What is alcohol rehab?
Alcohol rehab includes treatment programs that cover a variety of approaches to managing alcohol use disorder and overcoming addiction. Different treatment options cater to different people based on your unique needs, such as how long you’ve been struggling with your alcohol addiction and how severely it’s affecting your life.
Your alcohol use disorder may be a new issue, and you increasingly use drinking to cope with stressful events. You might feel like life is slipping out of your control, as if you’re entering a gradual but dangerous spiral. Or your addiction may be something you've struggled with for a long time, and it repeatedly weighs on your work, relationships, and mental and physical health. You might feel stuck in place, ashamed of repeated relapses and your inability to stay sober.
No matter how severe your addiction, alcohol rehab can offer a path forward. The challenge comes in identifying which level of treatment is best for you. Once you decide on the level of treatment, you’ll then need to find a local rehab center or treatment program that works for you.
Whether you’re looking for treatment for yourself or a loved one, this guide can help steer you through the available options and begin the journey of recovery.
Types of alcohol rehab treatment programs
It might be helpful to imagine the different types of alcohol programs as existing on a range or continuum. Levels of care include:
- Intensive inpatient services
- Residential programs
- Partial hospitalization programs
- Intensive outpatient treatment
- Outpatient treatment
Inpatient vs. outpatient alcohol treatment
Intensive inpatient services and residential rehab programs involve overnight stays in specialized facilities. They allow you to focus on recovery without having to balance everyday life stressors, such as work or family commitments.
In outpatient programs, you return home at the end of a session. This allows you to maintain more daily independence and gives you an opportunity to practice your newly learned coping skills in your home environment. However, you won’t have constant access to staff members for support.
Some studies indicate that inpatient treatment leads to better short-term abstinence rates than outpatient, but that advantage may reduce over time. People in inpatient programs may also be more likely to complete treatment. With that said, inpatient programs tend to be more expensive and aren’t necessarily for everyone.
Inpatient rehab options
Intensive inpatient service involves short-term medical attention to manage intense withdrawal symptoms and stabilize your condition. It’s appropriate in instances when your body has become physiologically dependent on alcohol and safely discontinuing use requires medical supervision.
Intensive inpatient service often takes place in a hospital setting, where attentive medical staff are available around the clock to monitor your health and care for your immediate needs.
Along with nursing care, intensive inpatient services also include therapy to tend to your emotional and cognitive well-being.
Residential treatment involves living at a treatment or rehab facility while undergoing treatment during the day. These live-in facilities afford you stability and support as you learn relapse prevention strategies and get psychosocial treatments, such as group counseling or one-on-one sessions.
Depending on the severity of your addiction, residential treatment may last at least a month and up to several months.
Residential programs can vary widely in terms of services offered. For example, many rely heavily on 12-step programming, such as those used in AA, that incorporates a set of guided principles to help with recovery.
Some focus on other evidence-based approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and relapse prevention. In addition, some programs focus solely on treating substance use disorder, while others offer dual diagnosis rehab, which addresses both addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions.
[Read: Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse and Mental Health]
Outpatient rehab options
Partial hospitalization programs (PHP), or “day treatments,” are for people who need increased structure, support, and counseling or therapy to reduce the likelihood of relapse. These treatment programs usually require you to spend at least 20 hours a week in a controlled clinical facility. In this type of setting, you can readily have access to medical and psychiatric services.
In a way, PHP programs serve as a bridge between inpatient and outpatient options.
Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are similar to PHP because they don't involve live-in services. However, this option requires less of a time investment than a PHP.
You might receive somewhere between 9 and 19 hours of structured services per week. You get to maintain more of your typical daily routine, whether that involves work or school, but you still benefit from regular, structured support. You can also receive quick referrals to psychiatric and medical services as needed.
Most IOP programs incorporate a psychoeducational group therapy component; however, some also include individual therapy.
General outpatient services are appropriate when you feel stable in your recovery, but additional treatment is useful in managing your substance use disorder and providing accountability.
