NHS alcohol rehab or private alcohol rehab?

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Alcohol addiction treatment can be sought through private alcohol rehab or an NHS-funded rehab. 

It's important to note that there is no NHS rehab as the NHS does not own rehabs. What it does is that it offers to fund a private rehab from the government.  

When seeking addiction treatment, the type of rehab you get depends on your individual needs and financial means.

Those who lack insurance, face unemployment, or face financial difficulties can access treatment through NHS rehab.

The problem is that getting treatment through NHS is time-consuming and frustrating.  

For NHS alcohol rehab, you need to prove that you deserve a place in rehab.

This can be daunting if you are struggling with addiction and are experiencing physical and psychological consequences of the addiction.

Your first step should be consulting your GP. Be honest with them about your alcohol addiction and how it has impaired your life.  

The GP can suggest different types of assessment and support groups available near you, such as local community alcohol services in your location, self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (aa meetings), or cognitive behavioural therapy.  

There are several charities and services that you can access without consulting your GP.  

  • Compass provides health and wellbeing services for people struggling with drug and alcohol misuse.  
  • Change Grow Live (CGL) also offers support to those struggling with substance and alcohol abuse.  
  • Addaction is an agency that helps you manage the effects of drugs and alcohol.  
  • Adfam is an organization that works with families affected by alcohol and drug problems.  
  • ADS (Addiction dependency solutions) is another organization that offers support and treatment.  

Once you speak to your GP about your alcohol addiction, they will refer you to treatment or support depending on the severity of your addiction.  

Your GP is likely to refer you to seek NHS funded treatment centres for detox. 

Alternatively, they may refer you for cognitive behavioural therapy, or for counselling. You are likely to wait on a list for weeks, months, or years depending on where you live in the U.K.  

Private rehab is faster to access than NHS-funded rehab. This treatment option is mostly accessed using private insurance or personal funding.

Private rehab clinics offer an extensive treatment programme that's personalized to suit your needs.  

Most programmes will require you to go through detox and be drug-free on admission.

Treatment typically lasts 3 to 6 months but some can last up to a year (for instance, the 12-step programme). 

When looking for residential rehab, you should contact them to find out what type of treatment they offer so that you can settle for one that suits your needs.  

There are a variety of programmes, but most fall within the following categories: 

  1. Therapeutic communities: This treatment programme consists of a hierarchical structure with intense therapy sessions.  
  2. Minnesota model: Typically associated with alcoholics anonymous 12-step programme.  
  3. Faith-based house programmes: Addiction treatment based on Christian guidelines.  
  4. General House Programmes: Prioritize group and individual therapy.  

Which is better? NHS or private rehab? 

Private rehab is better as it offers holistic therapies, immediate confidential help, and other services aimed at helping you stay sober.

With private rehab, you have more choice over the type of treatment you receive. You can seek out quality-care and receive treatment faster than going for NHS services.  

Admission to a private alcohol rehabilitation centre is fast and can be organized within 24 hours.

It can take at most 48 hours if you're using private insurance. The admission process will vary depending on the rehabilitation clinic you choose.  

The typical admission process includes: 


Step 1: Seek support

Take the first step by calling your chosen rehab clinic. Some private rehabs offer a free call back to discuss your alcohol problems.

All you have to do is fill out a form or enter your number on their website [1]. The addiction counsellors will call to answer your questions about treatment programmes, facilities, staff, fees, and payment methods.  

If you'll be paying using insurance, it would help if you found out whether your cover includes residential addiction treatment.  

You will also have to answer questions about your addiction or substance misuse.  

Be honest and provide as much information so that the counsellors can give you personal advice about treatment options and therapies that will suit your needs.  

Step 2:Provide a referral letter

After a phone consultation, you'll need to provide a letter of referral from your GP to confirm details about your addiction and your medical history.  

Step 3: Case assessment  

Most private centres will require you to take a medical and psychological assessment before you're accepted into the programme.  

An experienced team will conduct the assessment and tailor a programme that suits your needs.  

You're likely to get a pre-admission assessment for free to determine whether you are suitable for treatment.  

Step 4: Book treatment  

Following your assessment, you can book treatment and arrange a start date for your rehab programme. You can also make travel arrangements.  

Before the start date, you'll receive a welcome pack which will contain all the relevant information about what to expect when you arrive.  

As mentioned earlier, admission using NHS funding is lengthy. This is due to substantial government funding cuts to drug and alcohol services throughout the UK [2].

The cuts also affected private care facilities that relied on a percentage of their programmes to be taken up by NHS-funded patients.  

If you are lucky enough to get funding, you'll receive the same level of care as those privately paying for treatment.  

Private rehab is better because of the services offered. You benefit from different treatments such as CBT, group counselling, dialectical behaviour therapy, and psychodynamic therapy.

The UK Addiction Treatment centres offer extensive rehabilitation centres depending on your budget. These centres have a variety of medical professionals ranging from psychiatrists to addiction psychotherapists. 

Private rehab centres are better because they provide a safe environment where you can identify the issues that fuel the alcohol use disorder.

In most cases, the treatment takes 90 days. You can get free aftercare to assist you on your path to maintaining sobriety after treatment.

Some clinics also provide complimentary 30 days of treatment when you experience a relapse.  

The amenities available in private facilities also contribute to successful recovery. There are luxurious rehabs with en-suite rooms, gyms, and on-site specialist addiction professionals.

Some of them offer alternative treatment options such as music therapy. Research supports the idea that this therapy motivates clients to engage in treatment [4].  

