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Understanding Alcohol Rehab and what Happens in the Programs

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Alcohol is socially acceptable in moderation, but it’s responsible for 3 million annual deaths when abused. This amounts to 5% of all deaths worldwide attributable to alcohol. Unfortunately, this massive intake of alcohol consumption leads to alcoholism. In turn, addicts need to arm themselves with a proper alcohol rehab center to get back to sobriety.


240 million people suffer from alcohol use disorder. According to the 2019 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), 14.1 million Americans have AUD.
Maybe you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder. If so, you might have reached the stage where you’re considering alcohol rehab, or your loved one has admitted they have a problem so you are ready to push forward and investigate options for recovery programs.
We’ll guide you through this process today. We’ll be walking you through the different types of alcohol rehab treatments so you can better assess the right approach for you or your loved one. We’ll also be giving you some questions to consider when you’re comparing alcohol addiction treatment centers, and we’ll show you what to look out for in a great facility.
Before anything else, though, is your alcohol addiction bad enough to warrant a trip to rehab?

Do You Need To Go To Alcohol Rehab?

Many people caught firmly in the grip of alcohol use disorder are unable to get a clear and unbiased view of their situation. This can be compounded if you spend your time with heavy drinkers highly unlikely to draw attention to your consumption.
Are you a periodic binge drinker interspersed with periods of abstinence? If so, does this qualify as a drinking problem?
Perhaps you understand that you’re drinking rather heavily and rather too frequently, but you don’t consider you have an alcohol use disorder right now.
We can’t answer these questions for you because everyone’s circumstances are different. What we can do is supply 5 quick questions you can ask yourself to determine the severity of your problem with alcohol.
So…

  1. Do you find your heavy drinking is creating problems in your relationship?
  2. Is your alcohol use starting to have an effect on your professional life?
  3. Do you frequently find your drinking spiraling unexpectedly out of control?
  4. Have you thought about quitting but found it impossible to pull off?
  5. If you stop drinking, do you experience cravings for alcohol?

For anyone answering “Yes” to the above questions, the time could be right to get help and consider treatment for alcohol use disorder. Attending alcohol rehab now could be a lot easier going than if you leave it until the problem is severe.
If you’re in any doubt about attending alcohol rehab, remind yourself that abruptly withdrawing from alcohol if you’ve been drinking heavily for a prolonged period could not only be dangerous, it could even be fatal. We say this not to be alarmist. On the contrary, we’re trying to make it clear that alcohol rehab is not necessary for everyone.
For heavy drinkers, though, there’s a risk of AWS (alcohol withdrawal syndrome) which can send your body into shock. Expect severe side effects, such as:

  • Delirium tremens
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure

By entering into an alcohol rehabilitation center, you’ll find these symptoms can be eased considerably – more on that below.


If you’re still not sure whether you need treatment for alcohol addiction, speak with your healthcare provider and honestly outline your consumption and drinking habits. A qualified medical professional should be able to give you a clearer idea about whether you should pursue formal treatment.
Assuming alcohol rehab is the most suitable option at your disposal, you may have absolutely no clue what this involves.
We’ll next clarify the different types of rehab you could undergo.

Types of Alcohol Rehab

Alcohol rehab can be broadly cleaved into two:

  • Inpatient alcohol rehab
  • Outpatient alcohol rehab

What Is Inpatient Alcohol Rehab?

Inpatient alcohol rehab is also known as residential rehab.
This form of treatment is delivered over 30 to 90 days during which you’ll stay in a treatment center. How long you stay depends on the type of your addiction and how severe it is. Other variables impacting the length of your stay include whether you have previously attempted alcohol rehab, and whether you have an underlying mental health condition (dual diagnosis).
The level of accommodation offered will differ dramatically from center to center. Some alcohol rehabs offer fairly spartan, functional rooms, while others provide upscale private suites in waterfront mansions. There are, of course, plenty of rehabs in between these extremes. Prices will reflect the standard of accommodation.
Once you’ve gone through the standard intake process at rehab, the first step on the road to recovery is detox. You’ll purge your body of all those toxins, often with the assistance of medication. We’ll highlight the main options for medication below.


