Outpatient alcohol programs: What to expect?

Outpatient alcohol programs usually include three main stages of treatment including: assessment, psychotherapy and prescription medication treatment, and aftercare. More here on what goes on during outpatient addiction treatment here.

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Here, we review the main stages of outpatient treatment of alcoholism so that you know what to expect. Then, we invite your questions about outpatient programs at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all questions personally and promptly.

What to expect during outpatient alcohol programs

An outpatient alcohol program is a type of alcohol addiction treatment show to be as effective (or more effective) than residential rehab. While outpatient programs require participants to travel to a facility for treatment, they can offer flexible program times and result in long term sobriety. But, what can you expect?

Entering an outpatient alcohol rehab program can be quite intimidating for some, especially if you’re entering treatment for the first time. During outpatient alcohol programs, a number of services are usually offered to clients, from start to finish. Some of the more common stages of outpatient alcohol treatment are listed below.

STAGE 1: Assessment and intake

An initial intake assessment is typically performed before a person enters an outpatient alcohol program. During the assessment, an addiction specialists determines the severity of a person’s addiction and may also diagnose any underlying mental disorders. Assessments usually require some form or combination of medical history, physical exam, and drug testing. This initial data helps rehab staff form your treatment plan, which is then monitored and updated during the course of treatment.

Some alcoholics may need to go through withdrawal under medical supervision before beginning and outpatient program. Medical detox can provide alcoholics with a safe place to go through withdrawal. Doctors and nurses in medical detox will typically work to make the withdrawal process more comfortable and assist in the event of a medical emergency, administering medications when necessary. Not all outpatient clinics will be able to provide medical detox, but they will be able to refer you to a detox clinic in your area.

STAGE 2: Therapy and treatment modalities

1.  Talk therapy

Psychotherapy is the cornerstone of most outpatient alcohol programs. Individuals enrolled in alcohol rehab will usually be required to participate in individual counseling sessions as well as group therapy sessions daily or weekly. Participation in family therapy and self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is also strongly encouraged.

2.  Medications

Some alcoholics respond very well to pharmacotherapy, or the use of medications to treat their alcohol addiction. Various medications used to treat alcoholism have a few different effects. Some minimize the cravings for alcohol, some prevent drinking from being pleasurable, and some even cause an intensely unpleasant feeling when alcohol is consumed.

3.  Educational sessions

Understanding the body’s reaction to alcohol, how alcohol works in the brain, and exposure to the theories of alcoholism  often makes addiction less mysterious. Because of this, most outpatient alcohol programs offer education sessions to their clients. During these sessions, recovering alcoholics will learn about the disease model of addiction as well as techniques to overcome it.

4.  Supportive Services

Without a great deal of support, your stay in rehab may be wasted. This is why outpatient alcohol rehab programs typically offer a number of supportive services to recovering alcoholics, both during and after rehab. For instance, they may run group therapy sessions, help with vocational or education goals, or even help low-income individuals figure out how to pay for alcohol treatment.

STAGE 3: Aftercare

Aftercare is critical for a successful return to the community in which you live. It helps you continue to apply the lessons learned in treatment to their own lives. Before you leave treatment, you will be asked to create a relapse prevention plan, and connect with outside peer support groups. In addition, you will most likely invited to return to the program for regular group and individual counseling sessions. These aftercare services help people avoid relapse.

What to expect after outpatient alcohol rehab programs

Although it’s a good start, completing an outpatient alcohol rehab program is often just the beginning. Recovery is a long process, and certain steps should be taken after completing a rehab program to ensure success.

Upon completing an outpatient rehab program, a recovering alcoholic will usually work with an addiction specialist to create an exit plan. This plan usually includes details about where a recovering alcoholic will live and work, what you can do to avoid a relapse, and what types of treatments they should continue. It’s often recommended for a recovering alcoholic to continue outpatient therapy and pharmacotherapy that was started during rehab.

How to help someone in an outpatient alcohol program

Outpatient alcohol rehab is not like inpatient alcohol rehab, where clients are required to reside in a facility during treatment. Instead, they are free to come and go as they please. Because of this, visiting someone in an outpatient alcohol program isn’t usually necessary. So, you should reconsider whether outpatient or residential rehab program is best for you.

Outpatient alcohol programs do encourage participation of loved ones during the recovery process. This is why many rehab facilities allow loved ones to sit in on an educational group session. Family members and other loved ones may also be encouraged to participate in family counseling with recovering addicts as well. This helps them better understand alcoholism in general, as well as help support a recovering alcoholic during this difficult time.

Can you leave outpatient alcohol programs before completion?

Participating in outpatient rehab is completely voluntary, and no one is forced to stay. This means that you can leave an alcohol rehab program before completion. Addiction specialists, however, strongly discourage this for a number of reasons.

Recovering alcoholics who don’t complete treatment have not learned all that they could have. They are typically not always able to cope with life’s stress and the temptation of alcohol. Therefore, they are much more likely to suffer from a relapse.

Some alcoholics are also ordered by a court to complete an outpatient alcohol program. This usually occurs when a person is convicted of an alcohol related crime, such as a DUI. If the person does not complete the outpatient alcohol program, they could suffer greater legal consequences, such as hefty fines or incarceration.

Outpatient alcohol program expectations

Starting a rehab program can be intimidating for many people. Knowing what to expect, however, can make the process a little intimidating and scary.

If you or a loved one need help for a drinking problem and want to know more about outpatient programs, feel free to leave your questions below. We’ll be happy to address your concerns and help you get started down the road to recovery.

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Reference Sources: NIDA: Treatment approaches to drug addiction
Child Welfare: Substance use
Healthy People: Substance abuse overview
State of Hawaii: What is 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.
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