How Do I Know when I Need Alcohol Rehab?

Alcohol rehab, or rehabilitation, is a treatment model used to help people recover from both alcoholism and non-addicted alcohol abuse. Participants in rehab typically stop drinking and go through a detoxification (detox) process that marks the start of the road to recovery. Not all people who consume alcohol on a regular basis need help. However, if you drink frequently and/or in large amounts, you may develop problems that make you a candidate for an alcohol rehabilitation program.

Do I Need Alcohol Rehab - Man sits alone on his couch drinking alcohol from the bottle. He should go to alcohol rehab to get better.

Signs That You May Need Help

Like all addictions, alcohol addiction creates an unconscious drive to not face life’s difficult realities. One way of confronting this problem is to ask yourself a straightforward question: “Do I need alcohol detox and rehab?” Asking this allows you to make a more realistic self-assessment so that you can determine, along with supportive friends and family, if you may need help to treat alcohol addiction.

When you seek your answer, you’ll have plenty of verified, expert information to draw upon. As a rule, people in need of rehabilitation have a diagnosable case of something called alcohol use disorder, or AUD. AUD can negatively impact your life in a variety of ways. You may be affected by it if you do such things as:

  • Regularly devote much of your day to consuming alcohol or recovering from drinking bouts
  • Have a pattern of failing to control when or how much you drink
  • Experience problems at home, at work or at school that stem from drinking or its aftermath
  • Make alcohol consumption a priority over other activities you once enjoyed or preferred
  • Keep drinking even though your behavior damages your most important relationships
  • Keep drinking even though it makes you feel physically or mentally unwell
  • Find yourself consuming more and more alcohol in order to experience its effects
  • Repeatedly drink while driving or doing other things that could pose a danger to yourself or others
  • Feel a strong urge to consume alcohol when not actively drinking
  • Feel unable to cut back on your intake or stop drinking altogether
  • Experience restlessness, sleep disruption, anxiety or other withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking or reduce your level of intake

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Your doctor may diagnose alcohol use disorder if you experience two or more of these symptoms within a year’s time. AUD comes in mild, moderate and severe forms, and the more symptoms you have, the more severe the condition.

Other factors may also alert you to the potential presence of a problem. For example, you may develop a habit of drinking more alcohol than experts recommend. For men, the maximum recommended amount is four servings of alcohol on any given day and no more than 14 total servings per week. The maximum recommended intake for women is no more than three servings on a given day, and no more than seven total servings a week. This difference between sexes stems from many factors, making women’s average blood alcohol concentration higher (compared to men) for the same amount of alcohol consumed.

You’re not necessarily at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder if your consumption exceeds these numbers every once in a while. However, you will increase your risks if you make excessive intake a regular feature of your routine. You should also be aware that a small percentage of people who never drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol still develop diagnosable drinking problems, due to factors like genetic risk and how the bodies of these individuals metabolize alcohol. Among other things, this means that you can’t use your intake level as your only guide.

Do I Need Alcohol Rehab, Is It Time to Take Action?

The next question on your mind may be when to go to rehab. If you suspect you have a drinking problem, you may want to begin by consulting your primary care physician for advice and assistance. With your help, your doctor can take a full history of your alcohol use, check on current symptoms and make a recommendation for next steps.

If you’re on the fence about seeking outside help to reduce drinking, you can take a “should I go to therapy” quiz. Reputable resources like the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) make such quizzes available to the public in online form. Some questionnaires may ask you to describe your normal drinking pattern, then assess your level of risk based on your responses. Others may ask you if you have specific symptoms of alcohol use disorder.

Only doctors have the expertise needed to officially diagnose alcohol use disorder. If they see evidence of a serious problem, they can make such a diagnosis and refer you to the appropriate type of rehab program. If the results of an online quiz suggest the presence of alcohol abuse or alcoholism, discuss the outcome with your doctor. Further testing can then clarify the situation and identify any need for additional action.

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Why Take Part in a Rehab Program?

If you have a drinking problem, you may still ask yourself, why go to rehab? Is there any kind of alcohol treatment that will actually help me get better? The straightforward answer to that question is yes. Every day, people all across the country benefit from an alcohol rehab program that meets their needs.

Alcohol use disorders are chronic medical conditions, and have similar treatment models. For example, inpatient rehabilitation functions for substance use disorders the same way that hospitals do for other medical conditions like congestive heart failure. The success rates for treating alcohol use disorders is about the same as it is for most other chronic medical conditions.

The NIAAA reports that about 33 percent of all Americans who go to rehab for excessive drinking are symptom-free within a year after beginning treatment. Many more rehab participants still drink to some extent, but reduce the severity of their problems and experience less alcohol-related harm.

Rehab can be helpful for anyone, regardless of the seriousness of their AUD symptoms. Those with milder forms of AUD often benefit from outpatient rehab when it is available. People with more severe cases of the condition, or those with co-occurring mental health conditions, often receive more intensive therapy.

 Where Do You Go?

So, where to go to get help for alcoholism or alcohol abuse? This is an important question, since a successful recovery can depend on getting assistance in the right rehab environment. Broadly speaking, there are four possible settings for effective alcohol rehab:

  • An outpatient care program
  • An intensive outpatient care program
  • A partial hospitalization program
  • An inpatient or residential care program

Outpatient programs are intended for people with relatively mild problems. They allow you to live at home while making scheduled visits to a facility for assessment and treatment. People in intensive outpatient programs require a somewhat greater level of care, but still live at home at least part of the time. People who take part in inpatient rehab tend to have more serious problems. They may live at a treatment facility for the duration of their program and have increased access to medical and mental health services. Intensive inpatient care is a 24/7 live-in approach with round-the-clock available care. It is the best option for individuals who require ongoing medical assistance while going through the rehab process.

Your doctor will help determine which level of care is right for your situation, using criteria that has been developed by experts in addiction. When enrolling in a rehab program, you will also undergo further assessment by addiction specialists. These specialists use the information they gather to create a course of treatment that maximizes your potential for success.

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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016) Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Science Says.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. FAQs: Searching for Alcohol Treatment.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Rethinking Drinking: What’s Low-Risk Drinking?

Baraona, E. , Abittan, C. S., Dohmen, K. , Moretti, M. , Pozzato, G. , Chayes, Z. W., Schaefer, C. and Lieber, C. S. (2001). Gender Differences in Pharmacokinetics of Alcohol. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 25: 502-507.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Rethinking Drinking: What’s Your Pattern?

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.

American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2015) What are the ASAM Levels of Care?