An outpatient service could involve meeting one-on-one with an addiction counselor, therapist, or psychologist in a clinic or office. You might be transferred “down” to outpatient service from an intensive inpatient service after showing signs of progress.
The world's largest therapy service. 100% online. Get matched with a professional, licensed, and vetted therapist in as little as 48 hours.
Assessing your treatment needs
A clinician may use a set of guidelines known as the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Criteria to assess your needs and determine the appropriate level of care. The ASAM Criteria considers six dimensions that help experts with treatment planning:
- Risk of withdrawal.
- Physical health history and current conditions.
- Mental health history and current conditions.
- Readiness to change.
- Risk for relapse.
- Support social and living situation.
Although used by clinicians, these six factors can help you think about your own needs and treatment options as well.
For example, if you believe you have plenty of social support at home and a safe environment to practice addiction coping strategies, you may decide that an outpatient program is best. If you feel like you’re highly at risk of withdrawal symptoms or struggle with a severe co-occurring disorder, inpatient services might be more beneficial.
[Read: Overcoming Alcohol Addiction]
The role of peer support groups
Peer support groups, also known as mutual self-help groups or recovery support groups, are typically run by individuals who’ve experienced alcoholism, rather than an addiction specialist. Although they’re not a substitute for professional help and guidance, peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can help you find community, stay motivated, and discover practical coping skills. They can complement any professional treatment plan you decide on.
What to look for in an alcohol rehab program
When considering the many types of alcohol rehab and treatment programs, remember that everyone’s needs are different. In general, the longer and more intense your alcohol use, the longer and more intense the treatment you may need.
Regardless of a program’s length in weeks or months, support and long-term follow-up are crucial to recovery. A quality treatment program not only addresses unhealthy drinking but also considers the emotional pain and other life problems that contribute to your drinking.
When you start looking for alcohol treatment, you may see advertisements for programs in tranquil settings with gorgeous views. While amenities like that are nice to have, they can come with a hefty price tag. Focus on what is truly important: appropriate licensing, quality of care during the program, follow-up services, and staff credentials.
Some key things to check include:
Program accreditation and licensing. Make sure the treatment program is accredited by the state it’s in. Also check to ensure that the program is run by licensed, well-trained mental health professionals and addiction specialists.
- Some treatment websites will go as far as to share the level of licensure, experience, and training of the individuals facilitating the group and individual therapy.
- You can go a step further and research how long the facility or program has been around.
The type of treatment methods and their effectiveness. Check to see if the program relies on evidence-based treatments, such as CBT, multidimensional family therapy, or acceptance-commitment therapy (ACT).
- Treatment programs should have at least some statistics on their success rates, preferably from an objective outside agency.
- Different programs may use different indicators to measure success; however, program facilitators should be willing to talk with you about their approach and why they feel it is particularly effective and impactful.
Length of the treatment or program. Intensive inpatient care in a hospital setting is often short-term, lasting a few days or weeks. Outpatient care may last two months to a year.
- Residential programs often last from one month to one year.
- On average, PHP lasts about three to four weeks; however, longer care may be ideal, depending on your circumstances.
Cost of the program. In the United States, check to ensure the program is in-network with your health insurance as well. You might also find programs that offer out-of-network billing options for insurance.
Questions to ask at a rehab center
Use the following questions to further narrow down your search for the right alcohol treatment program. To get the answers to these questions, you’ll likely need to reach out and contact the facility or provider.
- What type of aftercare services are offered? Recovery from addiction is a long road, and it doesn’t just magically end once your time in a program ends. Will staff members help guide you through aftercare services or find local support groups?
- What’s the ratio of patients to counselors? Will you receive the level of attention and care you need from the staff?
- Are there gender- or age-specific programs? You might benefit from or feel more comfortable in a program that caters specifically to people like you.
- Is medical detox available? Depending on your substance abuse history or other medical issues, you may require medically supervised detoxification. Detox can be either an outpatient or inpatient process that involves using medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
- What is expected of me? Aside from paying for the service, you’ll want to know what else you need to do before beginning the program, and throughout the process.
- Is family support available? Your addiction doesn’t just affect you. How involved can your loved ones be in this process? Does the program offer counseling for them?