Most centres offer family support during drug rehab. Family can play an essential role in the recovery process.

Therefore, some centres offer a comprehensive support programme to their clients and immediate family who have been impacted by their drinking habits.  

With NHS, the vast majority of treatment happens out in the community where the individual is likely to interact with other active alcoholics making it harder to stop drinking.

The services available tend to be in the form of day in centres and working sessions, most of which are available on Monday to Friday 9 am to 5pm.  

NHS offers outpatient and inpatient at a hospital. There are Alcohol Care Teams (ACTs) in district general hospitals [5]. This team takes care of alcohol dependent patients admitted in district general hospitals.

They liaise with community alcohol services to ensure continued addiction treatment after discharge from the hospital.  

NHS inpatient units (IPUs) cater to the most vulnerable in society. They offer medically managed detox services that deal with complex physical, mental health, and behavioural issues.

Those with acute substance misuse issues get 24-hours nursing care. But there are only 5 remaining units in England, 4 of which are members of NHS SMPA and NHS Inpatient Network [6].

That's why it's highly unlikely to get admitted to these centres.  

NHS rehab requires patients to meet a strict criterion to be considered for funding. These includes: 

  • Drinks over 30 units of alcohol per day.  
  • Score more than 30 on the severity of alcohol dependence questionnaire.  
  • Has a history of withdrawal symptoms such as withdrawal-related seizures or delirium tremens during previous therapy programmes.  
  • The client requires concurrent withdrawal from alcohol and benzodiazepines.  
  • Exhibits significant learning disability or cognitive impairment or,  
  • regularly takes between 15 and 30 units of alcohol daily and also has: 
  • significant psychiatric or physical issues e.g., chronic severe depression, malnutrition, psychosis, congestive cardiac failure, chronic liver disease, unstable angina.  

Homeless and older people are more likely to qualify for funding in a rehabilitation clinic.

Those seeking treatment for drugs also have to meet certain criteria to qualify for enhanced care.  

Private facilities on the other hand have high recovery rates unlike NHS treatment options [7].

You benefit from a personalized treatment approach and a safe environment that's free from external pressures.  

nhs or private rehab

The pros and cons of private rehab vs. NHS rehab 

Private treatment has its pros and cons. They include: 

Pros of private care 

  • Private centres offer support that extends to family and loved ones.  
  • Admission is immediate as there are no waiting lists. In most cases, admission is within 24 hours.  
  • You get immediate confidential help from a team of experts.  
  • You get to choose which rehab centre to attend and programme you undertake based on your budget or insurance cover.  
  • Addiction therapy can extend to co-occurring illnesses which will be treated simultaneously within one treatment episode.  
  • Free call back service where an addiction counsellor will help you discover the best treatment option based on your needs. Some facilities offer a free call back service 24 hours per work week.  
  • You can choose between a traditional treatment programme, a holistic programme, or both.  
  • You get complimentary services that will help you overcome your alcohol addiction such as a fitness and nutrition programme.  
  • Most centres offer a complimentary aftercare service that can last up to a year to help you maintain sobriety.  
  • The quality, experience and expertise you get in rehabilitation centres ensure clients' health remains better even after treatment.  

Cons of private care 

  • Those who seek treatment in private facilities have the burden of cost, for instance, alcohol detox before rehab can cost as much as £2,000 for the programme [8]. In most instances, insurance companies partially pay for the treatment which means that some of the costs may be out-of-pocket.  
  • If the alcoholic is not willing to change, they can abandon the care altogether.  

NHS rehab pros

  • Alcoholics can seek addiction services for free using NHS funding. There are a variety of UK addiction treatment group centres that can offer primary care treatment services [9].  
  • Community care is widely available which is a great support network for drugs and alcohol users with limited funds.  
  • You get outpatient services for alcohol and drug care prior to being admitted to a drug rehab facility.  

NHS rehab cons  

  • Accessibility is a hurdle. In 2019, 4% of people were awarded NHS funded inpatient care for drug or alcohol recovery [10].  
  • There are no NHS rehab centres, only government funded rehab places.  
  • You have to detox before entering rehab and that means working with addiction counsellors or any other national charity working organization that deals with addiction to show that you're willing to change.  
  • The lengthy waiting time can negatively impact your health if you're in urgent need of care.  
  • NHS rehab has a strict criterion that most people with alcohol addiction struggle to meet.  
  • Even if you meet all the criteria for NHS funding, there's no guarantee of placement as local authorities may be low on funds.  
  • You may not have a choice in the rehab you attend or programme.  
  • Since NHS services mostly prioritize outpatient care in the community setting, you will not be able to effectively avoid drinking as you're exposed to other alcohol addicts. That's why the recovery rates for NHS services are lower compared to rehab clinics.  
  • Other forms of mental illnesses that co-occur with alcoholism are treated separately, which has proven to be unsuccessful in most cases.  


Private facilities are better at handling alcohol abuse and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Such facilities provide a safe environment where you stay sober and free from drugs.

Admission is fast and most rehab clinics allow clients to leave contact requests on their platform. You also get to work with an experienced team that will provide you with holistic care.  

The NHS offers therapy for drug or alcohol addiction. By partnering with local authorities, the NHS ensures that the doors remain open to those struggling with addiction.

Most of the services are outpatient due to funding cuts. However, the major issue with NHS is accessibility.  

It would be better to pay for private rehab. This option gives you more choices and you get to be admitted immediately. You also get a higher chance of recovery.  

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Pete has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. To read more about Pete visit his LinkedIn profile.