What Happens in Alcohol Rehab?

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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What Happens in Alcohol Rehab?

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is characterized as an addiction to alcohol. Roughly 140,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths every year. More disturbing is that 31% of overall driving fatalities are due to alcohol. 

Alcoholism affects many people, but not everyone who needs treatment receives it. When people realize they have an alcohol addiction or suffer from alcoholism, they may check into an alcohol rehab facility. 

What Happens Once You Enter an Alcohol Rehab Program?

If you are suffering from AUD, the first step is to check yourself into an alcohol rehab center. The center’s healthcare professionals will take you through the following steps.

Assessment Stage

The first stage when you enter a rehab facility is the assessment stage. The team will talk with you about your substance use history, your physical health, your mental health, and your goals. The initial assessment is crucial to determine if your alcoholism is severe or mild. Healthcare professionals can also tailor a treatment plan to your needs if they are aware of any additional issues besides your AUD.

Detoxification (Detox)

Once you have completed the assessment stage, you will need to detox. Detoxification is the process of ridding your body of a toxic substance. The intensity of your withdrawal symptoms will heavily depend on how addicted you are to alcohol. 

  • Initial Phase: Once you stop drinking alcohol, your body will go through a period of adjustment. The sudden absence of alcohol may make you feel anxious and restless. In more severe cases of addiction, you may suffer a seizure. 
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Most people with AUD will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking alcohol. These symptoms include tremors or shakes, sweating, nausea, an increased heart rate, and insomnia. Some people may also experience hallucinations. These withdrawal symptoms tend to occur within the first few days without alcohol.
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs): In rare cases, delirium tremens (DT) may occur. People who have DT experience hallucinations, confusion, and agitation. DTs are considered a medical emergency, and individuals with DT must get medical attention immediately.
  • Medical Supervision: When you go through detox at a rehab facility, there will be medical supervision. This is so healthcare professionals can help you manage your withdrawal symptoms. 
  • Recovery: Once the withdrawal symptoms start to subside, your body will go through a recovery period. This can take a few days to a week. 
  • Psychological and Emotional Changes: As the body rids itself of alcohol, you may experience anxiety, mood swings, and depression. These symptoms can last for weeks or even months. 

Therapy and Counseling

Once your body has fully detoxed and you are physically stronger, the center’s healthcare professionals will tailor a therapy and counseling program for you. There are a variety of treatment plans available, and each one is significant for what it offers. The goal of the treatment plans is to provide you with the skills needed to overcome your addiction. You will learn coping strategies and ways to fight relapses.

  • Inpatient (Residential) Treatment: If you suffer from a severe alcohol addiction, the rehab facility may insist on inpatient care. This means you will reside at the center for a specified amount of time. This could be anywhere between a few weeks to several months. Inpatient treatment is designed for those who need intensive care while detoxing or during treatment. 
  • Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient programs allow you to live at home while attending your therapy sessions. This type of treatment is suitable for those with a mild to moderate level of addiction. Some people attend outpatient treatment programs while working or going to school. 

Relapse Prevention Planning

After your rehab program ends, healthcare professionals will continue to work with you on a relapse prevention plan. About 40-60% of people will relapse after leaving an alcohol rehab program. Although this can seem like distressing news, getting back on track is possible. Rehab centers provide resources for support groups as well as places you can continue with individual therapy.

Transition to Outpatient Care

Once you are armed with your aftercare planning resources, you can transition to outpatient care. You may also choose to attend separate therapy sessions and support groups, such as AA, that are not connected to your rehab facility. 

The Types of Treatment Plans Offered in Alcohol Rehab Centers

There are a variety of treatment plans offered in alcohol rehab centers to meet the diverse needs of those struggling with AUD. These plans look at clients’ preferences, circumstances, and the severity of their addiction. Here are some common treatment plans.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps individuals identify their negative thought patterns and restructure them so that they are more balanced and realistic. This helps reduce a negative mindset and the self-defeating attitude that often follows.

CBT also helps clients build skills to cope with stress, anxiety, and their emotions. Some techniques include problem-solving strategies. Goal setting is another part of CBT. Clients are encouraged to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals). CBT can be offered in individual therapy or group therapy. 

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a type of therapy that helps clients resolve any ambivalent parts of their behavior. Individuals often have conflicting emotions when it comes to changing their addictive behaviors. The focus of MI is to clear up the ambivalence so that their path forward is clear. The therapy also encourages them to find the motivation to make changes to their lives. 

