Medically Reviewed

Alcohol Rehab & Detox Programs (When Is It Time?)

5 min read · 11 sections
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by the inability to stop or control alcohol use despite the negative impact it may be having on your family, job, or other areas of your life.1 AUD is not a moral failing or a weakness. Instead, AUD is a chronic brain disorder that can progress over time if left untreated.

AUD affects 14.1 million adults in the United States and the risk of developing an AUD depends on several factors—some cases involve a genetic influence and others result from environmental exposure (such as trauma).2

It can be difficult to recognize when casual drinking has crossed the line into abuse or addiction. It can be even harder to decide that it is time to do something about it. The following information exists to help you better understand alcoholism, or AUD—terms which have historically been used to describe a spectrum of alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction.1 If you think you or someone you love may have an AUD, this guide will help you learn some signs to identify a possible AUD and help you to remain informed about what types of treatment are available for people with an AUD.

Signs of Alcoholism & Alcohol Withdrawal


It is common to have questions or concerns when considering whether you or someone you love may have a drinking problem. Gaining a better understanding of both the physical and psychological signs of alcoholism, or AUD, may help address many of your concerns.

Here are some characteristic signs and symptoms to be aware of when considering whether alcohol use may be a form of alcoholism. If the answer is “yes” to at least 2 of these patterns of behavior over the last 12 months, an AUD may be the cause:2

  • Have consumed alcohol in larger amounts over longer periods of time.
  • Have tried to cut down or stop drinking alcohol without success.
  • Have cravings, or a strong desire or urge to drink alcohol.
  • Spent more of your time on activities that involved drinking alcohol or on recovering from drinking.
  • Failed to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home because of alcohol use.
  • Become less involved in important social, work-related, or recreational activities because of alcohol use.
  • Continued to drink alcohol in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Continued alcohol use even though you are aware that you have physical or psychological problems that are likely caused or worsened by alcohol.
  • Have gained a tolerance to alcohol either by needing more alcohol to get the same effect or noticing that drinking the same amount of alcohol as before does not affect you in the same way as it did before.
  • Have signs of withdrawal when heavy or prolonged alcohol use is stopped or reduced.

In regular and/or heavy drinkers, alcohol withdrawal symptoms commonly arise several hours to a few days after alcohol use is stopped or reduced. These signs and symptoms include:2

  • Sweating.
  • Increased pulse rate.
  • Increased hand tremor.
  • Inability to sleep.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Hallucinations (e.g., seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there)
  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Seizures.

Although only a physician can diagnose an AUD, if you identify some of these red flags in your behavior, it may be a signal that it is time to seek professional help for an AUD.

Social Consequences of Alcoholism

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to problems that affect several areas of a person’s life. As drinking progresses, a person may begin to isolate themselves from their family to drink. They may frequently call in sick to work or avoid social gatherings. They may end up with a suspended or revoked driver’s license from drinking and driving, making it difficult to meet family or work responsibilities.2,3 And, though many people with alcohol use disorder continue to live with their families and function to some extent at their jobs, alcoholism rates are relatively high among the homeless, potentially reflecting a decline in social and occupational functioning among this group.2

Is There a Cure for Alcoholism

As defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, alcoholism – like other addictions – is a chronic brain disorder1. Similar to other chronic illnesses like asthma and hypertension, alcoholism is not a condition that goes away after treatment. Instead, alcoholism treatment is meant to help individuals manage the condition throughout their lives so they will not relapse to alcohol use.

Because it is a chronic condition, alcoholism has the potential for relapse; in fact, its potential for relapse is similar to that for other chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40-60 percent of people struggling with addiction will relapse after treatment; this is compared with 30-50 percent of people with type I diabetes and 50-70 percent of people with asthma or high blood pressure.2

In other words, there is no cure for alcoholism. However, alcoholism can be managed through treatment.

Types of Alcohol Rehab Programs

Finding the right program for you or your loved one begins by understanding what options are available. If you need AUD treatment, there are several different types of alcohol rehabilitation programs at varying levels of intensity across the country that can help. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes the following elements and settings for alcohol rehabilitation:4

  • Detoxification: Many alcohol rehabs start with detoxification and medically managed withdrawal. This stage allows the body to clear itself of any alcohol in the system as well as its acute toxic influence. If you are admitted to inpatient detox, you will generally receive 24-hour care, staff monitoring, and management of the symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal that may present during this period. Medications are administered as needed to help prevent complications such as seizures.
  • Residential/Inpatient Treatment: After successful withdrawal management, you may continue on with additional rehabilitation efforts, which may or may not be in a hospital setting, depending on your treatment needs. These highly intensive 24-hour-a-day programs offer an array of services. Treatments provided address the social and behavioral problems associated with addiction to help make the lasting changes necessary for maintaining recovery. Although the treatment may only last weeks, it is full of intensive therapeutic interventions and may sometimes be based on a modified 12-step approach. During your stay, you will engage in therapy and may participate in peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Following your residential stay, you will be transferred to an outpatient treatment or other form of aftercare program. Continuing to participate in this next stage of treatment is critical for reducing your risk of relapse.
  • Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient treatment is a form of alcohol rehab that offers low-intensity daily programming opportunities for those who are either living at home, in a sober living, or in another conducive environment. Outpatient treatment is often, but not always, the least costly of these levels of care and provides flexibility to those who are working, going to school, or pursuing other educational or professional goals while receiving treatment for their AUD.

Will Insurance Cover the Cost of Rehab?

