What Happens During Alcohol Rehab Treatment?

If you are in need of rehab, what can you expect? We explore the process of treating alcohol problems here.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Juan Goecke, M.D.
Reviewed by: Dr. Juan Goecke, M.D.

ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Alcohol rehab includes a period of assessment, detox (if necessary), and then talk therapy. It’s like a combination of adult education and group therapy. More here on the stagest of treatment and what you can expect.


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.

What Is Alcohol Rehab?

To begin, let’s address the question, “What’s rehab treatment in the first place?” Treatment for drinking problems aim to help you 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.

But, what defines a drinking problem?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism you have a drinking problem if:

For women:

  • You drink more than 1 drink per day.
  • You drink more than 7 drinks per day.
  • You drink more than 3 drinks on any single day.

For men:

  • You drink more than 2 drinks per day.
  • You drink more than 14 drinks per week.
  • You drink more than 4 drinks on any single day.

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
2. Prescription medications
3. A combination of the two

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

Rehab Types

There are two types of rehab programs that treat alcoholism: inpatient and outpatient programs.

Inpatient programs provide round-the-clock medical care and accommodation to their patients. These programs are designed for people with moderate to severe levels of addiction, who need to change their environment and focus on how to live without alcohol. Some of the services include:

  • Individual therapy sessions.
  • Group therapy sessions.
  • Educational sessions for recovery.
  • Support.

Outpatient programs do not provide accommodation to their patients , although the services they offer are similar to inpatient programs. Patients visit the center for a few hours several days per week. This type of program is designed for people who are highly motivated to get better, who have their own transportation, and who also have  support from loved ones.

Stages of Treatment

STAGE 1. Assessment and Intake. 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, be prepared…most treatment centers search your belongings during admission.

STAGE 2. Detoxification. Some people have to go through medical detox to address the potentially serious medical consequences of quitting. A physician supervises this process. This way, you can minimize the risk of consequences such as seizures or delirium tremens. Because it does not treat the behavioral or psychosocial causes leading to the chemical dependence, detoxification should be followed by behavioral treatment.

STAGE 3. Therapy. Typically, you will work with a professional therapist (counselor, social worker, psychologist) to understand the factors that lead to alcohol abuse. Talk therapy is both one-on-one and supervised in a group setting. This way, you can lean from one another while you’re developing particular coping strategies to deal with  compulsions. Once you establish therapeutic trust with your counselor, you’ll be on the way to learning new ways of living. Many therapeutic approaches exist.

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.

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.

ONGOING 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.

ONGOING 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.

ONGOING 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).

ONGOING 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

ONGOING 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.

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The length of every treatment is different, and it depends form the severity of the addiction and the duration of alcohol use. The most common alcohol rehab programs can last:

Short-term inpatient programs: 1-3 months

It will take about a month to complete a short-term rehab program. Sometimes they may last longer up to three months. These rehabs are made for people who suffer from mild to moderate addiction.

Long-term inpatient program: 3+ months

This is a program designed for people with severe addiction, and for people who abused alcohol several years. This type of program offer intensive treatment that can last from three months to a year. Sometimes even more.

Outpatient program: up to a year or more

This program is beneficial for people with mild addiction. You will need to visit the facility few times per week to attend therapy sessions. This program may last from 10 weeks to a year and more.

What Happens After Rehab

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

Rehab 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:

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.

Is It For Me?

Alcohol rehabs are for people who have drinking problems and want to turn their life around, and start living healthier without alcohol.

Are you wondering whether you have a drinking problem, or not? Some of the most common signs include:

  • Finding excuses to drink.
  • Hiding your drinking
  • Unable to stop drinking even though you have tried.
  • Urges to drink.
  • Decreased work/school performance.
  • Problems with loved ones due to drinking.
  • Health problems due to drinking.
  • Losing control over how much and how often you drink.
  • Neglecting responsibilities in favor of drinking.

If you meet some of these symptoms you may need to seek professional help to diagnose the severity of your addiction.

Many professionals use screening tools and questionnaires such as:

Am I The Only One?

Definitely, no!

Alcohol is the #1 addiction problem in the U.S. Not only is alcohol widely consumed, but many people still live in denial not knowing that they have drinking problems.

According to the National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health of 2016 there are about 136.7 million Americans aged 12 or older current users of alcohol, while 65.3 million are binge users, and 16.3 million are heavy alcohol users. The numbers break down into age category:

  • 2.3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 are current drinkers.
  • 19.8 million young adults aged 18 to 25 are current drinkers.
  • 114.7 million adults aged 26 or older are current drinkers.

Moreover, this report showed that there are 15.1 million people aged 12 or older who had an alcohol use disorder in 2016.

1 in 18 people aged 12 or older had alcohol use disorder in 2016.

Additionally, SAMHSA found out that 21 million people aged 12 or older needed addiction rehab for alcohol and/or drug abuse. This makes 1 in 13 people aged 12 or older in need of addiction treatment.

Furthermore, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found out that an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually:

  • 62,000 men
  • 26,000 women.

This fact makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the US.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, 6 people died every day from alcohol poisoning, and 76% of alcohol poisoning deaths are among adults ages 35 to 64.

Do you still think you are alone? Reach out for help today, and start over!


The costs for alcohol rehab are made according to the services you receive. Generally, inpatient rehabs are more expensive since they offer 24/7 medical care and accommodation to their patients. The average costs for alcohol rehab program include:

Counseling therapy: about $50-$150+ per hour.

Medical detox: $6-12K per treatment episode.

Inpatient program: $500-$700 per day.

Outpatient program: $100-$150 per day.

About 14,500 treatment facilities offer their services to people who suffer from substance use disorders. So, the range in prices is huge and different. Some low-cost rehabs may cost about $7.5K per month, while luxury rehabs may charge about $120K. Make sure that the program you choose is evidence-based.

If you like to learn more about the costs of addiction treatment, go here.

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?
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.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Goecke is a medical doctor and general surgeon with personal experience of...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.

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