Does Alcohol Rehabilitation Work?

Alcohol rehabilitation works when an alcoholic is committed to stopping drinking. Read on for more information about alcohol rehab and how well it works here.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Yes, alcohol rehabilitation works. In fact, both inpatient and outpatient rehabs have been proven to be very successful for many people who struggled with drinking. More here on what to expect and how to increase your chances for success.


Signs of an Alcohol Problem

Sings of alcoholism usually develop over a period of time, and it can be hard to recognize them at first. Most problem drinkers don’t know the definition of how much is too much. According to the NIAAA: “It makes a difference both how much you drink on any day and how often you have a “heavy drinking day”.
Indeed, the NIH defines daily drinking limits differently by gender. You may have a drinking problem if:

You are male and drink more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 2 drinks a day. If you drink more than 14 drinks per week, you may have an alcohol problem.

You are female and drink more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 1 drink a day. If you drink more than 7 drinks per week, you may have an alcohol problem.

So, the more drinks you have on any day and the more heavy drinking days over time, the greater the risk of alcoholism and other health and personal problems. For an online assessment of your drinking patterns, go to the NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking.

Official Diagnosis

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), lists certain clinical criteria that problem drinkers share. Some of these include:

1. Tolerance. If you drink daily, or binge drink regularly, you will gain a physical tolerance to the effects of alcohol. Then, you may start to increase the alcohol intake to achieve a buzz.

2. Withdrawal. The person who is dependent on alcohol may experience withdrawal symptoms when the drinking is reduces or stopped completely. Common symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, and tremors. Find more info on alcohol withdrawal symptoms and their time of appearance in our detailed infographic here.

3. Loss of control. People who have alcohol problems may feel the desire to cut down or control their drinking but cannot. Plus, alcoholics drink alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than originally intended.

4. Obsessive thinking. The majority of time is spent thinking about when you’ll start drinking again. Or, you may begin to abandon social, occupational and recreational activities in favor of meeting your “new friends” at the bar.

5. Continued use. Like any drug, problem drinkers will continue to drink even when aware of the harm and negative consequence to their body and their loved ones. This is truly the hallmark sign of a problem…continuing to drink in the face of health issues, financial problems, or relationship/home/work problems.

For diagnosis, you can see:

  • Your family doctor or primary physician
  • A psychiatrist
  • A psychologist
  • A social worker
  • An alcohol counselor

NOTE HERE: You can get the process of treatment started b speaking first with your doctor. S/He can provide a brief assessment and then refer you to specialty treatment options near you. Other professional organizations that can refer you to a specialist include:

American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry

American Psychological Association
(ask for your State’s referral number to find psychologists with addiction specialties)

American Society of Addiction Medicine
(ask for the phone number of your State’s chapter)

NAADAC Substance Abuse Professionals

National Association of Social Workers
(search for social workers with addiction specialties)

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator
1–800–662–HELP (1-800-662-4357)

Who Needs Treatment?

Alcohol is widely consumed. But not everyone is a problem drinker. The 2016 National Survey of Drug Use and Health estimates that 136.7 million Americans aged 12 or older are current used 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 were current drinkers.
  • 19.8 million young adults aged 18 to 25 were current drinkers.
  • 114.7 million adults aged 26 or older were current drinkers.

So, who may need treatment?

The same report shows that an estimated 15.1 million people aged 12 or older had an alcohol use disorder in 2016.


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

SAMHSA reported that in 2016, an estimated 21 million people aged 12 or older needed addiction treatment for alcohol and/or drug abuse. In fact. 1 in 13 people aged 12 or older needed rehab. But not everyone who needs help gets it.

Don’t be a statistic.

Reach out for help today. Contact your doctor, health insurance plan, local health department, or employee assistance program to learn more about what kinds of treatment may be right for you. Or call us at the phone number listed above.

Treatment Options

If you have a drinking problem, you may need to restart your life again. Enrolling into rehab program can help you start over. There are two main types of rehab programs: inpatient or outpatient clinics.

1. Inpatient rehab.

This rehab allows you overnight accommodation at the facility. You will be living there. Usually, this type of treatment is recommended for people who tried and failed to quit drinking on their own or for people who are diagnosed with a chronic or severe alcoholism. Moreover, inpatient rehab can help people who do not have a support network at home.

