Definition of alcohol rehabilitation

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Alcohol rehabilitation is defined as the process of alcohol treatment that includes medical and psychotherapeutic treatments.

Both alcohol and drug treatment aim to help the patient develop coping strategies that will help them achieve long-term sobriety.  

Alcohol rehabilitation is for people whose lives have been affected by chronic drug and alcohol use.

The intent of rehabilitation is helping the patient build up their lives, including their relationships with their loved ones by overcoming their drinking habits.  

The goal of alcohol rehabilitation is: 

1. End alcohol dependence  

Alcohol rehabilitation process seeks to help the patient stop drinking. This is the first and foremost goal of treatment centres.  

2. Set up a positive support system  

Support groups are important post-treatment because they help the patient maintain sobriety.  

3. Improve the overall health of the patient  

Prolonged alcohol use negatively affects health as it can lead to issues such as muscle wasting, malnutrition, high blood pressure and so on.

In the early stages of treatment, a rehab centre works towards helping the patient improve their health. This goal is often achievable during inpatient alcohol treatment.  

4. Aid the patient in their social problems 

Alcohol addiction leads to issues such as job loss and family problems. The aim of the treatment programme is to help the patients lead a successful life once they complete the programme.

If the patient has employment or educational needs, the addiction treatment centre will help you. For instance, some treatment facilities have a career specialist to help their patients transition to a new career.  

5. Treat psychiatric disorders and psychological problems  

A significant number of people with alcohol abuse disorder also experience strong anxiety and mood problems [1]. Mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, and depression are also common.

Alcohol addiction treatment centres aim to provide treatment for psychiatric and psychological problems.  

There are different types of alcohol rehabilitation programmes (inpatient and outpatient).

These treatment options also aim to improve behaviour. In addition to interventions targeting alcohol or drug abuse, a treatment facility may target behaviours that contribute to the habit of drinking alcohol.

Through strategies such as a therapeutic community, residential treatment seeks to alter behaviours by aiding and motivating the patient to choose behaviours that would contribute to total abstinence.  

Alcohol treatment centers focus on treatment of alcoholism. Abbeycare provide an overview of typical alcohol addiction programme contents here. A 2019 study by the NSDUH showed that 14.2 million people aged 12 and above had alcohol use disorder. 

The study showed that alcohol is a factor in the deaths of thousands of people aged 18 to 22 [2].  

The recent NIAAA statistics indicated that 1.519 college students aged 18 to 22 died from alcohol-related unintentional injuries including motor vehicle accidents [2].  

Alcohol Rehabilitation Meaning  

The meaning of alcohol rehabilitation is that it's a process of helping people struggling with drug and alcohol use disorders achieve a quality, healthy life.

Rehabilitation does not cure alcoholism. Instead, it helps the individual manage their addiction, restore their functioning, and well-being.  

Alcohol rehabilitation entails various care options and stages depending on one's level of dependency. These options include [3]: 

Brief intervention 

This takes place after an episode of alcohol abuse. The idea is to hold a talk with the patient, for about ten or more minutes, about their drinking problem.

A certified addiction professional will provide medical advice on the next steps one needs to overcome the alcohol addiction.  

Medium-term intervention 

Medium term intervention aims at moderation or complete abstinence. This choice of treatment depends on one's alcohol consumption and drinking habits.

Medium-term intervention is recommended for those who take 14 units of alcohol a day, and those struggling with health-related issues as a result of the alcohol abuse.  

Physical dependence on alcohol calls for medium-term intervention. This process may not diminish your withdrawal symptoms if you're struggling with alcohol use disorder.

However, some people have benefitted from this programme and have slowly cut down on their alcohol use.  

Long-term intervention 

A long-term intervention is for those diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. It's for those who need to consider total abstinence from alcohol.

During the addiction treatment, you will go through alcohol detox and perhaps enter a rehab centre to help manage the withdrawal symptoms.  

Long-term intervention also allows you to develop coping mechanisms that will help you live a sober life.

During this time, you may go through a medically assisted alcohol detox that involves medicines such as Acamprosate (brand name Campral), Disulfiram, or Naltrexone.  

Some patients may experience severe withdrawal symptoms and may need to go into rehab or a hospital to have their condition looked at with a medical provider.  

On-going intervention  

Alcohol addiction is an illness that requires ongoing intervention. In most cases, treatment providers use the 12-step programme designed by the Alcoholics Anonymous.

Ongoing intervention is the most recommended approach as it involves aftercare and support groups. When patients join the 12-steps programme, they increase their success rate in the recovery process.  

Alcohol Rehabilitation Treatment Options  

Alcohol rehabilitation can take place in a public facility or a private facility. The former, that include, state-funded rehabs are free or highly subsidized.

