Alcohol and Drug Recovery Programs

For those overcoming substance abuse, alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs are often the foundation upon which solid and lasting sobriety is built. They provide both the physical and mental support needed to stop drug and alcohol addiction, as well as resources for ongoing guidance and assistance.

In addition to help with drug and alcohol detox and withdrawal, rehab centers are also structured to help those in recovery recognize and address the underlying causes of drug or alcohol addiction, with resources like counseling and addiction therapy. They also often introduce and get people connected to support groups like 12-step groups (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), which can provide ongoing, long-term support to recovering alcohol and drug addicts.

Programs for Drug and Alcohol Abuse

True drug and alcohol rehabilitation is a process, and rehab centers are an ideal place to start. However, it's important to understand that recovery is ongoing, and doesn't stop when structured programs at a drug and alcohol rehab facilities end. Things like continuing therapy, attending support groups, and actively maintaining a healthy lifestyle are essential in terms of continued sobriety.

What are the most common recovery programs?

The two primary kinds of comprehensive drug rehab or alcohol rehab programs are inpatient and outpatient programs.

Inpatient drug rehab and alcohol rehab programs are customarily associated with licensed addiction recovery centers. Care provided at rehab facilities like these is 24/7, and involves medical professionals as well as mental health professionals.

Those at inpatient substance abuse treatment centers are well supported by a cadre of individuals whose main goal is to create a nurturing and healing environment to those who most need it. Patients are fed, housed, and able to take on substance abuse treatment in a calm setting. Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction can be an arduous process, both physically and mentally, and compassionate care goes a long way to easing suffering and setting people up for success.

Inpatient rehab programs are generally available in 28-, 60, or 90-day cycles, with the opportunity to extend care if needed and/or recommended by therapists and other rehab experts. Upscale and luxury residential inpatient drug rehab and alcohol rehab programs are also available, which offer the same type of care in beautiful and relaxing settings.

Inpatient rehab centers generally offer the following:

  • Initial and often ongoing psychiatric evaluation
  • Medical support, including help with detox and withdrawal (which can be dangerous if not properly monitored) and prescribing and managing needed medications
  • Dual diagnosis care (if the person coming in has any other medical or mental health conditions, these are handled in conjunction with the substance abuse treatment)
  • Addiction therapy, which can include individual, group and family therapy
  • Access to support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous
  • Addiction education on relapse prevention and other coping skills and strategies

A number of inpatient rehab programs can also help patients determine appropriate aftercare, so that patients can continue to get the support they need after leaving the rehab facility itself.

Outpatient Recovery Programs

Outpatient recovery programs offer substance abuse treatment for those who don't live on site (they live at home). Patients in these programs go to the rehab facility or substance abuse treatment center for care, which includes medication, regular check-ins, addiction therapy, and counseling (either one-on-one or in groups).

For some, an intensive residential rehab center may not be the best option. For example, if someone's addiction isn't severe and they want to stay in school or working while they undergo rehabilitation, an outpatient rehab program may be a better fit.

Choosing between inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol rehab should be based on an individual's circumstances. If the person has had serious and ongoing substance abuse issues or has other mental health or medical conditions, it may be best to go to an inpatient rehab center. For others, outpatient rehab is the superior choice.

What other kinds of programs are there?

Real and lasting alcohol and drug rehabilitation involves more than just the initial rehab program. Another strongly recommended piece of the puzzle is ongoing support from a structured support group. Joining such a group may actually take place during one's time at an alcohol or drug rehab center, but then extend beyond it.

Two of the best-known drug and alcohol addiction support groups are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). One of the main advantages of such groups is that everyone involved is a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, so they understand one another on a deep level. It can be hard to describe or relate to friends or family members who don't really "get" drug addiction or alcohol addiction. Support groups like AA and NA provide a safe space for those in recovery, and also give a recovering addict access to new friends and mentors equally as committed to sobriety. Support groups frequently play a critical role in rehab and recovery.

How do support groups work?

Support groups are made up of small groups of recovering alcohol or drug addicts who meet on a regular basis to receive and give support to one another. Meetings are run either by a licensed therapist, or "sponsors" (mentors) who have proven themselves capable of long-term sobriety.