Yes, insurance often covers most or even all of the cost of rehab. However, the extent to which your insurance covers your rehab depends on your specific policy, the rehab center you choose, the treatments you are receiving, and other factors.

Although there are different variables at play when it comes to insurance coverage, your insurance provider can help answer these questions. Once you choose a rehab program, it is critical to speak with the admission staff regarding your financial obligations while receiving rehabilitation services.
To find out whether your insurance may cover treatment at any one of our nationwide treatment centers, fill in your insurance information in the form below.

How Long is Alcohol Rehab?

Depending on your personalized needs, rehab can last anywhere between a few days if you just need detox, to a month or longer if you require inpatient or residential treatment. Learn more about the length of rehab programs and whether insurance may be able to cover at least some of the cost of treatment:

Steps of the Alcohol Rehab Process

When you decide to get help and take the step to enter alcohol rehab it is common to feel anxious and fearful, especially if this is your first time. It is understandable to feel this way, so don’t let those feelings or thoughts hold you back from getting the help you need. Here is what you can expect when you arrive at rehab.
Many rehabilitation programs start you out in a detox unit for detoxification. Detoxification is a process that allows the body time to clear itself of the alcohol in your system.4 This is an especially important period for you to be medically monitored so that you can detox safely. The goal is to avoid any acute or potentially dangerous side effects (e.g., seizures) when stopping alcohol use.

After detox, when withdrawal has been safely managed, you may step down to a residential unit for continued recovery work. Residential treatment continues to provide 24-hour care, generally in a non-hospital setting. Treatment is highly structured and focuses on helping you understand the disease of addiction and develop skills needed for ongoing sobriety. Skills you may learn include identifying what your triggers are that cause you to drink, such as a particular person, place, or event.

You will also learn skills to help you to better handle stressful situations that have led to destructive behaviors in the past. Learning new skills will help you cope in ways that are healthy for you. Although confronting negative feelings or thoughts about yourself may be uncomfortable at times, doing so will help you to take back control of your life and remain accountable for your choices.Learn more about alcohol rehab through alcohol recovery stories from real people who have struggled with alcoholism.

What Does an Alcohol Treatment Plan Look Like?

AUD treatment plan. However, these therapies are based on a person’s unique needs and history, so treatment plans vary from person to person. Treating AUD and reducing the negative impact on your health that can result from an AUD is critical. Behavioral and pharmacotherapeutic approaches may be most effective when used in combination, and newer interventions, such as those that utilize mobile health technologies, are beginning to further improve access to diverse treatment offerings.6

Examples of what a treatment plan may include are:6

  • Professional behavioral services (e.g., counseling, specialty group therapy).
  • FDA-approved medications (for managing alcohol withdrawal as well as treatment of AUD).
  • Support groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous).

Although there are several widely used, evidence-based elements of care available for addiction treatment, it is important to remember that each person’s plan of care will be tailored to them.

What Medications May Be Prescribed During Rehab?

Some people may benefit from the use of medications to treat their AUD or the withdrawal symptoms resulting from alcohol dependence. These may be prescribed to help with withdrawal symptoms during detoxification. Other types of medication may be ordered after detox to continue to treat alcohol use disorder in a specialized program.
Common medications used to treat alcohol withdrawal include:7

  • Benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium, Ativan), which are effective in reducing withdrawal symptoms, including seizures.
  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol), gabapentin (Neurontin), or phenobarbital, which may be used for patients who cannot tolerate a benzodiazepine or who need more intensive care.

For patients who are stabilized after detox, the doctor may order a medication to treat alcohol use disorder for a longer period. This type of program is sometimes referred to as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and may include other medications from the following FDA-approved drugs list:8

  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol) is an extended-release, injectable medication that is given once a month. It decreases cravings and blocks some of the reinforcing effects of alcohol if consumed. Naltrexone is also available in immediate release pill formulations, and its once-daily dosing decreases cravings and blocks some of the rewarding effects of alcohol.
  • Acamprosate (Campral) also comes in a pill form and is taken 3 times a day. It can improve mood, reduce insomnia, restlessness, and feelings of unease with abstinence from alcohol.
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse) comes in a pill form and is once-daily dosing. It is an alcohol deterrent that produces side effects such as flushing, nausea, and palpitations if alcohol is consumed.

After Rehab: Aftercare Planning

Typically, your rehabilitation treatment team will be working on your aftercare plan with you soon as you begin rehab. This way, you will be prepared for your post-rehabilitation life and for any specific therapeutic services you’ll need. Therapy appointments will be scheduled to help you to maintain your sobriety after you are discharged from rehab. Your unique strengths and weaknesses will help determine what goes into your aftercare plan.

Aftercare programs offer support as you transition to your new daily routine. Short-term behavioral goals will likely include:4

  • Individual or group counseling sessions.
  • Continued education on addiction and recovery.
  • Participation in a 12-step program (going to at least 1–2 meetings each week).
  • Additional support services such as medical, psychiatric, or employment.

Some people continue their recovery efforts while residing at sober living houses at the completion of treatment. Sober living is centered around a healthy environment, living habits, and routines. Recognizing the importance of a healthy living situation (e.g., social supports, an alcohol-free space) supports sobriety and is critical for people starting recovery.9

“Do I Need Rehab?” Quiz

Take our free, 5-minute alcohol abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of an alcohol use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. The “Do I Need Rehab?” quiz is not intended to diagnose an alcohol use disorder.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Alcohol Rehab

Need more info?
Get in touch with us via one of these free and confidential options.
Take the first step towards recovery.
Make the process simple. Ensure your benefits cover treatment.