If your loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, you may be considering enrolling them in alcohol rehab. For many individuals suffering from addiction, the thought of entering rehab can be terrifying. Usually, however, this is due to the fact that they’re unsure of what actually happens in alcohol rehab. If you want to help ease their fears about entering treatment, educate yourself about the alcohol rehab process and relay this information to your loved one while also letting them know that, with professional help, recovery is possible.


For the majority of people entering alcohol rehab, the first stage of treatment is what is known as detoxification or “detox”. During the detox process, the individual seeking treatment will stop drinking and allow the body to completely rid itself of alcohol and any other abused substances. As with many drugs, when an alcoholic stops drinking, they will most likely experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

If your loved one is entering an inpatient alcohol rehab, they will most likely detox in a controlled environment with medical care and round the clock supervision. Individuals entering outpatient alcohol rehab typically have the option to either detox at home or, if more supervision and medical care is needed, undergo the process at a hospital or detox center.

Since some alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life threatening, it’s important to talk with your loved one’s physician before detoxing begins. While some individuals can detox safely from alcohol at home, those struggling with long-term addiction or who have a co-occuring health problem may be advised to undergo alcohol detox with medical supervision. A doctor or other trusted healthcare professional can help you decide what would be best for your loved one.

Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal occurs in three stages with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Since the intensity of withdrawal symptoms largely depends on the severity of the individual’s addiction and amount of alcohol normally consumed, not every person in the detox process will experience all three stages. However, being aware of all three stages is important since, as mentioned previously, some severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life threatening.

Stage One

Individuals typically begin to experience stage one alcohol withdrawal symptoms within eight to twelve hours after stopping alcohol use. Although these symptoms may be uncomfortable, they are typically not life threatening. Stage one withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Hand tremors
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Troubled sleep

Stage Two

After twelve to twenty-four hours, individuals may start to experience stage two symptoms. These symptoms may come on quickly, are typically more severe than stage one symptoms, and can last for one to three days. Stage two withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Irritability
  • Mental confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating

Stage Three or Delirium Tremens

Up to 5% of people undergoing alcohol withdrawal may experience what is called Delirium Tremens (or DTs). DTs can come on suddenly and tend to occur within 48 to 72 hours after alcohol use has ceased. Since Delirium Tremens can be life threatening, anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention. Keep in mind that DTs can come on quickly and without warning. Consequently, if your loved one is detoxing from alcohol at home, they should be monitored closely and watched for symptoms of DTs. If your loved one is detoxing at an inpatient alcohol rehab, ask what their protocol is if DTs should occur. Symptoms of Delirium Tremens can include:

  • Agitation
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • High fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion
  • Shallow breathing
  • Tremors

Post-Acute Alcohol Withdrawal

After an individual completes detox, they may still experience what are known as post-acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms (or PAWS). These symptoms are largely psychological and can be managed with many treatment modalities typically used in alcohol rehab, including medication, behavioral therapy, and counseling. Post-acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Alcohol cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood swings
  • Problems concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trouble sleeping

Medication Assisted Treatment

While in alcohol rehab, your loved one may be prescribed medications that can help ease symptoms of withdrawal, alcohol cravings, and anxiety. This is known as Medication Assisted Treatment or MAT. MAT is used in combination with behavioral therapy and counseling to encourage continued abstinence from alcohol and help individuals make it through the withdrawal process more comfortably. Medications used in the treatment of alcoholism include:


Acamprosate helps restore the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain damaged by alcohol abuse, which can help with alcohol cravings.


Disulfiram disrupts the body’s ability to process alcohol. Consuming alcohol while taking this medication will cause the user to either feel sick or vomit, which can help deter alcoholics from drinking.


Naltrexone blocks the feelings of intoxication produced by alcohol, which can decrease a person’s desire to drink.


Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, which can all be symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. As benzodiazepines are highly addictive substances, users should be monitored closely by a physician while taking this medication.

Alcohol Rehab Treatment Modalities

For the large majority of alcohol rehabs, behavioral therapy and counseling are the crux of the treatment program. However, since recovering from addiction is more than just about abstaining from alcohol, reputable rehab programs should offer a large range of treatment modalities that can not only help modify an individual’s behavior but also increase social support, repair family dynamics, strengthen self image, and teach the affected individual life skills that will allow them to eventually hold down a job or complete school. Some treatment modalities to look for in alcohol rehab programs include:

  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Couples therapy
  • 12-Step groups
  • 12-Step-Alternatives
  • Medication management
  • Psychiatric care
  • Life skills training
  • Case management
  • Educational resources
  • Career/Educational goal setting
  • Group outings
  • Mentorship and social support
  • Mindfulness training
  • Spiritual guidance
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Fitness and nutrition training

Keep in mind, every individual is coming to alcohol rehab under different circumstances. Consequently, while researching alcohol rehabs, consider what treatment modalities you think will be most important to helping your loved achieve long-term success.

Aftercare Planning

For most individuals suffering from alcoholism, completing an inpatient or outpatient alcohol rehab program is only the first step on the road to recovery. In fact, without proper support measures in place, it’s incredibly easy for a recovering alcoholic to relapse once they leave rehab, especially in the first year outside of treatment. This is why many people who have completed rehab continue to participate in what is known as aftercare.

Aftercare programs typically involve participating in groups or partnerships that promote continued support and accountability for an individual outside of alcohol rehab. These programs tend to be individually curated and can help your loved one maintain their sobriety and receive support during challenging times, holidays, or stressful events when they otherwise would have turned to alcohol.

Most alcohol rehabs offer aftercare planning services during treatment so that your loved has a support plan in place before they graduate from the rehab program. As mentioned previously, each individual will have personal aftercare needs. Some examples of aftercare include:

Sober housing

Sober housing can be a series of apartments or a large group home specifically designed for sober individuals who are committed to the recovery process. These homes typically offer more freedom than an inpatient rehab facility, but still provide accountability and supervision to help prevent relapse. If it’s determined that your loved one will need sober housing after rehab, be sure to research options early, as many reputable sober living homes have waitlists.

Sober mentorship

Sober mentors are professionals, that typically have undergone rehab themselves, who can be hired to provide accountability and support to a person new to the recovery process. They may confirm attendance at school, work or therapy, relay any necessary information to parents or family members, monitor personal hygiene and self-care, serve as a sober companion at events, and make sure your loved one is taking any required medication. If your friend or family member would benefit from a sober mentor, ask their rehab facility for trusted recommendations.

12-Step or 12-Step-Alternative Groups

Many alcohol rehabs include 12-Step or 12-Step-Alternative meetings as part of their recovery programs. Once your loved one leaves rehab, however, they can continue to be a part of these support groups, as many of them have meetings worldwide. Many people are familiar with the 12-Step group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but for those who prefer a secular approach, there are 12-Step-Alternatives such as:

  • SMART Recovery
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
  • LifeRing
  • Women for Sobriety (WFS)

Some alcohol rehabs offer 12-Step or 12-Step-Alternative groups to rehab alumni members. However, if your loved one needs to find a new place to attend meetings, make sure locations and meeting times are researched in advance for an easy transition.

Alcohol rehab alumni groups

Some alcohol rehabs have alumni groups meant to foster community and continue to support individuals who have undergone treatment at their facility. Although every alumni group is different, many offer:

  • Holiday gatherings
  • Alumni outings
  • Speaking opportunities
  • Mentorship programs
  • 12-Step groups
  • And more

When researching alcohol rehabs for your loved one, be sure to ask if they have an alumni group and what services they offer.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 310.403.1032 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.