What to Expect in Rehab?

Going to rehab for alcohol or drug addiction is a big step, and it can be scary. In fact, the prospect of entering into treatment is enough to prevent a lot of people from getting the help they need. Knowing what happens at rehab can make it a little easier. As you find out more about rehab, you’ll understand who needs it, what to expect, and which types of rehab available to you. This information can help you feel confident about taking this next important step toward recovery.

What Happens in Rehab - Group of people sitting on a couch talking to a therapist during rehab.

Who Needs to Go to Rehab?

Rehab for a substance use disorder is necessary when your alcohol or drug use has gotten out of control — that is the telltale sign of a substance use disorder, the term that mental health experts use to describe an addiction. When you can no longer make the changes you know you should for your health and well-being, professional treatment is the next step. How do you know if you have a drug or alcohol addiction? Experts in addiction and mental health use eleven criteria to diagnose substance use disorders. If you can relate to some of these, you may have an addiction:

  • You know you should stop or reduce substance use, but despite numerous attempts you’re not able to cut back.
  • You regularly use more, or drink more than you intended.
  • You’re spending a lot of time using drugs or drinking, or recovering from using.
  • Relationships with those you care about are suffering because of your habit, but it doesn’t stop you.
  • You aren’t keeping up with responsibilities.
  • You have given up time for other activities to spend more time using.
  • More than once you have used drugs or alcohol in a dangerous situation.
  • Alcohol or drugs are causing health problems—mental or physical—but they don’t stop you from using.
  • When not using you experience intense cravings for drugs or alcohol.
  • You have developed a tolerance and need to use more of a substance to get the same effect you did in the past.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when not using.

Drug or alcohol use that is overtaking your life is problematic. You can benefit from rehab, where addiction professionals will provide you with a treatment plant to help you quit and learn to live a sober life after care.

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What Happens in Rehab? – Step-by-Step

Rehab stands for rehabilitation. It refers to comprehensive treatment for a substance use disorder, which may include therapy, medical care, alternative therapies and medicine, wellness and lifestyle changes, vocational training, group support and other strategies to help you learn how to live without drugs or alcohol.

While rehab usually refers to treatment in an inpatient or residential center — which may last a couple weeks to six months or longer —  it can also include outpatient care. Inpatient rehab is a typical choice for individuals struggling with addiction because it provides a safe, structured environment in which to focus on treatment. What happens in rehab can be different based on where you choose to get treatment. Treatment centers vary in how they work, but generally, you’ll follow a few steps as you enter and progress through rehab:

1. Finding a treatment center and preparing. The first step in getting treatment in rehab is to make the decision to get help, but then you’ll have to choose a facility. Knowing what happens in rehab before you go is important. Consider practical factors, like cost, your insurance coverage, and location, but also visit a few facilities and choose one that feels right to you. Once you enroll the staff will tell you how to get ready and what to pack.

2. Going through intake. Arriving at rehab, you will go through an intake process that includes paperwork and an assessment of your needs, first by a trained nurse or therapist and then by a physician. Many facilities will include a mental health evaluation so that any mental illnesses and be diagnosed and addressed during treatment. It is common to have both a substance use disorder and one or more mental health conditions.

3.  Developing a treatment plan. With your assessment complete, the staff can develop a treatment plan specific to your needs. While the staff is likely to encourage your participation in creating this plan, be sure to let your preferences be known and to ask that you be allowed to have some input.

4. Participating in therapy. The most fundamental and important part of treatment in rehab is therapy. You can expect to spend time most days working with a therapist one-on-one. Behavioral therapies, which help you make positive changes in your life, and group therapy and support, are most often used in addiction treatment.

5.  Interacting with the community. Working with others is a big part of life in rehab. You will be living with other people who have similar experiences and struggles. The environment is one of a community of mutual support. Following the facility rules, respecting other residents, and actively participating will help you make the most of your stay.

6.  Relapse prevention and preparing for the future. The ultimate goal of rehab is to prepare you for your life after treatment. A big focus of care will be on relapse prevention. You’ll learn coping strategies and lifestyle changes to avoid triggers and using again. You will also develop a plan in the event you do relapse, so you know what to do next.

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What is Rehab Like for Drugs?

The above steps apply to most drug rehab facilities. Be prepared for what happens in rehab. You can expect there to be strict rules, which can be difficult to adjust to at first. Remember that the rules are there to keep residents safe and to model appropriate limits for when you leave treatment. For instance, there are usually rules against romantic interactions between residents, violence or threats, and you may have to undergo regular drug testing. Depending on which drugs you have been using, medications may be a big part of treatment.

What is Rehab Like for Alcohol?

Alcohol rehab is very similar to drug rehab, and most facilities are equipped to treat both alcohol and drug addiction. There are rules, other residents and regular therapy sessions. Alcohol use disorder can take a serious toll on physical health, so you can expect there to be a major focus on medical treatment, diet and nutrition, exercise and overall wellness.

What is Detox Like in Rehab?

Detox, short for detoxification, is the process of eliminating harmful substances from the body. Successful detox is necessary for severe alcohol or drug problems, especially if they involve alcohol, opioids or sedatives. The withdrawal from these substances can cause severe physical symptoms and can even be life-threatening. If your drug use did not involve one of those substances, your rehab may expect you to quit substances right away, while others allow you to gradually reduce intake.

Regardless of the substance, detox is not likely to be an easy process. You will experience unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms as your brain and body attempt to adjust. Medical detox can relief from withdrawal symptoms to help you feel a little more comfortable as you start your recovery efforts.

What is Inpatient Drug Rehab Like?

Inpatient rehab is, generally speaking, the same as residential treatment. If you choose a facility that requires you to live onsite, you will be going through inpatient rehab. The duration of your stay depends on many factors: how severe your addiction is, the cost, programs that the facility offers, and what your insurance will cover. Research suggests that treatment for at least three months is most effective in managing addiction.

Outpatient Alcohol Treatment – What to Expect

Residential rehab is not for everyone. There are several reasons why you may prefer to stay at home and receive treatment on an outpatient basis: family, domestic responsibilities, work limitations, or you may simply feel more comfortable at home.

Outpatient care may include a few therapy sessions per week along with medical care, as well as support groups and family therapy. You may also choose to undergo intensive outpatient treatment. This type of care provides a program more similar to what you receive in residential rehab, but you still get to stay at home. Intensive outpatient programs usually include various types of therapy and treatment for a few hours a day most days per week.

What happens in rehab varies by facility, but in general includes an assessment of your needs, therapy, medical care, relapse prevention, and social support. You can expect for rehab to be challenging —  but ultimately rewarding —  as you learn to live a better life without drugs or alcohol.

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If you or someone you know needs help with substance abuse Find Addiction Rehabs is here to help. Call anytime 7 days a week 24 hours a day.

Hasin, D. S., O’Brien, C. P., Auriacombe, M., Borges, G., Bucholz, et al. (2013). DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: recommendations and rationale. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 170(8), 834–851.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2017). Dual Diagnosis.

Mayo Clinic. (2017). Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder).

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

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).