Alcohol addiction, or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to drink. It affects a lot of people in the United States alone. AUD does not only affect adults, but adolescent children as well. Based on data from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a staggering 15 million people aged 12 and over are suffering from AUD.
If you have AUD and want to live a normal life again, the best way to go is alcohol rehab. But you may be wondering if it’s really effective, especially that there are patients who relapse, or go back to their old drinking habits.
How effective is alcohol rehab? Read on to find out more.
What happens during alcohol rehab?
Alcohol rehab comprises many steps and different therapies to curb AUD. First of all, a doctor or addiction professional will assess your situation. They will find out how severe your AUD is, how long you’ve been suffering from it, and what its effects are on you. With that information, they can create a plan of care tailor fit to your case.
After a treatment plan is established, this is when the actual rehab process begins. The first step usually involves medically assisted detox. Here, doctors will help you rid your body of all traces of alcohol. Eventually, you will be able to abstain from drinking altogether.
One aspect of detox is managing withdrawal symptoms. These usually show up when you have AUD and suddenly stop drinking. As your body adjusts to the absence of alcohol, you would feel uncomfortable symptoms like:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hand tremors
During detox, doctors may give you certain medications to help you manage withdrawal. Also, they can prescribe drugs that discourage you from drinking, like naltrexone. This drug removes the pleasurable feelings you get from alcohol. With the rewarding sensations out of the way, you will have no motivation to drink anymore.
After detox, you will go through different behavioral therapies, such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These will address the aspects of AUD that have affected your mind and emotions. Through these therapies, you will be able to unlearn bad habits and create new, healthy habits. You will also learn how to cope with stress and negativity in better ways, so you don’t immediately resort to alcohol.
Alcohol rehab can be either inpatient or outpatient, depending on your needs. If your case of AUD is more severe, your doctor will recommend that you go to inpatient rehab. Here, you will live inside a rehab center for a few months until your rehab program is over. The rehab center is a safe environment that does not have anything that will trigger you to drink. You’ll be in the company of others also battling AUD, as well as mental health professionals who look out for you round the clock. If there is anything you need, you can get help immediately at any time.
Inpatient rehab will also help you develop healthy habits while inside the center. You will be exposed to a strict daily routine, with activities like therapy sessions, recreation, and socialization. This may be daunting at first, but when you get used to it, the routine will help you get back into the rhythm of sober life.
After your rehab program is over, you will need follow-up therapies as well. This is called aftercare, and it is crucial in preventing relapse. Whenever you encounter challenges or drinking triggers, you can talk to a counselor or therapist right away to get advice on how to keep sober.
Do patients stay sober for a long time after alcohol rehab?
In reality, the statistics are less exciting. Only about 20% of patients stay sober for a full year after alcohol rehab. That means around 80% experience relapse within a year. So does that mean alcohol rehab is not effective?
Not exactly. A common misconception is when patients relapse, their recovery programs have failed. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, relapse is now recognized as part of the recovery process. It’s more like an obstacle than an indicator of failure.
If you relapse, you’re not back to square one. Let’s say you spent three months inside a rehab facility. Relapse doesn’t mean you have to go through the entire rehab process from the beginning again. You just have to go through therapies to help get your mind off of alcohol.
Come to think of it, you have already made significant progress in your recovery once you’ve completed rehab. Relapse is like making a small mistake along the way. Mistakes can be corrected, so it isn’t a sign of failure.
If, after corrective action, you manage to remain sober for longer, that’s a good sign. The longer you stay alcohol-free, the less likely you would be to relapse.
How can alcohol rehab be made more effective?
One of the biggest reasons for the high rate of relapse is a lack of dual diagnosis. Often, AUD is coupled with mental health issues like anxiety or depression. Both AUD and the associated mental health issue must be treated, not just one of them.
To address this problem, do your research and find a rehab center that has reliable dual diagnosis services. You never know if you have an underlying mental health issue aside from AUD.
Some rehab centers suffer from a lack of qualified staff. For rehab to be successful, the people administering it must be competent. They must be licensed addiction professionals who specialize in dealing with cases like AUD. If not, the staff are ill equipped to help people struggling with AUD to recover.
Rehab should also not be limited to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. Though AA is popular among those battling AUD, it is not the only way to recovery. It should be coupled with evidence-based therapies like CBT and others.
Finally, aftercare should be emphasized. It can effectively reduce the chances of relapse for every patient who has gone through alcohol rehab.