How Alcohol Abuse or Addiction Rehab Works

If you, or someone in your life, has an issue with alcohol use, abuse, or addiction, you may wonder how alcohol rehab works. Having a better understanding of how alcohol rehab works tends to the lessen the apprehension associated with entering into a treatment program, at least to some degree.

Outpatient Versus Inpatient Treatment

There are two primary types of alcohol treatment programs available to people in the United States, and elsewhere in the world. These are outpatient and inpatient rehab or treatment programs.

As the moniker implies, a person who embarks on an outpatient treatment program does not enter into a rehab facility on a full time basis. Rather, an individual in an outpatient program participates in counseling, therapy, and other treatment programs while remaining in his or her home. Typically, a person in an outpatient alcohol treatment program keeps working and tending to many existing activities of daily living.

Inpatient treatment involves a person “checking in” to a rehab center. An individual in an inpatient program “lives” in the alcohol rehab facility during the course of his or her treatment. After a person has been involved in an inpatient treatment program for a specified period of time, that individual will be able to participate in some suitable activities in the community. For example, a person in an inpatient program will be able to participate in community Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. 

12-Step Groups

Another option available to a person in need of assistance with alcohol use, abuse, or addiction is participation in a 12-step program like Alcoholic Anonymous. In some cases, an individual can make real progress by participating in a program like AA and can avoid a full blown outpatient or inpatient treatment program. In addition, 12-step programs oftentimes are integrated into an outpatient or inpatient treatment program. In other words, a requirement of a treatment program is to attend AA, usually on a daily basis.


In some cases, an individual with an alcohol problem will not make the final decision to seek professional assistance without healthy encouragement from other people in that individual’s life. In other words, in some cases an intervention needs to be staged in order to assist a person with an alcohol problem make the decision to seek assistance.

An intervention is intended to be a nonthreatening gathering of friends, family members, and even work colleagues. Typically, an alcohol treatment professional oversees an intervention to ensure that it is undertaken in a healthy and appropriate manner. 

Types of Treatment in an Alcohol Rehab Program

Although there can be some differences from one alcohol rehab program to another, there are some types of treatments and activities that commonly are found in most programs. First, a participant in an alcohol treatment program is likely to participate in individual and group therapy. As mentioned previously, a person in alcohol rehab is also likely to participate in AA or a similar program.

Other types of activities utilized in an alcohol rehab program can include art therapy, psychiatric care, and recreational activities. Additional programming may include different types of sessions in life skills. In many cases, a person suffering from alcohol abuse or addiction may have a myriad of other issues that can be improved through life skills offerings in rehab.

Relapse Prevention Plan

A major element of an alcohol treatment program is the development of a relapse prevention plan. This is a plan designed while in rehab that includes strategies to assist a person in avoiding a relapse, or minimizing a relapse if it occurs. It is important to note that from a clinical standpoint, relapse begins before a person starts drinking. A relapse prevention plan ultimately serves as a resource to assist a person in avoiding relapse or managing relapse when it occurs in order to avoid alcohol use. 


Alcohol treatment does not end after an outpatient or inpatient program. A comprehensive treatment program includes what is known as aftercare.

At its essence, aftercare involves the continuation of certain treatment modalities when outpatient or inpatient alcohol rehab is completed. For example, a person in aftercare is likely to participate in individual and group therapy an a recurring or ongoing basis once the main course of outpatient or inpatient treatment completes. In addition, part of an aftercare program is likely to be participation in AA. There is a mantra during the early days of alcohol recovery that calls for a person to participate in 90 AA meetings in 90 days. Nearly all outpatient and inpatient treatment programs include an aftercare program as part of a comprehensive course of rehab.


Jessica Kane writes for TIPS Alcohol Training, offering TIPS responsible alcohol service training online for both on and off premise needs.  


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