What Happens During Alcohol Rehab and How to Know If You Need It

People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) have a brain disorder that makes it more challenging to avoid, misuse, and quit drinking altogether. This is why medical detox from alcohol and addiction treatment may be necessary. 

This article will explain what alcohol detox is, how to know if you need alcohol rehab, what withdrawal symptoms to expect, and which treatment program might be the right fit for you.

An illustration with information about outpatient vs. inpatient programs for alcohol use disorder (AUD)

Verywell / Laura Porter

What Is Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox, also called alcohol withdrawal, happens after a person drinks alcohol frequently (i.e., daily) or excessively (i.e., binge drinking) stops. When you stop drinking, the brain undergoes another adjustment period as the alcohol leaves the system. Withdrawal symptoms of varying levels of severity can occur as a result. 

How Long Does Detox Take?

Detox or withdrawal symptoms typically peak within four to 72 hours. While physical symptoms may last hours or days, emotional symptoms may linger for weeks and can trigger a relapse.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe to potentially life-threatening.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

How to Know If You Need Alcohol Rehab

Talk with your healthcare provider if you think your drinking has become a problem. Consider whether drinking causes conflict in your life, like relationships, school or work, and self-esteem. If the answer is yes, you may benefit from treatment.

What to Expect From a Detox Program 

While some people may decide to quit “cold turkey,” it may be helpful to seek additional support from a structured program if you’ve been drinking regularly or to excess. Outpatient, inpatient, and residential treatments have been shown effective and cost-effective compared with no treatment.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Types of Programs

There are two types of alcohol rehab treatment, outpatient and inpatient.

Outpatient Programs

For people with mild or moderate alcohol use disorder, outpatient programs offer the following:

  • Medications to help ease symptoms,
  • lab tests to monitor health status,
  • family and individual counseling, and
  • testing or treatment for conditions that may be linked to alcohol use.

They do not offer full-time supervision of withdrawal symptoms, you detox at home.

Inpatient Programs

For people with moderate to severe alcohol use disorder, inpatient programs offer everything from outpatient treatment plus round-the-clock health status monitoring of vitals (blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, etc.) and supervised symptom management.

What Is Residential Treatment?

Residential treatment is a type of inpatient treatment where a person lives onsite in a sober living community.

How to Choose a Program 

Choosing a program comes down to your individual needs and preferences. 

Questions to Ask When Choosing a Rehab Program

There are no wrong questions to ask, but helpful ones include: 

  • What is the price?
  • What is included (i.e., outpatient, inpatient, virtual, or various health services in one location)?
  • What healthcare professionals are available (i.e., therapists, psychiatrists, physicians)?
  • How is success measured?
  • How do they handle relapse?
  • Are there options for follow-up care?

Does Insurance Cover It? 

Insurance may or may not cover alcohol rehab. This is why you’ll likely want to narrow your search to programs that fit within your insurance coverage network. If you’re unsure, consider asking the program coordinator about which insurance companies they work with (if any) and make your decision afterward. 

Tips for Follow-Up Care 

Follow-up care after alcohol rehab is all about helping you build a long-lasting and sustainable sober lifestyle. This may include things like:

  • Attending all appointments and considering a 12-step recovery group like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Seek ongoing recognition, reward, and motivation via habit-tracking apps or sober apps
  • Exercising regularly
  • Staying mindful of relapse warning signs
  • Seeking additional support when necessary


Alcohol detox and alcohol rehab may be necessary if you have an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol detox includes withdrawal symptoms (both physical and emotional). Symptoms vary in severity and duration but typically peak within a few hours or days. Inpatient and outpatient programs and follow-up care can help you get and stay sober from alcohol.

A Word From Verywell 

While alcohol detox and rehab offer clear-cut ways of getting and staying sober, it’s not always so easy. If you love someone with AUD, undiagnosed or diagnosed, please consider reminding them you’re there to support their sober goals no matter how long it takes. This reassurance goes a long way.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD)?

    The best treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the one that works for you. Speaking with your healthcare provider can help you decide what treatment option is best for you.

  • What are the odds of recovering from alcoholism?

    The odds are good. About one-third of people treated for alcohol use problems have no further symptoms of AUD one year later. Many others will significantly reduce their drinking behaviors and also report fewer alcohol-related problems.

  • Does alcohol use disorder have a genetic aspect?

    Yes. If alcoholism runs in the family, you’re more likely to develop a problem than someone without alcoholism in their family.

  • What is the most difficult part of alcohol rehab?

    The most difficult part of alcohol rehab may differ from person to person, but generally, it’s detox. Detox is the process of letting your body entirely rid your system of alcohol, and it is scary. Withdrawal symptoms can trigger a relapse.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol dependence, withdrawal, and relapse.

  3. MedlinePlus. Alcohol withdrawal.

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  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol frequently asked questions.

  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); Office of the Surgeon General (US). Early intervention, treatment, and management of substance use disorders. In: Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services.

  7. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What types of alcohol treatment are available?

  8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol frequently asked questions.  

  9. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment for alcohol problems: finding and getting help.

  10. Weinstock J, Farney MR, Elrod NM, et al. Exercise as an adjunctive treatment for substance use disorders: rationale and intervention description. Journal of substance abuse treatment. 2017;(2):40-47. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2016.09.002

  11. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Genetics of alcohol use disorder

By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.