Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Alcohol addiction treatment can help people struggling with mild to severe alcohol use disorder (AUD) regain control of their lives.1 If you or a loved one are considering treatment for alcohol misuse or an AUD, understanding the types of treatment can be an important first step toward recovery. This page covers the types of treatment programs available, including detox, inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab programs, and more.
Drinking alcohol is socially accepted in many parts of the world.2 Drinking alcohol is often associated with feelings of pleasure and relaxation and some people can drink alcohol on social occasions and not experience harmful effects.2 The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found over 138 million people reported that they are current alcohol consumers.3 That same study found that over 28 million people reported a past-year alcohol use disorder (AUD), but only 2 million people received treatment for alcohol use that year.3
The good news is, there are several evidence-based treatment approaches available for mild to severe AUD.4 If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol misuse or addiction, learning about alcohol treatment options can be an important first step that can help you make an informed decision about your care. You can also call our alcohol helpline at for information on treatment options.
When to Seek Help or Treatment for Alcohol Use
There are several behavioral and physical changes that you might recognize if you are concerned that you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol misuse or an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and need to seek help. AUD is a medical term for addiction to alcohol and is defined by the inability to control or decrease alcohol consumption despite the harmful effects it has caused. In clinical settings, AUD is diagnosed by a medical professional based on a person experiencing 2 or more of these behavioral changes, signs, and symptoms within 1 year.
These criteria are outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and include:5
- Drinking more alcohol or continuing to drink for a longer time than intended.
- An inability to cut back on drinking despite wanting to do so.
- Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, and recovering from alcohol consumption.
- Craving alcohol or experiencing strong urges to drink.
- An inability to meet expectations or fulfill obligations due to alcohol consumption (e.g., home, school, or work responsibilities).
- Consuming alcohol despite persistent interpersonal and social problems caused or worsened by the effects of alcohol.
- Reducing occupational, recreational, or social activities due to alcohol consumption.
- Consuming alcohol in situations where it is physically hazardous to do so.
- Consuming alcohol despite persistent physical and psychological problems caused or worsened by alcohol.
- Developing a tolerance (e.g., needing more alcohol to feel its intoxicating effects).
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing alcohol consumption or needing to continue drinking to avoid such symptoms.
Keep in mind that AUD can develop over time and even if you don’t currently exhibit the above behavioral changes, signs, and symptoms, you may still have a potentially harmful relationship with alcohol or be at an increased risk of developing AUD.
Take Our Alcohol Addiction Self-Assessment
Take our free, 5-minute alcohol addiction self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with alcohol misuse or addiction. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the probability and severity of alcohol use disorder (AUD). The test is free and confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for people struggling with alcohol misuse or alcohol use disorder (AUD) and what works for one person may not for another. Still, simply understanding the types of alcohol addiction treatment options can be an important first step.6
Many people think of 12-step meetings and rehab when they think of alcohol addiction treatment programs, but there are several treatment interventions, services, and settings available today.6 Alcohol addiction treatment may consist of a combination of behavioral addiction therapy programs, medications, and mutual-support groups such as 12-step programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous).6
Keep in mind that for treatment for alcohol use disorders to be effective, the interventions, services, and settings should be individualized to the patient and address not just their alcohol use but their health, legal, social, and vocational problems too.7 Because patients grow and progress throughout treatment, effective treatment plans are continually assessed.7 If changes are needed, such as a different length of stay, medication, or type of therapy, treatment providers should help make modifications as needed.7
- Duration: Days to weeks.8
- Location: Hospitals, specialized inpatient detoxification units, or an outpatient setting with close medical supervision.8
- Who this is suited for: People who have been consuming large amounts of alcohol and may need to be medically monitored for withdrawal side effects.8
Detoxification is not necessary for every person, but for many, it’s a necessary first step in the alcohol rehabilitation process, helping them to withdraw from alcohol comfortably and safely and facilitate the transition to ongoing treatment.8
When someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD) abruptly reduces or stops drinking, they may experience symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal.9, 10 Alcohol withdrawal can have potentially serious consequences including significant illness and even death.9, 10 Some people experience seizures or delirium tremens, a complication of alcohol withdrawal characterized by confusion, disorientation, and hallucinations.10 Detox programs can help patients achieve a substance-free state while monitoring and relieving the immediate symptoms of withdrawal.11
It’s important to remember that while detox can be an important first step in the rehabilitation process, detox alone may not be enough to facilitate long-term change for someone struggling with AUD.7 Many people benefit from a continuing care approach (e.g., inpatient or outpatient rehab) following detox.7
- Duration: 1 week to 1 year or longer.8
- Location: Hospitals, medical clinics, or residential environments.8
- Who this is suited for: People with mental health disorders or severe medical problems or people who do not have stable employment or living situations.8
Inpatient or residential treatment can be effective for people with a more severe alcohol use disorder (AUD).8 In inpatient programming, patients typically live in a hospital or residential home setting and receive 24-hour care from medical professionals in addition to intensive treatment.8, 12 Treatment is geared toward people with serious medical or mental health concerns and typically lasts weeks to months, although long-term alcohol rehab is available too.7
Residential treatment options also provide 24-hour care, but from nonmedical staff. Patients receive intensive counseling and there is often an emphasis on peer support.8
While these programs vary, those who attend this type of program can expect a variety of group and individual therapeutic approaches to help them live a substance-free life.12 For those people accustomed to a higher standard of living, there are also luxury alcohol rehab programs available that offer additional services and amenities not typically found at a tradition rehab center.
- Duration: Varies.
- Location: Health clinics, hospital clinics, counselor offices, local health department offices, or residential programs with outpatient clinics.8
- Who this is suited for: People who have completed an inpatient program and/or have stable employment or living situations.7
An outpatient treatment program may be a more flexible option or act as a “step down” from inpatient programming. When you attend outpatient alcohol rehab, you live at home and attend regular treatment sessions.8 Because these programs typically don’t last all day, people can often maintain their family, school, or work obligations.
Outpatient programming often includes several of the same treatment types as residential and inpatient programming, though with varying frequency and intensity.7 Low-intensity programs may focus on drug education while higher-intensity programs, like intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and partial hospitalization programs (PHP), can be comparable to what you can expect in a residential program. An IOP, for example, may offer individual and group therapy, medication management, medical support, substance use monitoring, and introduction to support groups.7
Behavioral Therapies for Alcohol Misuse and Addiction
Various types of behavioral therapies are commonly used in alcohol use disorder (AUD) treatment. Behavioral therapies can take place in individual or group settings and may include:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an evidence-based form of therapy based on the theory that learning processes play a critical role in the development of destructive behavioral patterns like alcohol misuse.7, 12 CBT focuses on identifying the feelings or situations that may trigger the desire to drink and developing coping strategies to avoid relapse.7
Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
This counseling approach helps people resolve ambivalent feelings about entering treatment and stopping their alcohol use by invoking internally motivated change.7 MET typically involves an initial assessment, followed by 2 to 4 individual treatment sessions with a therapist during which coping and cessation strategies are discussed.7
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step and self-help programs consist of people in recovery who provide a safe space to discuss experiences, hope, current real-life struggles, and future goals.8 These programs are free and can complement professional treatment for AUD.7, 8 While these programs vary, many can be beneficial during recovery as they offer additional community and social support.7
Contingency management, such as the community reinforcement approach (CRA), uses material incentives and reinforcers (familial, recreational, social, vocational) to help patients struggling with AUD develop new hobbies and social networks. Patients are assessed weekly and awarded vouchers in exchange for abstaining from alcohol.7
Marital and Family Counseling
This type of counseling includes marital partners and other members of the family in the alcohol treatment process to improve and repair family relationships.6 Research suggests that familial support can lead to better patient outcomes and help patients maintain abstinence.6
Medications Used in Alcohol Addiction Treatment
For many patients, medications are an important and necessary component of treatment.7 Medications may be useful at varying stages of alcohol addiction treatment to help patients reduce withdrawal symptoms, stay in treatment, and prevent relapse.1
There are 3 medications approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of alcohol dependence, including:7
- Acamprosate: Acamprosate, also known as Campral®, may reduce protracted withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and restlessness. It is intended to help patients maintain abstinence.