What happens during inpatient rehab? It’s a little like overnight camp for adults, sprinkled with educational classes and talk therapy. Even more, more reputable rehab provides 24/7 medical care including:

  • Medical detox clinics
  • Round-the-clock care
  • Complete patient supervision

The daily schedule includes regular sleeping times, meal times, and exercise. People are also expected to attend both individual and group therapy sessions daily. Finally, community support is built into the process. Typically, a stay may last for 30-60-90 (or more) days.

2. Outpatient rehab.

This type of rehab provides the same services, but patients don’t live at the facility. They come and go for a few hours, several days per week. During your main treatment time you’ll meet with an addiction counselor. Lead counselor also lead group sessions and will help you plan strategies for your sobriety. Outpatient rehab is more flexible since it allows you to keep with the daily tasks. It is recommended for people who deal with mild addictions, those who have a high motivation for change, and those who can provide transport to and from the clinic.

Get Personalized Addiction Treatment Text Support

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Want to get help, but not ready to talk? Instead, sign up for text support to receive:
  • Resources about addiction and recovery
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Rehab Steps

While not every alcohol rehabilitation program is exactly the same, the majority of them treat alcoholism in roughly the same manner. For instance, most alcohol rehab programs tackle this addiction in a few distinct steps, which are listed below.

STEP 1. Assessment of the drinking problem.

Assessment of an alcohol problem usually consists of a scripted interview and a drug test. An initial assessment by an addiction specialist serves a few important purposes. First of all, it helps rehab staff understand more about the drinker’s habits and drinking. It might also help uncover underlying mental or emotional issues that may be contributing to their alcohol use. Additionally, assessment can be used as a baseline measure for treatment success. And ultimately, this evaluation will be used to create an individual treatment and recovery plan.

STEP 2. Medical detox and withdrawal from alcohol.

The detox stage of alcohol rehabilitation is often one of the most difficult for many serious alcoholics. During detox, the body must adjust to functioning without alcohol and get rid of any remaining alcohol in the system. This typically results in severely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • shakiness vomiting

All cases of alcohol withdrawal need to be medically supervised. This is because severe symptoms (which include seizures) can manifest unexpectedly, especially in cases of chronic drinking, or high volume alcohol intake. Medical supervision is notably advised in cases of severe drinking or in those who have already experienced symptoms of delirium tremens and/or seizures during alcohol detox.

STEP 3. Main treatments including medications and psychotherapy.

Therapies that people will receive while in alcohol rehabilitation will usually vary, depending on individual situation. Frequent therapy and counseling sessions, however, are common treatment methods in any program. Also known as alcohol counseling, behavioral treatments involve identifying and changing the behaviors that lead to heavy drinking. Behavioral treatments share certain features, which can include:

  • Coping with or avoiding the triggers that might cause relapse.
  • Developing the skills needed to stop or reduce drinking.
  • Helping to build a strong social support system.
  • Working to set reachable goals.

Some recovering alcoholics may also respond well to medications such as acamprosate, disulfiram, or naltrexone. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed. However, a combination of pharmaceutical and behavioral interventions is most frequently advised and results in best cases of successful treatment.

STEP 4. The aftercare program.

Alcoholism is a very powerful addiction and difficult to overcome. In order to maintain a sober lifestyle, many recovering alcoholics find that they need some sort of aftercare for several months or years after they complete an initial alcohol rehabilitation program. In fact, many consider themselves to still be “in recovery” for the rest of their lives.

Aftercare can include:

  • Alternative modalities.
  • Behavioral Change Agreements.
  • Coaching.
  • Counseling.
  • Living in a halfway or 3/4 way house.
  • Mentoring.
  • Outpatient rehab attendance.
  • Support group attendance.

A good alcohol rehabilitation program will also be able to refer you to life skills training programs and/or social services when needed. Finally, be sure to have an aftercare relapse prevention plan IN HAND when you leave a rehab program. This is a MUST HAVE for anyone wanting to maintain a sober lifestyle.

Is Rehab Effective?

Overall, alcohol rehabilitation is very effective.

According to one study, alcohol related problems caused individuals in the United States over $100 billion dollars in one year. This included costs such as health, legal, and career problems. The cost for alcohol rehabilitation, on the other hand, was only a fraction of this. Even harm reduction strategies, an alternative to abstinence, can effectively reduce the costs associated with an alcohol problem.

How do you know if a stay in rehab has been successful? The goal of alcohol rehabilitation treatment is to help individuals overcome their drinking problems and go through the rest of their lives functioning well without alcohol. So, alcohol rehabilitation is considered to be successful if a person is able to leave the program and stay sober.

Treatment of 90 days or more has been shown to be most effective in quitting drinking for good and for living a life of long-term sobriety.