With detox complete, you’ll start the program. The core part of rehab takes the form of counseling sessions, in an individual and group setting. Both delivery methods have their own benefits and drawbacks. Beyond this, you can expect a variety of talk therapies and behavioral therapies.
With residential rehab, your days will be structured to keep your mind occupied. Exercise is encouraged, and you’ll eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh, whole foods while making sure you stay fully hydrated as your body starts to normalize from the rigors of alcohol abuse.
Recreational activities are also an important part of recovery. You should explore what’s on offer at the various treatment centers on your shortlist and choose accordingly.
Although some rehabs permit family visits, the vast majority insist that you stay cocooned within this environment without any outside influences at all. If this doesn’t seem like the right fit for you, outpatient rehab won’t involve these same restrictions.
If you have severe alcohol use disorder, inpatient rehab will almost certainly be the most efficient route to recovery. Medication can be administered to reduce the challenging withdrawal symptoms you’ll face. This alone makes inpatient treatment the best choice for many heavy drinkers.
Beyond this, an inpatient program gives you the chance to create a meaningful foundation for long-term recovery while enjoying the security and sanctuary of a controlled environment with all the supervision and motivation you need in place.
Inpatient rehab is also usually worth investigating if you have tried and failed to engage with treatment programs in the past. Perhaps if the lack of guidance in some less hands-on programs has failed, attending a treatment center and committing to a full month of intensive therapy may succeed and help you to stay sober.
How about your home environment? If you have an unsupportive, unstable, or volatile set-up at home, a residential rehab program will certainly provide a superior alternative. The inbuilt benefit is removal from an environment with triggers and stressors.


Residential treatment programs are also effective for those lacking the willpower to put down the bottle. The structure and discipline you’ll find at rehab may be enough to help you stay focused on what you know you need to do.
A quick summary next of the leading benefits of choosing residential rehab for alcohol abuse.

When Does Inpatient Alcohol Rehab Make Sense?

  • Medical support on demand: If you try detoxing from a severe alcohol use disorder abruptly and without assistance, this can be dangerous. In some instances, it’s deadly. For heavy drinkers, especially those who have been abusing alcohol for prolonged periods, residential rehab is usually advisable. Instead of risking an uncomfortable solo withdrawal, instead you’ll benefit from 24/7 medical support.
  • Structure: Boredom can be a reason for many addicts relapsing during the early stages of recovery. Active addictions usually eat up so much of your time, days without the crutch of alcohol can soon feel formless. Residential alcohol rehab will help you to restructure your life meaningfully rather than sinking back into the abyss of alcohol abuse.
  • Support with nutrition and exercise: Alcoholics often eat poorly and lack nutrients. An inpatient treatment center will ensure you eat healthy foods with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. Combined with an appropriate exercise program, you’ll get the chance to strengthen your body as well as your mind, crucial for the road to recovery ahead.
  • Develop a healthier lifestyle: One of the biggest takeaways delivered by a residential rehab program is the opportunity you’ll get to build a fruitful and healthy lifestyle before you return to your normal life outside the center.

So, by now you should have an accurate idea of whether or not residential rehab makes sense for the nature of your alcohol use disorder.
To get even more insight, we’ll break down what you can expect from inpatient rehab in more detail.

Inpatient Rehab: What Does It Involve?

Broadly speaking, the goal of all residential rehab for alcohol abuse is to allow you to detox in a supervised clinical setting with medication administered as required.
The FDA approves the following medications for treating alcohol use disorder:

  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone reduces cravings for alcohol and is proven effective for helping heavy, habitual drinkers to stay abstinent.
  • Disulfiram: If you drink alcohol after taking Disulfiram – also known as Antabuse – you’ll experience adverse effects like vomiting, nausea, and headaches. You’ll feel so bad, you should have no desire to continue drinking.
  • Acamprosate: Marketed under the name Campral, this medication targets the neurotransmitters in the brain and resultantly mitigates withdrawal symptoms.

