Alcohol rehab is a residential type of treatment for people with various levels of alcohol use disorder. For anyone who struggles to manage drinking and for whom alcohol has become a problem that cannot be controlled, rehab is a good option. It allows patients to focus on treatment in a safe environment, free of drugs and alcohol. Rehab also allows patients to build a supportive community of treatment professionals and peers, with the option to involve family. Treatment in rehab includes planning for what each patient will do next, what ongoing care they will receive, and how they will return to their lives without alcohol.
Alcohol use disorder is a serious condition characterized by drinking behaviors that have become out of control. The severity can range from mild to moderate to severe. Signs and symptoms that a person needs help with managing or stopping drinking include being unable to drink less, giving up activities to spend more time drinking, drinking in spite of health problems or relationship issues, drinking in dangerous situations, developing a tolerance to alcohol, and experiencing withdrawal when not drinking.
Professional treatment is important for anyone who is struggling with managing their drinking behaviors. For those with more moderate to severe alcohol use disorder, rehab is an option that should be seriously considered. Rehab is residential treatment that involves various types of therapy, life skills, social support, planning for the future and aftercare, and if appropriate, medical treatment including supervised detox. Going to rehab for alcohol use is a big step, but it helps many people learn to manage their behaviors and develop a healthier lifestyle without alcohol.
What is Alcohol Rehab?
There are a lot of benefits to choosing rehab for alcohol use disorder treatment, but it can also be an intimidating prospect. Giving up a measure of control, moving somewhere new for a period of time, and trusting in professionals for care can be frightening. It helps to understand what exactly rehab is and what to expect.
Rehab is short for rehabilitation, and the idea behind this kind of treatment is to guide patients to be able to make positive changes in their lives. These changes relate directly to alcohol, such as determining strategies for avoiding triggers and preventing relapses, but also indirectly, like determining the root causes of problem drinking and taking steps to address and change those issues.
Patients stay in rehab facilities for 30 days, 90 days, or even six months at a time. They are evaluated at intake so treatment professionals can determine their needs. Patients will then be given a schedule that includes activities, group support, individual therapies, medical treatments, alternative therapies, fitness classes, workshops, and any other type of programming that a facility offers for patients. There may also be weekly times set aside for family visits. The treatments and activities may vary by facility, but patients can expect a structured schedule in nearly any rehab.
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The Benefits of Residential Rehab
The choice of treatment type for alcohol use disorders is personal, but there are many benefits to choosing residential rehab over intensive outpatient care, regular outpatient care, support groups, or regular therapy. Some of those benefits include:
- Access to detox services
- Time to focus on treatment
- Time away from work and other responsibilities
- 24-hour care and supervision
- A safe, substance-free environment
- A structured environment
- A supportive environment for those who lack support at home
- Access to a variety of therapies, medical care, and experts
- Support from a community of peers
- Access to holistic care, including nutrition, exercise, stress relief, and other levels of care
The benefits of rehab for alcohol use disorders are also clear from research that shows positive outcomes for patients who complete these programs. One study followed patients in treatment for substance use disorders and measured specific variables at the time of admission and then at one, three, and six months after being discharged from the residential program. The results showed that patients abstained from alcohol 97 percent of the time at one month and 92 percent of the time at six months.
The results also showed that patients had significantly improved measurements for factors after discharge that can trigger relapse. For instance, depression rates were down, craving frequency and intensity were both low for most participants, and the measures of quality of life were high, even at six months later. Many studies of treating all types of substance use disorders have concluded that staying in treatment for three months or longer is the most effective length of time for positive outcomes.
Alcohol Rehab Begins With Detox
Detoxification is an important first step in any kind of treatment for an alcohol use disorder. This is the period of time in which alcohol leaves the body. It causes withdrawal symptoms that make it very challenging to avoid drinking again. This is one reason it is important to detox in a supervised setting, such as a rehab facility.
Another reason to undergo supervised detox in rehab rather than trying to go it alone is that alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. Typical withdrawal symptoms include depression, anxiety, irritability, sweating, headaches, and nausea. But, for someone with a severe alcohol use disorder, there can also be fever, hallucinations, seizures, and severe confusion. Being supervised with access to medical care is necessary for anyone who is at risk for this severe type of alcohol withdrawal.
Therapy in Rehab
Therapy, also known as counseling, is the backbone of treatment in alcohol rehab. Patients will go through different types of one-on-one therapy and may have some degree of choice depending on what therapy style feels best and most effective. Therapy usually also includes group sessions, so patients can learn from and support each other, as well as family sessions when appropriate. Working with family helps loved ones learn how to support someone in rehab and learn how to help them when they return home again. Some types of therapy patients may participate in rehab include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is one of the most common and effective types of behavioral therapy. It is focused on recognizing and changing negative thoughts and behaviors as a practical skill that can be used in therapy and later. It also includes developing healthier coping strategies to avoid relapse.
- Contingency management (CM). This therapy can take a number of forms, but the basic idea behind CM is to provide incentives for positive behaviors.
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). The purpose of MET is to develop internal motivations to stop drinking.
- 12-step therapies. The 12 steps are most well-known for being used in support groups, but the philosophy can be used in any setting. Patients are guided through the 12 steps and take actions to complete each one on the path to becoming sober.
Medical Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
Some rehab facilities include medical treatment for alcohol use disorder. There are a few different prescription medications that have been approved to treat alcoholism. These are used to support ongoing treatment, not as a stand-alone treatment for addiction. The medications include:
- Naltrexone. This drug blocks opioid receptors and reduces the rewarding effects of drinking as well as cravings.
- Acamprosate. Acamprosate is often used to treat the symptoms of withdrawal and to prevent relapses.
- Disulfram. This medication produces nausea and other unpleasant symptoms when someone who is on it drinks any amount of alcohol.
Alternative and Holistic Therapies
Rehab is not just traditional therapy and medications; most facilities also offer alternative therapies and a holistic approach to treating the whole person and addressing all areas of a patient’s life to make positive changes. Therapies used to supplement addiction counseling may include art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy, or animal therapy.
Holistic approaches to treating people with alcohol use disorder include addressing their physical health, mental health, spiritual needs, and social needs. In rehab a patient may learn about nutrition, be treated for any chronic health issues, like diabetes, get therapy for mental illnesses that may be contributing to drinking, and practice spiritual and stress-reducing activities like meditation or yoga.
Preparing for Life After Rehab
One of the most important goals of alcohol rehab is to prepare patients for life after intensive residential treatment. Rehab is a safe place, and when patients leave they have to face a lot of distractions, temptations, and triggers, while trying to stay sober. In rehab patients learn many things that will help them later, such as trigger avoidance, healthy coping strategies, and stress-relief techniques.
Patients in rehab are also actively involved in crafting their own aftercare plans. This may include choices about going home, going to a sober living house, finding a new place to live, the level of interaction with family and old friends, and the type of ongoing, outpatient care they will receive. Addiction professionals help patients develop these plans, and many rehab facilities follow up with them later, offering outpatient services as needed.
Going to alcohol rehab is a big decision, but it is an important one for anyone who has tried to manage drinking and can’t seem to do it alone. These facilities are staffed by caring professionals with experience helping people change their behaviors and stop drinking for the long-term. Making the decision to go to rehab can mean the difference between getting sober and failing over and over again.