Alcohol addiction is a significant health problem in the U.S. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost 14.5 million Americans aged 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) that year.1 If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, you should know that alcohol treatment centers can help you stop drinking and start you on the path to a happier and healthier life.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction, or AUD, is a medical condition marked by an inability to control your alcohol use even though you know it is negatively impacting parts of your life such as your health, relationships, work, and overall well-being.2
Often, willpower alone is not enough for some to quit drinking—they need treatment to get better and maintain sobriety. Luckily, research has shown that most people who seek treatment can reduce alcohol consumption or stop drinking altogether; the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that around one-third of people who enter treatment have no further symptoms a year later, and many others significantly minimize their drinking and experience less alcohol-related issues.3
How Can I Find Treatment for Alcohol Addiction?
You can find alcohol addiction treatment in several ways. One of the first steps might be to consult your family physician, who can perform a comprehensive evaluation, take a look at your alcohol use, help you determine the best course of action, and provide referrals to drug and alcohol treatment centers.3
You can search trusted online sources for alcohol treatment programs and read online reviews of treatment centers to learn more about the experiences of others who have gone through treatment.
Things to Consider When Choosing an Alcohol Addiction Treatment Program
You may consider asking the following questions when calling a treatment center:4
- Is the program licensed and credentialed?
- Does the program offer medically supervised detox? Can you continue on to treatment at the same program after detox?
- Will you need outpatient or inpatient care, and at what level of intensity?
- What are the qualifications of treatment staff?
- What are the facility’s expectations of patients and their families?
- Does the rehab offer dual diagnosis treatment (for those with a mental health disorder and addiction)?
- Do you have doctors or other qualified health professionals who can prescribe medications for AUD if necessary?
- Are treatment plans individualized and tailored to the person’s needs? How do you determine when it’s time for an adjustment to the treatment plan or a step down to a different form of treatment?
- How much does treatment cost? Do you offer scholarships or sliding scale payment options? Do you accept my insurance?
What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Acute alcohol withdrawal describes a syndrome of several characteristic withdrawal symptoms that can potentially develop when your body has become dependent on alcohol, and you stop drinking. Dependence means that your brain and body have grown accustomed to the presence of alcohol and require it to feel normal and function.5
Alcohol withdrawal can present a number of risks; with pronounced alcohol dependence, it can be critical to receive medical supervision and pharmacological intervention to manage a potentially severe or complicated withdrawal. For reasons of safety and patient comfort, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that hospitalization or some other form of 24-hour medical care are ideal settings for alcohol withdrawal management.6
Types of Alcohol Treatment Programs
Alcohol treatment programs are beneficial for anyone struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction. Keep in mind that recovery looks different for everyone because no two people have the same exact needs or situation.7 For example, some people may want or need to enter an inpatient rehab, while others may fare well in an outpatient program.
Medical detox is often the first step in the recovery process, and one that sets the stage for additional addiction treatment. It consists of a set of medically supervised interventions that are designed to help a person safely withdraw from alcohol. Medical detox can help minimize the risk of certain life-threatening symptoms, such as seizures, that sometimes arise during alcohol withdrawal. The ultimate goals of detox are to safely usher you through withdrawal and foster your entry into an alcohol addiction treatment center.5
Medical detox settings allow for close patient monitoring and the use of certain medications to manage the withdrawal process. Medications such as benzodiazepines can help relieve some alcohol withdrawal symptoms and lower the risk for certain complications such as seizures or delirium.6 In some instances, you may also benefit from additional medications depending on your needs, such as anticonvulsants.6
Inpatient/Residential Alcohol Treatment Centers
Inpatient or residential alcohol treatment programs involve living at the treatment center for the duration of treatment.8 Inpatient centers offer 24/7 monitoring and support, which may make them more suitable if you require a higher level of care, receive medications, or require ongoing medical supervision for other reasons. Other reasons can include the presence of certain co-occurring mental health disorders, a history of prior relapse, a lack of a supportive home environment, or significant medical or mental health issues.9
One benefit of inpatient treatment settings is that they provide an environment which can allow heightened focus on personal recovery efforts since it removes some of the distractions of daily life.
Outpatient Alcohol Treatment Centers
Outpatient drug and alcohol treatment is different than inpatient because you live and sleep at home while participating in treatment during the day. You can often arrange outpatient treatment so that you can go to work and participate in your daily life outside of treatment hours. Depending on the level of outpatient program intensity, you may attend treatment between one and several times per week, which might mean going to treatment in the evenings or weekends. Some of the various levels of outpatient care include:
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP). PHP is a highly structured and intensive form of treatment. You typically attend treatment for 20 hours or more per week. PHP may be used as a step-down from inpatient care, a step-up from less intensive programs, or as a form of treatment for those who are unable to live onsite but still require a high level of care.10, 11
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP). As with PHP, IOP offers more support than what is offered in standard outpatient treatment. You usually attend IOP 9 or more hours per week.11
- Standard outpatient therapy with counselor/therapist/clinician. This is the least intensive form of treatment. You typically attend treatment less than 9 hours a week. Standard outpatient visits can take place in different settings, such as with a counselor in a treatment facility or with a therapist in a private practice.10
How Long Does Alcohol Addiction Treatment Last?
The most appropriate type and length of a treatment program can vary based on several factors, including:9
- The severity of your addiction.
- Your overall level of health.
- Other co-occurring medical or mental health issues you may have.
- The stability of your housing situation.