12-step programs such as AA and NA are some of the most prevalent drug and alcohol addiction recovery support programs. They are based on 12 fundamental steps a recovering alcohol or drug addict can go through to support and advance their recovery. One of the steps involves reliance on a higher power, which gives the programs a spiritual element.

There are over 50,000 active AA groups and alcohol addiction recovery programs in the U.S., with support groups that are either open or closed. Open meetings allow any recovering addict to attend, in addition to his or her family members. Closed meetings allow only recovering addicts. The groups encourage members to come to meetings on a regular basis and to seek out an official AA sponsor - a role model who has successfully stayed sober for a long period of time, and who can act as a mentor, friend, and counselor.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) has a similar structure and focus to AA. As described in their handbook, "NA is a nonprofit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem. We … meet regularly to help each other stay clean. ... We are not interested in what or how much you used ... but only in what you want to do about your problem and how we can help". More specific drug addict 12-step programs include Cocaine Anonymous and Heroin Anonymous.

Other support groups include secular organizations that offer an alternative to 12-step programs. These can be helpful for those who want support but don't feel comfortable with a focus on a higher power. Such groups tend to focus on behavioral shifts as the major element of drug and alcoholism treatment. They also often require less personal sharing, which is preferable for some recovering addicts who don't want to share intimate details of their lives in group settings.

Examples include:

  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS). SOS cites the individual recovering drug or alcohol addict as the source of sobriety, rather than a higher power. SOS underscores scientific knowledge and clear communication as the foundations of sobriety, and seeks to separate recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction from religion/spirituality.
  • Rational Recovery (RR). Another secular recovery program, RR teaches Addictive Voice Recognition Techniques, which help recovering alcohol and drug addicts recognize and regulate their own "Addictive Voice". According to RR, your Addictive Voice is any thought or feeling that advocates for substance abuse, and the goal is to learn to notice, observe, and ultimately reject it. Unlike other drug and alcohol addiction recovery programs, RR emphasizes learning the techniques, at which point attending RR support groups is not considered necessary.
  • Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery). The major focus of SMART Recovery is on scientific advancements and research in drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation and recovery. SMART Recovery groups emphasize substance abuse treatment that takes advantage of prescription medications as well as psychological treatment to stop addiction and stay sober. Since scientific research and evolution is ongoing, the SMART Recovery program also evolves on a regular basis, and its teachings expand as the field of addiction recovery itself expands.

Is there any support available for the loved ones of those recovering from addiction?

When someone is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, their friends and family are usually struggling, too. Family members and those close to the addict are often deeply impacted by the addiction as well as its aftermath, and it can be just as important for them to get support as it is for the addict.

Because the underlying causes of addiction often involve relationships and interaction between intimate people (i.e. spouses, siblings, parents/children), family therapy is often recommended. Gaining a better understanding of family relationships and dynamics can help both the addict as well as the entire family ecosystem.

Support groups are also available for the loved ones of recovering alcohol and drug addicts. These include:

  • Al-Anon. Similar to AA, Al-Anon is support group specifically for friends and family of individuals suffering from alcoholism. Family members and friends are able to share their personal experiences, discuss difficulties and find effective ways to deal with problems - regardless of whether the person abusing alcohol has completed a substance abuse treatment program.
  • Alateen. Alateen is an offshoot of Al-Anon specifically for younger members (teenagers). The issues affecting this population are often distinct from adults, and Alateen gives them a safe space to share their questions, concerns, and stories with other young people who better understand their situation.
  • Nar-Anon. Like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon offers the friends and family of those struggling with drug addiction the chance to get support and deal with the feelings and concerns that arise from having a loved one struggling with substance abuse. Nar-Anon supports those either actively addicted to or recovering from addiction to drugs like cocaine and heroin, as well as prescription drugs like OxyContin, Valium, Vicodin, Percocet, and more.

Research suggests that human connection is one of the most important elements not only of recovery, but of lasting sobriety. Support groups are an important part of substance abuse treatment precisely because they foster and encourage connection. In other words, it is when we feel loved and supported that we are most able to heal.

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