What Is Rehab for Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

Hint: It's More Than Detoxification

Waiting Room
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As you probably know, “rehab” is short for “rehabilitation.” In terms of recovering from addiction to alcohol or illegal drugs, rehab starts with detoxification (getting the abused substance out of your body) and continues through several phases of treatment until you can live a normal, healthy life with little or no professional support.

Generally speaking, rehab phases include:

  • Detoxification
  • Inpatient or outpatient treatment at a professional facility
  • Treatment with all appropriate people and methods, including doctors, counselors, medications, and behavioral therapy

What Are the Goals of Rehab for Drug Addiction?

They sound simple:

  • Stop using drugs or drinking unhealthfully (or both).
  • Stay drug-free.
  • Be productive in ways that benefit yourself, your family, your work, and your community.

Of course, they aren’t simple at all. People with addictions can’t just stop “using” for several days or a week or two and that’s it. Rehab is a long-term process, and it doesn’t always work the first time. Repeated rehab efforts may be needed before someone who’s addicted achieves all three goals.

How Is Drug Addiction Treated in Rehab?

To be successful, drug-addiction rehab should include medical and mental health services provided in a personalized treatment program with coordinated follow-up care.

If you enter a drug-addiction rehab program, you can expect to experience:

Medically Assisted Detoxification (“Detox”). Expect to receive medications to help you manage your drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Keep in mind that detox by itself is not all there is to rehab. In fact, most patients who only undergo detox treatment go back to their addictive behavior.

Treatment With Medications for Relapse Prevention. If you’ve been addicted to drugs or alcohol for a long time, your brain will need help to function normally again and send fewer “craving” signals.

If you’re addicted to two or more drugs of abuse, you’ll need relapse medication for each of them.

Treatment With Medications for Other Conditions. In addition to your drug or alcohol addiction, you may have a treatable mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. Treating it to lighten or stabilize your mood may also help you “stay with” your addiction rehab program.

Treatment With Behavioral Therapies. This type of treatment (for example, cognitive-behavioral therapy) can be given in a number of inpatient and outpatient settings. It may be intensive at the start, requiring you to attend sessions a number of times weekly. Later, you may attend fewer sessions with the goal of supporting your recovery.

Behavior therapy is designed to help you:

  • Make positive changes in 1) your attitude about your addiction and 2) your addiction-related behaviors
  • Build healthy skills for living
  • Continue with your other forms of treatment, such as taking your medication

“What can rehab do to help me after I resume my normal life?”

Going back to the places where you lived, worked, and socialized while addicted is a major challenge. That’s why rehab programs emphasize the importance of staying in treatment long enough to feel confident that you can take care of yourself and avoid re-addiction after you leave.

Rehab also includes follow-up care, which may include, for example, attending regular behavioral counseling sessions or, for people addicted to alcohol, going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. (Programs based on the AA model are available for people recovering from other drug addictions.)

“What else should I know?”

Stay in touch with the people in your support system. Your rehab program should include a list of contact information for people you can call if you find yourself at risk for relapsing back into your addiction.


“DrugFacts: treatment approaches for drug addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health (2016).

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