- Disulfiram: Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse®, causes an adverse reaction when combined with alcohol, which is intended to help a person avoid drinking. Reactions can include flushing, nausea, and palpitations.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone, also known as Vivitrol®, decreases alcohol cravings by blocking receptors in the brain that control rewarding effects. Studies show that Naltrexone may reduce relapse.
Alcohol Addiction Aftercare and Long-Term Recovery
Recovery from alcohol addiction is a long-term process that doesn’t stop once treatment is over. “Aftercare” or “continuing care” are terms used to describe various types of ongoing care and support you may receive following the transition of levels of care (e.g., transitioning from inpatient to an outpatient program).13 The goal of an aftercare plan is to support people in recovery, prevent relapse, and help them reach life goals.
The types of care and support in aftercare range but examples include:
- Spending time in a sober living home.
- Attending counseling sessions.
- Participating in an alumni program.
- Attending 12-step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Does Alcohol Addiction Treatment Work?
Yes, alcohol addiction can be effectively treated.1 While alcohol addiction can’t be “cured,” the condition can be successfully managed, and treatment can counteract the negative effects addiction has on the brain such as “wet brain” syndrome and enable people to regain control of their lives. 1
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 33% of people who receive treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), have no further symptoms 12 months later.6 Additional research monitoring individuals in long-term treatment shows most people who enter and remain in treatment stop consuming alcohol and see occupational, psychological, and social functioning improvements.7 It’s not uncommon, however, for people to go to treatment more than once.7
Does Relapse Mean AUD Treatment Has Failed?
No, relapse does not mean alcohol abuse treatment has failed, but rather you may need adjustments to your current treatment and recovery plan. Due to the chronic nature of addiction, relapse can occur during the process of alcohol addiction recovery.8 In fact, relapse rates for addiction are similar to relapse rates of other chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.7 If you or a loved one relapses, it’s important to not be discouraged, but instead be open-minded about changes to your treatment and recovery plan. For many, relapse is short, and they continue to recover.8
How to Find the Right Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center
Finding the right help for alcohol addiction can feel overwhelming, but the good news is you have options, and you don’t have to make this decision alone. If you’re not sure where to start, you can contact your primary care physician (PCP) or a mental health practitioner to get advice on treatment considerations. If you know someone familiar with a specific treatment, it may be helpful to ask them about their experience.
As you research treatment programs for alcohol abuse, it may be helpful to keep these questions in mind:6
- What types of treatment does the provider offer?
- What types of treatment settings does the provider offer (e.g., inpatient, outpatient)?
- Do I need detoxification services, and if so, does the provider offer them?
- Is treatment individualized?
- How is relapse addressed?
- How is success measured?
- Do they treat teenagers addicted to alcohol?
- What type of aftercare do they offer?
You can also contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) at . AAC has treatment facilities across the U.S. and is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment. Our team of admissions navigators can answer any questions you might have about your alcohol addiction treatment options, verify your insurance, and help you with the admissions process once you’re ready.
How Can Friends and Family Support a Loved One Who Is Struggling with Alcohol Misuse or Addiction?
Supporting a loved one struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be challenging, but there are several ways you can help.
You can support a loved one by lending an ear or engaging in activities and hobbies together that don’t involve drinking. If your loved one is comfortable with it, some support groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous) allow family and friends to join, which can help your loved one feel supported while allowing you to be actively involved in their recovery.
Recovery is a life-long process and your loved one will likely have setbacks along the way. When this happens, it’s important to remain patient and understanding. Remember that you are not responsible for your loved one’s recovery. You can support your loved one by making sure you are supported too. Make time for self-care and if you find that you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or negative thoughts, seek professional help.