NHS alcohol rehab or private alcohol rehab?

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

The NHS does not own rehabs but does fund government rehab places. 

When seeking addiction treatment, the type of rehab available depends on the individual's needs and financial means. 

Individuals who do not have insurance, face unemployment, or face financial difficulties have the ability and option access treatment through a private rehab clinic funded by the NHS. 

Acquiring treatment through the NHS is more time-consuming and frustrating.  

The NHS alcohol rehab requires proof that addicts desperately need a place in recovery.

This can be daunting for struggling addicts experiencing the vigorous physical and psychological consequences of addiction. 

The first step to take when starting a journey of recovery should be consulting a general practitioner (GP). It is vitally important for addicts to be  honest about their alcohol addiction and how it affects their lives.  

The GP will suggest different assessment and support groups available near by such as local community alcohol services, self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA meetings), or cognitive behavioural therapy.  

There Are Several Charities And Services Available Without Consulting a 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 manage the effects of drugs and alcohol.  
  • Adfam is an organisation that works with families affected by alcohol and drug problems.  
  • ADS (Addiction dependency solutions) is another organisation that offers support and treatment.  


After discussing alcohol addiction with a GP, the doctor will refer either treatment or support depending on the severity of addiction. 

The GP will also refer and discuss NHS funded treatment centres for detox or
cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling. Depending on the individual's location, the patients name could be put on a  waiting list for weeks, months, or years.

Private rehab is easier and faster to aquire than NHS-funded rehab. The option of private rehab treatment  is obtained using private insurance or personal funding. 

Private rehab clinics offer an extensive treatment programme that is personalised to individual needs.  

These programmes occasionally require patients to go through a detox and be drug-free on admission. 

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

When looking for a residential rehab, it is important to contact the centre and inquire about the types of treatment  offered in order to choose a suitable plan.

There Are A Variety Of Programmes That 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 because  it offers holistic therapies, immediate confidential help, and other services aimed at staying sober. 

Private rehabs offer more choices of treatment which helps addicts seek out quality care and receive treatment faster than going for NHS services.  

Admission to a private alcohol rehabilitation centre is quick and can be organised within 24 hours. 

The maximum waiting time is 48 hours when using private insurance. The admission process will vary depending on the rehabilitation clinic chosen.  

Read our guide to treatment for alcohol issues at Abbeycare.

The typical admission process includes; 


Step 1: Seek Support

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

Some websites require patients to fill out a form or enter a phone number.[1]. The addiction counsellors will call back and answer  questions about treatment programmes, facilities, staff, fees, and payment methods.  

If paying via insurance, find out whether the insurance cover includes residential addiction treatment. 

The treatment centre will ask questions about addiction or substance misuse. 

It is essential to give as much information as possible to the counsellors to get personal advice about treatment options and therapies. 

Step 2:Provide A Referral Letter

After a phone consultation, a referral letter from a GP is required to confirm details about addiction and  medical history.

Step 3: Case Assessment  

Private centres  require a medical and psychological assessment before being accepted into the programme.  

An experienced team will conduct the assessment and tailor a personal programme.

A free pre-admission assessment is done to determine whether you are suitable for treatment.  

Step 4: Book Treatment  

Following assessment, the patient can book a treatment, arrange a rehab programme's start date, and make travel arrangements. 

Before the start date, the patient will receive a welcome pack which will contain all the relevant information about what to expect on arrival.  

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 rely on a percentage of their programmes to be taken up by NHS-funded patients.  

Suppose an individual is fortunate enough to receive funding. In that case, it is possible to receive the same level of care as those privately paying for treatment. 

Private rehab is better because of the services offered. These include  CBT treatments, group counselling, dialectical behaviour therapy, and psychodynamic therapy.

The UK Addiction Treatment centre offers comprehensive rehabilitation centres depending on the 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 patients can identify the issues that fuel the alcohol use disorder. 

Treatment averages 90 days. Free aftercare is offered to assist with  maintaining sobriety after treatment. 

Specific clinics also provide complimentary 30 days of treatment when people 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.

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

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

Certain 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 are available during the day in centres and working sessions, most of which are available on Monday to Friday 9 am to 5pm. 

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

The (ACTs) 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. These inpatient units offer medically managed detox services that deal with complex physical, mental health, and behavioural issues. 

Patients with acute substance misuse issues get 24-hours nursing care. There are only 5 remaining units in England, 4 of which are members of NHS SMPA and NHS Inpatient Network.

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 Include; 

  • 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.  
  • Regularly takes between 15 and 30 units of alcohol daily. 
  • Has significant psychiatric or physical issues e.g., chronic severe depression, malnutrition, psychosis, congestive cardiac failure, chronic liver disease, unstable angina.  

The homeless and elderly 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 upgraded care.  

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

This is because patients benefit from a personalised treatment approach and a safe environment that is 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 0f Private Care 

  • Private centres offer support that extends to family and loved ones.  
  • Admission is immediate as there are no waiting lists. Admission is within 24- 48 hours.  
  •  Immediate confidential help from a team of experts.  
  • Able to choose which rehab centre to attend and programme to undertake based on 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 discover the best treatment option based on individual needs. Some facilities offer a free call back service 24 hours per work week.  
  • Able to choose between a traditional treatment programme, a holistic programme, or both.  
  • Receive complimentary services that will help overcome alcohol addiction such as a fitness and nutrition programme.  
  •  Treatment centres offer a complimentary aftercare service that can last up to a year to help  individuals sobriety.  
  • The quality, experience and expertise in rehabilitation centres ensure clients' health remains better even after treatment.  

Cons Of Private Care 

  • Treatment in private facilities  can be burdensome due to the cost, for instance, alcohol detox before rehab can cost as much as £2,000 for the programme [8]. 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.  
  • There is outpatient services for alcohol and drug care prior to being admitted to a drug rehab facility.  

NHS Rehab Cons  

Accessibility is very difficult. 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.  
  • Patients have to detox before entering rehab and that means working with addiction counsellors or any other national charity working organisation that deals with addiction, to show   willingness to change.  
  • The lengthy waiting time can negatively impact health if in urgent need of care.  
  • NHS rehab has a strict criterion that most people with alcohol addiction struggle to meet.  
  • Even if people meet all the criteria for NHS funding, there's no guarantee of placement as local authorities may be low on funds.  
  • Does not have a choice in the rehab attended or programme.  
  • Since NHS services mostly prioritise outpatient care in the community setting, patient will not be able to effectively avoid drinking due to exposure of 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 to  stay sober and free from drugs. 

Admission is fast and most rehab clinics allow clients to leave contact requests on their platform.  Addicts get to work with an experienced team that will provide 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 and the major issue with NHS is accessibility.  

It would be better to pay for a private rehab. This option ensures more choices and immediate admission. There is a  higher chance of recovery.  

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

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: March 14, 2024