What to Expect at an Alcohol Treatment Center

Content Overview

I’m about to enroll in an alcohol rehab program. What can I expect?

Your recovery will begin from the moment you check in. You will be interviewed about your health and your addiction, and then you will move on to medical detox (as needed). After detox, you will engage in behavioral therapy, family therapy, education sessions, and more in order to help you overcome alcoholism.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2013, approximately 7 percent of US adults had an alcohol use disorder, but only 7.8 percent of those people got the treatment they needed.
 
While people avoid treatment for a variety of reasons, some don’t get help because they aren’t sure what to expect from an alcohol treatment program.
If a treatment program is going to be successful, the individual in treatment needs to be motivated to complete the program. Knowing what each aspect of treatment entails can prepare individuals for the process so they are ready for each step, and motivated to complete the program and achieve recovery.

Checking In

checking in For most reputable programs, the rehab process starts the moment a person checks in. Staff members often start by having the person complete an intake interview or questionnaire to find out more about the person, the nature of the alcohol abuse or alcoholism, and any other underlying or co-occurring conditions.

The intake process is an important step for the rehab process, because it is ideally used to customize treatment to the individual’s specific physical and psychiatric needs. This is one of the essential aspects of addiction treatment, based on guidelines from the National Institute of Drug Addiction.

 

Detox and Withdrawal

The first step in any treatment program for alcoholism is to withdraw from alcohol. This is often the most difficult part of rehab physically, because withdrawal from alcohol can create uncomfortable, and even dangerous, physical and psychological symptoms, as described by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) MedlinePlus medical encyclopedia.

Physical symptoms:

  • Shakiness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating and clamminess
  • Fever
  • Seizures
Psychological symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations

The most dangerous symptoms are fever, seizures, and hallucinations, which come with extreme addiction withdrawal. They are often part of a very severe withdrawal reaction called delirium tremens (DTs). DTs can be life-threatening, so it’s imperative that medical detox is undertaken for alcohol addiction. One should never attempt to detox from alcohol alone.

All these symptoms can be managed via medical detox in a professional facility. Medications and other treatments that ease symptoms, and make the detox process easier to bear and safer, may be provided by medical professionals.

Once the person has completed detox, therapy commences; although, in some programs, therapy begins during detox. Therapy comes in various forms, including group therapy, individual therapy, family or couples therapy, and skill-building workshops to prepare for life after treatment.

Learn More

There are many types of behavioral therapies that are used in reputable, research-based rehab programs. Treatment often includes group or individual therapy to help people understand the motivations behind their behaviors and recognize their triggers for alcohol abuse. Once people understand what triggers the behavior, they can then work to develop coping skills to deal with those triggers in healthier ways.

A recent study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology demonstrates that behavioral therapy in combination with motivational therapies and medical treatment can increase a person’s ability to manage alcoholism.

Some of the types of therapy that might be offered include:

  • Trauma-focused CBT: This is a type of CBT that takes trauma, and its effect on behaviors, into account. As a result, it enables people to make the connection between their trauma and their behavior, and consciously break the link with the behavior of drinking alcohol.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This type of therapy is particularly helpful for those with dual diagnoses. It provides a way to manage both alcoholism and the other disorder via behavioral skills and motivational enhancement.
  • Interpersonal therapy: Building a social network and other support structures that moderate depression, loneliness, and other emotional drivers of addictive behaviors can strengthen one’s resistance to relapse.

Sometimes, family or relationship dynamics contribute to the way a person responds to alcohol addiction treatment. Because of this, therapy sessions with the person’s family or spouse provide an avenue of support for recovery.

First, family members and spouses may unknowingly be enabling the alcohol abuse through their response to the person who is addicted. By learning about how they may be contributing to the behaviors, these family members can learn to change their patterns as well and become reliable supporters of recovery.

Second, having sessions with family can provide a source of strength and self-esteem for the person who is in treatment, giving a reminder both during treatment and in post-treatment recovery that the individual has loving support and others who believe in the individual’s ability to make the desired changes in behavior. This is enough of a motivator for recovery that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends it in its Treatment Improvement Protocols.

Education and Post-Treatment Preparation

It’s also important to educate the individual about addiction and prepare the person for returning to a normal routine after treatment. The transition from treatment to life after rehab can be bumpy, but proper preparation and support can smooth that path.

During these sessions, people might learn about resources available in the community that can support post-treatment recovery, as well as motivational and coping strategies to help them avoid relapse after treatment. These resources may include references to support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), tools for avoiding typical situations that may trigger cravings or desires for alcohol, and strategies for developing social networks that can motivate sobriety.

Treatment programs may also maintains connections with program “graduates” after the treatment program is completed. This often takes the form of alumni programs that foster the continued support network that is so important to sustained recovery.

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