These facilities offer a full range of treatment options, although they may lack the latest technology or treatment amenities that are found in some private centres.

A state-funded treatment facility will provide effective treatment and post-treatment support.  

There are faith-based alcohol rehabilitation facilities that also offer free or highly subsidized treatment options. Accessing these facilities is a matter of reaching out to the faith leaders.

These facilities offer spiritual support combined with evidence-based treatment therapies.  

The areas covered in an alcohol rehabilitation include: 

  • Physical care  
  • Family support  
  • Psychological counselling  
  • Pain management  
  • Cognitive skills i.e., problem solving and organizational skills, memory, concentration  
  • Vocational training i.e., work-related skills  
  • Socialization skills i.e., Interacting with others at home or in the community  
  • Education: Patient and family education about the alcohol abuse, medical care, and adaptive techniques  

During alcohol rehabilitation, the patient undergoes the following steps: 

1. Assessment  

When a patient first enters an alcohol rehabilitation, the medical staff screen them to assess their physical situation. This assessment will help them craft the right treatment plan for the patient.

The medical provider will conduct a physical exam, a urinalysis drug test, a psychological screening, and an assessment of personal circumstances.

The aim here is to understand the physical and mental health of the patient and create a programme that will help the client succeed.  

2. Alcohol detox  

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms check in 3 to 5 hours after your last drink. This process is better carried out under medical supervision as one may incur serious harm when conducted on your own.

Once you enter an alcohol rehabilitation for detox, you will be monitored with a medical staff 24/7 to ensure that the withdrawal is not complicated or dangerous. Extreme cases of alcohol withdrawal require medication.  

3. Psychotherapy and behavioural treatments 

The aim of these treatments is to uncover the underlying issues and mental health conditions that fuel the addiction.

During this phase, the patient works with an alcohol counsellor to address their current mental and emotional condition in bid to understand the source of the issues contributing to the drinking problem.  

After that, the therapist works with the patient to help them make behavioural and attitudinal changes that will help them remain sober, avoid relapse, and start living a happy life.  

Behavioural treatments often include: 

Cognitive–Behavioural Therapy: 

Can be a one-on-one session or involve a small group. The aim of this therapy is to identify the cues or feelings and situations that trigger the alcohol abuse.

The aim is to change the thought process that leads to problematic drinking behaviour and achieve coping skills that will help the patient maintain alcohol sobriety.  

Motivational Enhancement Therapy:

This therapy aims to build the motivation to change the drinking behaviour. 

It focuses on identifying the pros and cons of seeking treatment, coming up with a plan to stop addictive behaviours, building confidence and developing skills needed to maintain positive outcomes.  

Brief Interventions:

Short, one-on-one therapies where the therapist communicates to the patient about the potential risks of alcohol or substance use disorders.

Once the client receives personalized feedback, the counsellor works with them in setting goals that would lead to positive change.  

Marital and Family Counselling: 

Includes spouses and family members in the treatment process and can play a role in improving family relationships.

There's extensive study showing that strong family support increases the chances for maintaining abstinence.  

Group counselling: 

The natural desire of human beings to congregate makes group counselling a powerful tool for treating substance use. This therapy is as helpful as individual therapy.

One of the reasons for this is because of its intrinsically rewarding benefits such as lowering isolation and enabling members witness the recovery of others.  

4. Prescription medications  

Pharmacotherapy combined with psychosocial interventions is recognized as a valuable tool for treating alcohol addiction [4].

The four FDA approved drugs, disulfiram, acamprosate, oral naltrexone, and naltrexone, have shown potential in lowering drinking and/or increase time spent abstinent.  

Other drugs used in alcohol addiction treatment include anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. It's important to note that treatment using the medications is determined on an individual basis.  

5. Continuing alcoholism education 

Alcohol rehabilitation facilities provide education about the consequences of alcohol abuse.

This education aims to engage the rational mind and break down the urge to drink, understand the origin of intense cravings, and avoid triggers in the future.  

6. Supportive social services  

Allocating a patient to a social service is the final step of alcohol rehabilitation. The services include helping the patient find housing, health care, social service, childcare, or financial and vocational counselling. 

Once alcohol rehabilitation ends, the patient proceeds to after care. A good alcohol rehabilitation programme may recommend: 

  • Transitional living  
  • Social services  
  • Outpatient addiction treatment  
  • Life skills training  

Often counselling is recommended for at least one year after completing an alcohol rehabilitation programme.

Patients are encouraged to participate in groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART recovery, or a faith-based community group for support.

They can also join sober living houses, that provide a transition place before the patient goes back to normal, everyday life.  

A treatment centre or an alcohol rehabilitation centre can have two types of settings: outpatient or inpatient.

Aside from choosing the type of treatment that's best for you, you also must choose whether you want inpatient (where you stay in the facility) or outpatient rehab (where you stay at home during treatment).

