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Alcohol Detox .v. Rehab: Key Distinctions

Alcohol detox does not mean the same thing as an alcohol rehab.

Alcohol detox does not mean the same thing as an alcohol rehab. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are crucial distinctions. Let’s take a closer look.

What is Alcohol Rehab?

The term “alcohol rehab” means the comprehensive method used to transition a person from being addicted to alcohol to a person not addicted to alcohol. The goal of alcohol rehabilitation is to help you unlearn your destructive addiction to alcohol. It is a journey, not a sprint.

When you enter an alcohol rehab facility, the first step is “Assessment”. Usually, health care providers give you tests to determine what kind of treatment you need. These tests include a blood test, a physical exam, and answering some questionnaires. When the assessment is done properly, it can answer the question, “What will be the most effective way for me to transition from being alcohol dependent on being sober?” After the assessment is done, a treatment plan is formed.

Detox is the next step of alcohol rehab.

In treating addiction, there are three major phases:

  1. Detoxification
  2. Rehabilitation
  3. Maintenance

Without going through detox, you cannot proceed to the next level.

Alcohol detox is done to remove toxins accumulated in the body because of your dependence on alcohol. It is also called “medically assisted detox”. Drugs used medically assisted alcohol detox are:

  • Benzodiazepines such as diazepam and lorazepam, or chlordiazepoxide
  • Anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine and valproic acid
  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram

When you became dependent on alcohol, your body learned to function at a normal level when there is alcohol. Now that you have quit using alcohol, your body will need to adjust to the absence of it.  Here are some withdrawal symptoms you may experience:

  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach upsets
  • Heart palpitations

Because unlearning alcohol addiction is a behavioral and mental process, you may also experience the following.

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to concentrate or think clearly
  • Having a hard time speaking

Additionally, some people may have severe symptoms such as:

  • Disorientation (not knowing where you are and what time it is)
  • Hallucinations (seeing things that are not actually present)
  • Delirium (having confusing thoughts and illusions)
  • Seizures

Some people also experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS. If you have PAWS, you may experience some of the initial withdrawal symptoms for a few months. This could be quite uncomfortable.

Alcohol detox is not easy. It is best if you have support and help from professionals who will be there to help, especially if your withdrawal symptoms are intense.

Alcohol detox lasts about one week. The first few days are the most difficult, but by the end of the week, you will begin to feel better.

Here is a helpful video about alcohol detox by Chris Scott of Fit Recovery Youtube Channel:

After detox, you can proceed to the alcohol rehabilitation phase, or simply put, “alcohol rehab”.

In this phase, you can choose to stay in a rehab facility, this is called “Inpatient rehab”. You can choose to do rehab outside a treatment facility, this is called “outpatient rehab”.

Note: It is important to understand that joining 12 Steps or AA programs are not considered Outpatient Rehab. These are support programs that help you in your recovery process.

Here is a helpful video explaining what role 12 Step or AA programs are in Alcohol Addiction recovery.

Outpatient Rehab

If alcohol addiction is detected at moderate stage, the recommendation is often to take up outpatient rehab after the alcohol detox process. In outpatient rehab, you can still live and work as usual. Generally, there are two types:

A flexible program, where you will be asked to visit the clinic times several times a week, or

A more intensive program sometimes called a “Day Program” where the sessions last a whole day, but you can go home after the program.

Outpatient rehab is recommended for people who have a stable home environment that will support their healing process. Some programs invite family members to join the rehabilitation process—since the environment plays a big part in getting better, this is an advantage.

However, in situations when alcohol addiction is severe or you have difficulty finding support at home, you may want to consider inpatient rehab. 

Inpatient Rehab

Once you opt for inpatient rehab, you will be supported 24 hours by professional staff. A lot of people who experience inpatient rehab recount how relieving it is to let go and just be honest where they are in terms of their addiction.

In an inpatient situation, recovery is quicker because professionally trained staff help you deal with:

  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Possible triggers
  • The hassles if daily life

You do not need to think about how to go to the facility, what to eat, what to wear and so on. There is a standard program which you have to follow. In a typical day in the facility, you will be joining therapy sessions and classes. These are structured activities. Meals and snacks are also scheduled.

The time you stay in the facility may vary. There are facilities that run 28, 56, and 84-day programs. In some places, a middle road to inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab is offered. This is called “Partial Hospitalization”. In this set-up, you have to attend structured daily sessions, but you are allowed to go home when they are over.

In some instances, there are facilities that offer Alcohol Detox first before Alcohol Rehabilitation (Inpatient or Outpatient). It is necessary to know that drug facilities offer different kinds of services. Finding one that suits your individual needs is key to alcohol addiction recovery.

We all have different paths towards success. Working with supportive people in the most supportive environment will hasten your healing process.

You always have a choice. Whether you start with alcohol detox first or go for full treatment, it is up to you. Choose the best option for yourself.

As Melany Whelan, CEO of SoulCycle says, “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. There is tremendous power in loving ourselves exactly how we are and showing vulnerability.” Only after accepting ourselves and accepting we need help can we move on and progress.

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