you will also most likely be referred to an outpatient program. This typically requires you to attend weekly counseling sessions that will gradually taper off once you feel ready.

Visiting someone in alcohol addiction rehab treatment

Each rehab facility has different rules and policies when it comes to visiting someone in addiction treatment. Some facilities, for instance, may only allow a person to visit for an hour, while others may allow much longer visits over the course of a weekend. An alcohol addiction treatment facility may also have rules limiting contact between recovering alcoholics and their visitors. It’s best to speak to someone at the rehab facility that you’re looking to visit to find out all of the rules and regulations.

When a friend or family member arrives to visit you at the rehab facility, don’t be surprised if they’re searched for alcohol or other drugs. They may also be asked to give up some personal belongings, such as a cell phone; these items will be returned at the end of the visit. During the visit, guests will most likely attend education sessions with you. This will help them better understand addiction and give them an idea of how to offer support. They may also be invited to participate in family counseling or attend group counseling sessions.

Can you leave alcohol addiction treatment before completion?

Whether alcoholism rehab will work for you depends on how much you are willing to work on your recovery. Let’s put it this way: it is highly recommended that you stay in rehab and finish the program in order to increase your chances of staying sober.

While alcohol addiction treatment is usually voluntary, leaving before you complete a rehab program shows unwillingness to change. Dropping out of an alcohol rehab program greatly increases the chances of a relapse. And in some cases, you may also face legal troubles, such as fines or imprisonment, if you leave rehab before completion in some cases. This is true if alcohol addiction rehab treatment has been mandated by a court.

Alcohol addiction rehab treatment expectations

Completing an alcohol addiction rehab treatment program can be the best things that you do for yourself and your loved ones.

If you still have questions about alcohol rehab, we urge you to leave them in the comments section below. We strive to help our readers during every step of their journey and will try to answer your questions personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: State of Hawaii: CSCA Core Functions
NIDA: Treatment approaches for drug addiction
NIAAA: Alcohol Alert: Alcohol Research and Health Cover Volume 33, Number 3, Exploring Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorders
SAMHSA: Treatment Dropouts
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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