- The level of support you have at home or from your social network.
- Your prior history of treatment.
- Your relapse risks.
- Your insurance coverage specifics.
Whether your treatment is a three-week program or a three-month program, any level of treatment for alcohol addiction can be helpful. The length of treatment can be increased or decreased based on your clinical needs, the strength of your support system, your mental health status, and your rate of recovery progress among other factors.10, 12 Regardless of the type of treatment, the program should be catered to serve your needs.
Types of Therapy for Alcohol Addiction
As part of any rehabilitation program, you may receive a variety of evidence-based treatments that can take place during individual or group counseling sessions. These various behavioral therapies are designed to help you cultivate new skills and learn ways of preventing relapse. Some of the therapies that you may receive are discussed below.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that helps you identify and replace unhelpful or negative thoughts and behaviors that led or contributed to your addiction. Research supports its effectiveness in addiction treatment, especially when combined with medication or other behavioral therapies.13
Contingency Management Therapy
Contingency management is designed to reward positive behavioral changes. As part of an incentivized or reinforcement approach, you may receive tangible rewards (like vouchers to exchange for goods or services) for examples of positive change such as sequential negative drug tests. Contingency management has been demonstrated to be effective in promoting abstinence and helping people stay in treatment.14
Motivational interviewing is a method that is often used as a part of motivational enhancement therapy (MET). Motivational interviewing techniques are designed to increase your motivation to make positive changes in your life and help you resolve doubts you may have about reducing or quitting alcohol and entering treatment. Classically, MET is a short-term treatment that involves working with a therapist over the course of about 4 sessions. MET is proven to be effective for reducing alcohol use and improving treatment engagement.15
Types of Medications Used for Treatment
Medications may be used in conjunction with behavioral therapy to treat AUD. They can decrease drinking behaviors and help you maintain sobriety. There are 3 FDA-approved medications for the treatment of AUD.16
This medication is designed to help reduce the likelihood of a return to drinking by minimizing some of the more protracted alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as dysphoric mood, insomnia, and anxiety.17
This medication is designed to block some of the rewarding aspects of alcohol use, so it can help reduce drinking behavior. It may also reduce alcohol cravings.17
Daily use of this medication can help you avoid alcohol by resulting in unpleasant symptoms (like nausea and flushing of skin) if you drink while taking it.17
Recovery Support Groups
Recovery support can come from a variety of sources. Some of these include the various peer or mutual support-based systems designed to help you stay committed to sobriety. Different support groups include:18
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)—A widely-available mutual help group open to all people who want to quit drinking. With a strong spiritual component and the support of other members, participants regularly attend meetings while working through the 12 steps of recovery, often under the guidance of a sponsor.
- LifeRing—A support group based on 3 principles: sobriety, secularity (all are welcome regardless of faith), and self-help.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)—A network of online and in-person secular support groups.
- SMART Recovery—A secular group that focuses on personal empowerment and addiction science-based recovery techniques.
- Women for Sobriety—A group specifically geared toward promoting emotional and spiritual growth for women in recovery.
Support group participation is encouraged as a part of many treatment plans. Many programs incorporate a behavioral therapeutic approach known as 12-step facilitation therapy, which is designed to increase your motivation to participate in 12-step groups, such as AA 19. Secular alternatives (e.g., SMART Recovery) or 12-step groups can be a valuable component of aftercare, which is an actionable plan your treatment team will work with you to create to help you stay sober after rehab.18
How Much Does Alcohol Rehab or Treatment Cost?
The cost of treatment can vary by many factors, including the duration and type of program, as well as any amenities offered. For example, a luxury alcohol treatment program will offer more luxurious surroundings and amenities and will therefore have a higher price tag.
Does Insurance Cover Alcohol Addiction Treatment?
Your health insurance will often cover alcohol addiction treatment. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), substance abuse services are considered essential health benefits for healthcare plans sold on health insurance exchanges or provided by Medicaid to people who are newly covered as of 2014.20
If you do not have insurance, you might consider a facility with public funding or that offers a sliding scale or payment plan. You can also look into your eligibility for Medicaid.
How Should I Get Started?
You can get started on the path to recovery through the following steps:3
- Consult your doctor.
- Seek treatment centers online or ask for referrals from your doctor or trusted friends/relatives.
- Read online reviews.
- Make a list of questions to ask a potential facility, as listed above.
- Make the call.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, June). Alcohol facts and statistics.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, April). Understanding alcohol use disorder.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, March). Treatment for alcohol problems: finding and getting help.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Q&As for alcohol treatment programs.
- Saitz, R. (1998). Introduction to alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol health and research world, 22(1), 5–12.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. treatment improvement protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS publication no. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol treatment: Many routes to recovery.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). What types of alcohol treatment are there?
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Why do different people need different options?
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Substance abuse: Clinical issues in intensive outpatient treatment. Treatment improvement protocol (TIP) Series 47. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 06-4182. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2015, May 13). What are the ASAM levels of care?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, December). Principles of drug addiction treatment.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of effective treatment: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of effective treatment: Contingency management interventions/motivational incentives (alcohol, stimulants, opioids, marijuana, nicotine).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of effective treatment: Motivational enhancement therapy (alcohol, marijuana, nicotine).
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2010). Exploring Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorders.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) Alcohol Addiction
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Long-term recovery support.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of effective treatment: 12-step facilitation therapy (alcohol, stimulants, opiates).
- Office of National Drug Control Policy. (n.d.). Substance abuse and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).