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Inpatient Alcohol Rehab: How It Works

By Jon McKenna
Medically Reviewed by Nicole Arzt, LMFT on January 13, 2021
Inpatient alcohol rehabilitation treatment – either for a short term or longer period – may offer the best options for helping you recover from alcoholism and avoid relapse in the future.

You have decided your drinking has become a problem that requires professional treatment. If you responded swiftly to warning signs of alcoholism, you may find appropriate care in an outpatient setting like a doctor’s office or a specialty clinic.

But suppose you drank heavily for years, or relapsed after previous treatment. And what if you have a separate medical condition like a heart ailment or you are receiving help for a mental health problem?

In some situations, inpatient alcohol rehabilitation treatment – either for a short term or longer period – may offer the best options for helping you recover and avoid relapse in the future. The most critical factor in evaluating inpatient vs. outpatient alcohol rehab is the level of need for detoxification, Dr. Steven R. Lee, an addiction specialist and program director for outpatient services at US HealthVest’s Ridgeview Institute in Smyrna, Ga, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“Medical detoxification is required for anyone who has been drinking daily over a longer period of time,” Lee says. “To detox on your own in an outpatient setting can be dangerous because the stress on your heart and your whole body can be very serious and even life-threatening. Detox can take three days to a week, depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms and how long you have been drinking.”

How It Works

Inpatient alcohol rehab is sometimes offered by specialty detox and rehab units within general care hospitals, government-run and private psychiatric hospitals, and independent alcohol rehab centers. These providers offer constant access to medical professionals and treatment specialists. An inpatient rehab program is usually run on a strict schedule of therapy and counseling sessions, medical check-ups, activities, and meals.

There are two primary types of inpatient alcohol rehab facilities that a doctor may recommend, based on your age, physical and mental health, and financial circumstances:

  • Residential rehab, typically for 30 to 90 days. You are required to stay on-site throughout. The first part of your stay may be devoted to a detoxification regimen, and then treatment shifts to therapies to maintain sobriety for the long term.

  • Partial hospitalization, which is a hybrid of inpatient and outpatient treatment. Following detox, you may spend four to eight hours each day at the center and then return home at night, although you will be monitored there for relapse signals and withdrawal symptoms.

Also, you can choose from short-term and long-term options for inpatient treatment, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The duration really depends on the severity of any physical and cognitive problems you may encounter after a few days of withdrawal,” Lee says..

Once you have completed the inpatient alcohol rehab program, the staff likely will recommend you attend meetings of a support organization like Alcoholics Anonymous and/or meet periodically with an alcohol counselor.

Benefits of Inpatient Alcohol Rehab

If challenges of affordability and insurance coverage, and pressures from family and work responsibilities are manageable, a Princeton University case study points to these potential benefits from inpatient alcohol rehab:

  • More favorable long-term sobriety success rates than outpatient programs
  • 24-hour support for your medical and psychological needs
  • Resources to treat serious alcohol addiction
  • On-site staff to support withdrawal symptoms
  • Elimination of distractions from daily life

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

WebMD Connect to Care advisors are standing by to answer any questions you may have about alcoholism treatment.

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