Alcoholism Treatment: Detox, Rehab & Aftercare

Alcoholism: Treatment

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Alcoholism Treatment

There is nothing pleasant about getting caught up in an addiction like alcoholism. Left untreated, such a disease can do unfathomable damage to the sufferer and the people around them. However, living with alcoholism is not a life sentence. There is something that can be done to arrest this horrible disease.

Saying Yes to Getting Help

If you are dealing with alcohol use disorder, it’s going to be up to you to decide when you have had enough. It’s not often that someone is going to beat an addiction because someone else told them to do it. Even after you decide to make a change, remember that little in life is easy.

The first stage of recovery from any addiction is the abstinence stage. This is the stage of self-reflection. This is the stage where you have to care enough about yourself to admit you are powerless over your desire to drink alcohol. You have to also be willing to at least try to say no to the next drink. 

It’s in this first stage that you will hopefully find the strength to say no more and ask for help. You need to understand that you will likely need help. There is sufficient evidence to suggest quitting cold turkey and trying to recover on your own is too dangerous. 

About Alcoholism Treatment

Of the options you have for help with your alcoholism, spending time in a quality rehab facility might make the most sense. 

It’s noteworthy that relapse rates after an initial stay in rehab ranged from 40%-60% in 2021. While that might not seem all that promising, it’s still one of the best options for beating alcohol use disorder. The good news is the percentages do get better after additional treatments, typically with a return to rehab after relapses.

If you are willing to see the “glass as half-full,” you’ll likely appreciate knowing more about the alcoholism treatment process in rehab. There are three components to the process, all of which will be discussed in more depth in the following sections.

Component 1: Detox

After getting past the aforementioned abstinence stage of recovery, you’ll most likely be confronted with stage number two. This is the stage where your body will start to revolt because of being denied the alcohol on which it depends. That revolt will come in the form of withdrawal symptoms. 

Make no mistake about it, dealing with alcohol withdrawal symptoms is usually harrowing and often dangerous. Here is a sampling of the most significant withdrawal symptoms you might encounter:

  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Problems with breathing
  • Tremors in the extremities (arms and legs)
  • Profuse sweating
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs) and body seizures
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Sleeping issues
  • Deepening of agitation, depression, and anxiety issues
  • Hallucinations and nightmares

It’s the danger that exists on this list that makes it recommended if not necessary to go through a medically monitored detox program

As part of a medically monitored detox program, clients are placed under the watchful eyes of medical professionals as they go through withdrawal. The hope is that each client will detox without the need for medical intervention. If medical intervention becomes necessary, a medical professional will be there to provide relief, sometimes in the form of prescription medications to ease pain and help with sleep.

The normal detox timeline is about five days to start feeling better and up to two weeks before normalcy returns. When a client has a severe alcohol use disorder, they might have to go through some type of tapering withdrawal program, which could last up to 30 days. 

After successfully clearing the detox process, clients are ready for the actual rehab component of treatment. 

Component 2: Rehab

Rehab or rehabilitation is the process by which therapists and counselors will begin working with clients on the whys of addiction. The whys are the root causes that seem to drive clients to use alcohol as a means of self-medicating away their issues.

For therapy and counseling to be successful, clients have to be willing participants. They have to be willing to open up about their innermost thoughts and feelings. 

The risk factors associated with alcohol use disorder are usually very helpful in helping to identify root causes. Here are some of the risk factors that often warrant scrutiny:

  • Family history where exposure to substance use disorders among family members can often lead to learned behaviors – it’s even possible there is a genetic connection to the predisposition to drink too much.
  • Co-occurring disorders (a mental health issue + alcohol use disorder) that occur when a mental health issue creates the need to drink or when drinking causes a mental health issue like depression or anxiety
  • Trauma or stress caused by abuse issues or exposure to events like natural disasters, death in the family, or bodily injury from an accident

Peer pressure from peer groups that have undue influence, causing someone to drink more and more often than they would without peer pressure. 

If clients are willing to be open and honest about their thoughts and feelings, the root causes of their alcoholism will usually rise to the surface. When root causes can be identified, it becomes easier for treatment professionals to choose a treatment option that they believe will help in the treatment of a particular client. 

Rest assured, top addiction treatment professionals have access to a wide range of alcohol use disorder treatment options and modalities. Most modalities can be administered as inpatient or outpatient treatments, depending on the needs of each client. 

Inpatient treatment is offered at two levels: Standard inpatient (around-the-clock care with low-intensity therapy) and Intensive inpatient (around-the-clock care with intensive therapy) for severe alcohol use disorders.

As for outpatient care, it can be administered as standard outpatient care for two to four hours a week or partial hospitalization at four to six hours a day for three to five days a week. 

No matter what treatment option is selected, the therapist or counselor will need to also choose an appropriate alcohol use disorder treatment modality. Here is a list of the most popular and effective modalities:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): addresses the thought processes that are causing addiction behaviors
  • Dialectal behavioral therapy (DBT): addresses the feelings that are causing addiction behaviors
  • Dual diagnosis therapy: treats co-occurring disorders simultaneously to prevent the untreated disorder from compromising the progress of the treated disorder
  • Group therapy: creates in one alcoholic helping another alcoholic through open and honest discussion
  • Family therapy: opens the door to mending fences between loved ones and creating support resources for the future
  • Conventional individual counseling: leads to one-on-one discussions in private for open and honest communication

While the format of each treatment option might differ, the goal is always the same. Rehab treatment is all about helping clients develop better coping skills. As your coping skills improve, you become better able to deal with temptation and their triggers. Being able to navigate temptation and triggers is the key to preventing relapses in the future. 

Component 3: Aftercare

After detox and therapy, clients are sent out into the world from which they came. That can be scary for clients who feel a little jittery about what they derived from rehab. However, leaving rehab is inevitable for every client. That’s not to say they are kicked out of rehab armed with nothing but a few weeks of treatment. 

Help is always available after treatment has concluded. It’s available in the form of aftercare programs. Most rehab facilities have a process by which they educate departing clients about the availability of aftercare resources. They offer this information so that recovering alcoholics know exactly where they can go if they want to protect their recovery. Here are some of the best aftercare options:

  • Sober living homes: Sober living homes offer a safe place for recovery alcoholics to live until they feel confident about returning home. These homes mandate abstinence and help residents learn how to create a protective structure within their lives. Oftentimes, participation in 12-step programs and/or additional ongoing therapy is mandatory.
  • Participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): AA is a 12-step program where recovering alcoholics work together to help each other maintain sobriety. Membership is free, and the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking and stay sober. AA is but one of several support group options that might be available in a given area.
  • Outpatient therapy: Sometimes, people need to stay connected to their rehab facilities and therapists. It might be that they need just a touch more treatment to get them to the point where they can stand on their own in recovery. Most rehabs are more than willing to offer this extra layer of protection.
  • Alumni programs and events: It’s important that recovering alcoholics never forget about where they were when drinking and how far they have come in recovery. That’s why a lot of top rehab facilities will sponsor alumni programs and events where recovering alumni can gather in camaraderie. This is a great aftercare option for strengthening support resources that might be needed in the future. 

There is a lot of very important information provided above. If you or someone you love is dealing with an alcohol use disorder, this information should serve as hope that there is a way to get back what has been lost to alcoholism. Reach out to the team at Alcohol Awareness for all the guidance and help that you might night. We have a team ready and willing to answer all your questions and guide you in the right direction.