Once you get started on the treatment program, you’ll find this is personalized for you and your circumstances. Treatment modalities will differ from center to center. Here, though, are some of the therapies you can expect at rehab:

  • CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy): This form of behavioral therapy is proven effective for treating alcohol use disorder and other addictions. You’ll learn how to spot the triggers that could lead to relapse. CBT also helps you to formulate better coping strategies so you can replace drinking with a healthier alternative during times of stress, sadness, or depression.
  • MI (motivational interviewing): This objective and individualized strategy helps you to make changes that benefit you instead of obsessing about what you need to do for the benefit of others. You’ll begin by taking more personal responsibility for your actions.
  • CM (contingency management): You’ll be rewarded for healthy behaviors with this incentivized treatment. Since addiction causes the reward center in your brain to misfire, you can start repairing that damage with healthy rewards.
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment): MAT helps ease the discomfort of withdrawal and makes the early stages of sobriety easier to handle for heavy drinkers.
  • Counseling: Counseling sessions, both one-on-one and in a group setting, can help you to get to the bottom of why you were abusing alcohol. The more you learn about this, the stronger your chances of creating a sustained life of sobriety post-rehab.
  • Family therapy: Addiction is s disease impacting the whole family, not just the individual. Family therapy helps you to hone your communication skills and start the process of repairing your relationships.
  • 12-step groups: Groups like AA are a vital component of recovery for many. Residential rehab centers will usually offer access to on-site 12-step groups. The 12-step methodology is also employed throughout many programs.

What Is Outpatient Alcohol Rehab?

Do you have a mild addiction to alcohol? If so, outpatient rehab could be the most effective approach.
With outpatient rehab, you’ll attend sessions scheduled on weekdays, and you’ll learn how to overcome your dependence on alcohol so you can maximize your chances of staying sober.
Outpatient programs are not suitable for everyone, though. If you have an unstable home environment, attempting to detox and recover from addiction at home is probably unwise. Anyone lacking discipline and willpower is also likely to struggle without the structure provided by residential rehab and the sheltered environment it provides free of triggers and temptation.

When Does Outpatient Alcohol Rehab Make Sense?

  • Affordability: You won’t need to pay for food or accommodation with an outpatient rehab program. This form of treatment will always work out cheaper.
  • Flexibility: Attending an outpatient rehab and returning home in the evening allows you to maintain a semblance of normality during recovery. The success of this presupposes a supportive environment in place.
  • Stay connected to friends and family: If your network is supportive and loving, staying at home throughout recovery can provide benefits you won’t find at residential rehab.
  • Discretion: If you feel you can’t slip off the face of the earth for a month or more to attend residential rehab, an outpatient program is a stealthy, discreet alternative.

Outpatient Rehab: What Does It Involve?

You’ll follow many of the components outlined above for a residential rehab except you won’t be undergoing a medically-assisted, supervised detox, and you’ll return home overnight.
Weekends are typically free of sessions.
The intensity and structure of the program will depend on which of the following types it falls under:

  • Day program: The most highly structured form of outpatient treatment, you’ll attend meetings on 5 or even 7 days of the week. Expect psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, counseling, and adjust therapy.
  • IOP (intensive outpatient program): You’ll get structured support here as you step down the care continuum
  • Ongoing care: For additional and ongoing assistance, 12-step programs and community support groups are often beneficial.

Alcohol Rehab at Renaissance Recovery

If you’ve been trying in vain to work out which type of rehab would work for you, and you’ve been struggling to get started, we hope you’ve drawn some inspiration from today’s guide to comparing alcohol rehab centers. Maybe it’s not you requiring treatment but your loved one.
If so, you should now have a firmer idea of which avenue of treatment makes the best fit.


If you’re ready to take that first and vital step toward reclaiming the life you lost to alcohol abuse, the friendly team at Renaissance Recovery is here, ready and waiting to take your call. We specialize in helping people just like you get back the best version of themselves.
All you need to do to begin the process of organizing a personalized treatment program is to call us right now at 866.330.9449.866.330.9449

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Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

Paige R

“Renaissance Recovery truly changed my life.”

Courtney S

” I’m grateful for my experience at Renaissance, the staff are very experienced, they gave me the hope I needed in early sobriety, and a variety of coping mechanisms that I can use on a daily basis.”

Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country