The MI approach is to use empathy toward the client’s struggles and experiences. This creates a nonjudgmental and supportive setting. MI therapy stands out because of its “roll with it” approach. Instead of arguing against resistance, MI therapists try to understand the reasons for it instead. 

MI also advocates for self-efficiency. By having clients discover the strength to change their motivations, they encourage self-efficient behavior.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy combines cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness practices. First developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, it was first used for individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder. Since then, it has been adapted for a variety of other mental health disorders and substance use disorders. DBT is designed to help individuals cope with overwhelming emotions and self-destructive behavior.

There are four modules of DBT skills training:

  • Mindfulness: Teaches individuals to be present in the moment so that they are in tune with their thoughts, feelings, and surroundings
  • Distress Tolerance: Teaches individuals skills to manage stressful situations
  • Emotion Regulation: Teaches individuals to develop healthy ways to manage their emotions
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: Teaches communication skills to help improve relationships and navigate conflicts

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment addresses individuals who have co-occurring disorders. This means they have an alcohol addiction coupled with a mental health disorder, such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and more. Some of the key principles of dual-diagnosis treatment include:

  • Comprehensive Care: Dual-diagnosis treatment offers comprehensive care that can address addiction issues and mental health disorders simultaneously. 
  • Integrated Treatment: The treatment plan integrates the mental health treatment and the alcohol addiction treatment into one unified approach. The treatment recognizes that they affect each other and are not independent of each other.
  • Medication Management: When medication is involved, dual diagnosis treatment helps individuals manage their medication so that it can effectively address both their issues. 

Holistic Therapies

Holistic therapies have proven beneficial to many people suffering from AUD. These therapies are typically a departure from traditional therapies as they include:

  • Mind-Body Connection: Holistic therapies emphasize the mind-body connection. Techniques, such as yoga and meditation, are used to help individuals relax and manage their stress, anxiety, and cravings for alcohol. 
  • Nutrition and Physical Health: By focusing on proper nutrition, sleep, and physical activity, holistic therapies again emphasize the mind-body connection. Therapists focus on ensuring individuals improve their physical health as well as their mental health.
  • Emotional Healing: Holistic therapists encourage individuals to express themselves through art or writing. This can help individuals with AUD process buried emotions that they may not want to articulate to anyone.
  • Spiritual Exploration: Alongside meditation, holistic therapies also explore spiritual beliefs. This can help give individuals a purpose and meaning in life as they begin their recovery journey.
  • Holistic Treatments: Additional holistic therapies can be integrated into the treatment plan, such as massage therapy, the use of herbs, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and more. 

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication assisted treatment, or MAT, is an evidence-based approach that uses medication to help individuals recover from their addiction. MAT is often used with individuals suffering from severe addiction, and it is typically used in conjunction with other types of therapy, such as CBT or dual-diagnosis therapy. 

Some medications have been proven to help reduce cravings and relapses, such as disulfiram. MAT doesn’t substitute one addiction for another. Rather, it helps individuals achieve stability so that they can continue with their treatment plans and therapies.

  • Medications: For alcohol addiction, medications like disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate are commonly used to help reduce cravings, prevent relapses, and alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
  • Comprehensive Treatment: Using medication helps address the physical addiction while therapy helps address the psychological addiction.
  • Individualized Approach: As each individual may respond to a different medication, MAT is tailored to the individual’s needs and medical history. 
  • Medical Supervision: Because a drug is provided to help reduce physical cravings, medical supervision is crucial. Individuals must go for regular medical checkups and monitoring. For one, healthcare professionals must ensure the drug is working effectively. Secondly, they must ensure there are no negative side effects.

Group Therapy

While individual therapy has been proven to be extremely effective in helping individuals with AUD, group therapy serves an important function, too. Group therapy allows people with similar experiences to share therapy sessions. 

Under the guidance of a therapist, the group learns from each other and creates a supportive environment. The purpose of group therapy is to create a sense of community and help individuals feel less isolated.

About Defining Wellness Centers

At Defining Wellness Centers, we believe that addiction is a manifestation of underlying trauma or challenging life experiences. Our team aims to treat not just the addiction but the underlying trauma. We offer dual diagnosis treatment, medical detox, inpatient rehab, a partial hospitalization program, outpatient rehab, and aftercare for individuals suffering from substance use disorders. If you or someone new love is suffering from AUD, contact our Brandon office or our Ridgeland office.

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