What Makes a Rehab Successful?

In order for alcohol rehabilitation to be successful, individuals must stay in treatment and dedicate themselves to recovery. Just like long-term drug rehabilitation, the duration and commitment to the rehabilitation treatment program for alcohol increases your chances of achieving long-term sobriety.

Recovering alcoholics must have motivation to stop drinking and be willing to admit to admit their problem and make an effort to change. A strong support system of non-drinking family and friends will also help individuals to stay in alcohol rehabilitation.

Finally, a person is more likely to successfully complete an alcohol rehabilitation program if he or she is following an addiction treatment plan that is based on their individual wants and needs. These care plans are usually created by addiction specialists based on an assessment as well as your personal input. You can only participate in activities that resonate with you, so be sure that rehab staff aligns treatment with your internal values and goals.


Over 14,000 specialized rehabs offer detox, medication, counseling, and many other services to people who are diagnosed with substance use disorders. Inpatient programs provide more intensive services and 24/7 medical supervision but tend to be more expensive than the outpatient program. To our best knowledge, the common costs for alcohol rehabilitation include:

Detox:  This service ranges between $6-12K per treatment episode. Final cost depends upon the length of stay, number of doctors’ consultations, and the amount of medications or interventions used during treatment.

Counseling: The start price for this service is from nearly free through state-subsidized counseling and goes up to $150 or more per hour.

Outpatient Rehab: The cost for outpatient programs varies between $50-135 per day.

Inpatient Rehab: This type of treatment usually costs from $235-700 per day.

Find more info on costs for treating addiction here:

Medications That Help

Medications are crucial tools in treating alcohol dependency. Currently, pharmacotherapy for treating drinking problems is advancing. Some examples of medications which may be prescribed to you during an episode of treatment in alcohol rehabilitation include:

Antabuse (disulfiram): This medication treats alcohol withdrawal symptoms and can make a person sick if even a small amount of alcohol is consumed.

Naltrexone: This medication helps blocks the euphoric effects of alcohol.

Barbiturates: This class of drugs are used to manage alcohol withdrawal, but with time, were largely replaced with benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines: The most common regimen for managing alcohol withdrawal includes 3 days of long-acting benzo intake on a fixed schedule with additional medication available ‘as needed’. Some of the most commonly used benzodiazepines include Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), or Librium (chlordiazepoxide).

Do I Need Rehab?

Do you wonder if you have a drinking problem? You are not alone!

Many individuals question their drinking habit. What do you need to do to get better? The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself. Before start doubting yourself whether you have a drinking problem answer these questions:

  • Do you drink more now than in the past?
  • Do you drink more than others but do not show the same level of drunkenness?
  • Has drinking started to impact your life on many fields (work, social, home)?
  • Do you feel the urge to drink no matter what?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, you may need a further evaluation. Seek help from an addiction specialist who can set up your diagnosis. Most clinicians used several screening tools including:

Alcohol addiction changes your behavior. So, be aware of these changes:

  • Drinking alone.
  • Becoming violent when drinking.
  • Become aggressive when asked about drinking.
  • Making excuses to drink.
  • Missing work/school to drink.
  • Neglecting eating.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Needing to use alcohol to get through the day.
  • Shaking in the morning/or after periods when you have not a drink.
  • Trying to hide alcohol use.

Final Tips and suggestions

There are a number of steps that you can take to make alcohol rehabilitation more effective for you personally. For instance, opting to start treatment in an intensive residential center often helps make rehabilitation much more effective. If you or a loved one have a drug use problem too, you might want to read more about who should attend residential drug rehabilitation treatment, so please click on the link.

After the intense treatment is complete, step-down care helps. So, look to follow up inpatient rehab with a less intense treatment program on an outpatient basis. However, for alcohol rehabilitation to be completely effective, a person must be ready and willing to change.

Any Questions?

Please leave us your questions about rehabilitation in the comments section just below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NIDA: What helps people stay in treatment?
NIAAA: Advances in Alcoholism Treatment
NIAAA: Alcohol Facts and Statistics
NIAAA: Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
NIDA: Is drug addiction treatment worth its cost?
New York State Department of Health: What is Addiction?
HHS: A Report to Congress on Substance Abuse and Child Protection
NIAAA: Economic Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Estimated at $246 Billion in the United States
College Drinking: Getting Help
Rethinking Drinking: What’s at-risk or heavy drinking?
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. Manish Mishra, MBBS serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the Texas Healt...

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

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