Inpatient care is more intensive and costly. You need to take some time to check out the pros and cons of each.  

Cost is a factor to consider when selecting an alcohol rehabilitation centre. You need to evaluate your insurance plan or other payment options to determine how much you can afford to pay.

Most centres offer a flexible payment option, for instance, a sliding fee approach.  

Alcohol rehabilitation meaning could have different implications to everyone in need of treatment. For instance, one may opt for a treatment facility to help them achieve early abstinence and develop constructive ways to maintain abstinence.

To others, treatment may be more complex and may include the mutual support and discipline that have a therapeutic outcome in the life of the individual.  

Treatment providers found in an specific treatment centre include [5]: 

a). A primary care provider  

They may have credentials such as M.D., D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). Alternatively, you may see a Nurse Practitioner or Physician’s Assistant.

The primary care provider may offer you medications, or behavioural treatment. They may also refer you to a specialist.  

b). Psychiatrist 

May hold an M.D., D.O. Their work is to provide medications and behavioural treatment.  

c). Psychologist 

d). Social Worker 

e). Alcohol Counsellor 

Most of the staff you find in an alcohol rehab facility are professionals and, in some cases, you'll find that some of them are recovered addicts.

You can learn more about the qualifications of the staff on a centre’s website or by calling your preferred treatment provider.  

Attending Alcohol Rehabilitation  

A rehabilitation facility may offer you plenty of options, from alcohol abuse treatment to substance abuse treatment.

The type of facility you go for depends on your needs, for instance, if you need mental health services, you can find treatment providers who provide dual diagnosis at the substance abuse and mental health services administration website (SAMHSA) [6].  

The national institute listing found on the SAMHSA website is a listing of federal, state, and local government facilities as well as private alcohol detox and rehab facilities.

 It includes treatment facilities that are: 

  1. Licensed, certified, or approved for inclusion in the Directory by their State Substance Abuse Agencies.  
  2. Responded to the 2017 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS). 

There's trustworthy health information about each facility in the directory.  

What you need to know about the alcohol or substance abuse treatment process is that the success of the treatment depends on your hard work and commitment.

Generally, many people who complete addiction rehab programme can expect to go through at least four main phases of treatment-intake, detox to help them with alcohol withdrawal, rehabilitation, aftercare/long-term recovery.  

Intake involves a comprehensive evaluation, medical advice diagnosis, and professional treatment advice. According to the national institute, remaining in treatment for an adequate period is critical for overcoming the alcohol abuse.

The appropriate duration depends on the type and degree of the patient's needs and problems [7].  

Research shows that most addicted individuals require/need at least three months treatment to significantly lower or stop their drug addiction.

A recovering alcoholic needs to understand that recovery is a long-term process and will take multiple episodes of treatment. Like other chronic illnesses, relapses are likely to occur and signal a need for your treatment provider to adjust your treatment needs.

Since people tend to leave treatment prematurely, a treatment provider should incorporate strategies that keep patients engaged in treatment.  

What is Rehab? 

Rehab is a course of treatment for substance use disorder. People struggling with addictive substances like cocaine, alcohol, or opioid, would seek a specific treatment provider or rehab centre as their first step in the recovery process.  

People have the option of choosing a private rehab or a public rehab. Websites such as American addiction centres have accredited treatment providers listed [8].

Rehabs vary in term of period of duration. Typically, most inpatient rehab programmes last for 28 days.  

Alcohol rehabilitation is commonly referred to as rehab. If you or a family member need attending rehab then you have plenty of options, from public to private rehabs.

Rehab is not for the rich and famous only, it is open to people of all economic means. Similarly, rehab is not exclusively reserved for hardcore addicts. Anyone struggling with substance abuse is encouraged to enrol in a rehab programme no matter the severity.  

If you are preparing to seek help from professionals to help you stop drinking or taking drugs, understanding “what is rehab” is a great way to start. 

You can also reach out to a specific treatment provider of your choice by checking their website's' main phone number.  Read more about what rehab is like in this article. 


Alcohol rehabilitation means seeking treatment for alcohol or substance abuse. There's extensive research citing the efficacy of treatment in helping client's achieving long-term recovery.

Once a patient enrols for treatment, they may be provided with specific drugs for alcohol detox to help manage the withdrawal symptoms.  

Most rehab centres advice diagnosis or treatment for free when you call them. You can check for a specific treatment centre listing on the American addiction centres website or SAMHSA's listing.

Many people are hesitant to attend addiction treatment because of costs. But most facilities have flexible payment options and there are a variety of ways that you can pay for rehab.  

The sooner you reach out to a centre, the sooner you can begin your road to recovery. Most facilities, enrol a client within 24 hours.  

About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: December 21, 2023