- How is relapse handled? Relapse may feel like discouraging development, but it is common. You'll want to know how the facility or program views relapse and what comes after.
- Are there telehealth options? Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more alcohol treatment programs and addiction specialists have begun offering telehealth services. Depending on your needs, this could be more convenient than in-person sessions. Research shows that telehealth sessions may be just as effective as in-person services when it comes to PHP and IOP patients. Insurance coverage for telehealth can vary widely, so be sure to check with your insurance provider for more information.
[Read: Online Therapy: Is it Right for You?]
Questions you may need to answer
When you reach out to a facility, you won't be the only one asking questions. Be prepared to answer a few questions, such as:
- “How often do you drink and how much?”
- “Are you currently taking any medications?”
- “Do you have any other health conditions?”
- “What are your financial resources?”
Red flags to look out for when choosing a rehab or treatment program
Not all rehab centers or treatment programs will deliver high-quality care. In fact, some charge inflated fees and rely on misleading sales practices. Here are some reasons to avoid a specific service:
- It lacks a physical address. If you're researching a facility online, you should have no trouble finding its physical address. If you can't seem to get a real person on the phone when you call for additional information, this may be a red flag.
- It lacks professional clinicians. The staff should include professionals with experience in handling addiction and mental health issues. Note that some peer support programs are run by people in recovery, but you may currently need a greater level of care that includes medical and psychiatric expertise.
- There’s a lack of clarity surrounding costs. The treatment program should be upfront about the price of its services, so you’re not surprised by hidden out-of-pocket fees.
- It promises grand amenities. Exercise caution if a facility seems to put too much emphasis on its spa-like amenities, such as pools, high-end cuisine, or big screen TVs. The focus should be on the proven treatment options and scheduled activities.
- It touts a “one-size-fits-all” program or “cure” to addiction. If it sounds too good to be true, be skeptical. Overly bold claims don't reflect the reality of addiction recovery. The path varies from person to person, depending on your unique needs and situation. Setbacks, such as relapses, do occur.
Paying for alcohol rehab in the U.S.
The cost of alcohol treatment will vary based on the type of program. Inpatient rehab tends to be much more expensive than outpatient care.
- A 30-day outpatient rehab program might cost anywhere from $1,400 to $10,000.
- A 30-day inpatient program may cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.
- Residential treatment may cost anywhere from $5,000 to $80,000, depending on the length of your stay and the level of luxury the residence offers.
Another major factor that will affect the cost is your health insurance policy. In the United States, Marketplace (Affordable Care Act) plans are required to cover mental health and substance abuse services as essential health benefits. However, the actual degree of coverage will vary based on your plan.
If you have health insurance, call the number on the back of your card to ask about your mental health and substance abuse coverage. Find out what your out-of-pocket costs will be, including deductible and co-payment amounts.
If you have Medicare, you can receive coverage for substance use disorder treatment if the following conditions are met:
- A health care provider deems the service medically necessary.
- The treatment is provided by a facility or program that's approved by Medicare.
- A health care provider establishes a plan of care.
If you have concerns over costs, look into programs that offer sliding scale or reduced payment options.
You can also check with your state’s substance abuse agency or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline (1-800-662-HELP) to ask about affordable treatment in your area.
Finding an alcohol rehab program in the U.S.
SAMHSA of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers an extensive listing of licensed, certified drug and alcohol treatment facilities. You can access the database in several ways:
- Visit FindTreatment.gov, a confidential tool that helps you search for nearby treatment facilities.
- Call SAMHSA's national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U)
Another place to look is your state substance abuse agency. States often have their own listings, toll-free hotlines, and information about accreditation.
You can also ask your doctor or therapist about programs they recommend.
Finding an alcohol rehab program in other countries
In the UK:
- Search NHS Support Services for rehab and counseling services in your area.
- Visit With You, a UK-based charity that offers a search tool for drug and alcohol services in England and Scotland.
Reviewed by Chantelle Thomas, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and Executive Clinical Director for addiction treatment center The Manor
Last updated or reviewed on August 4, 2023