Substance abuse is a widespread problem in the United States, with an estimated 23 million people needing treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. However, a mere 11% of those who need treatment actually receive it.
For those in treatment programs, alcohol-related disorders accounted for more than 23% of all admissions. Marijuana and heroin were the two most common drug addictions for which people sought treatment help, accounting for about 17% and 14% of treatment admissions, respectively. And still another 18% of people in treatment were there for alcohol abuse combined with treatment for another drug.1
Many wishing to get clean from drugs and alcohol make the decision to undergo substance rehabilitation. An important prerequisite or early step for many rehabilitation programs is to first complete detox. This can take place on an inpatient or outpatient basis, depending on several factors unique to the person (length and severity of the addiction, for instance).
Professional detox is typically an onsite program where the patient lives while getting clean under licensed and experienced supervision. Often these programs feed directly into longer-term inpatient or residential rehab, which serve to treat the underlying causes of the addiction that contributed and maintained it to help prevent relapse upon discharge.
However, for people with relatively less-severe detox needs, and substance use issues, a structured outpatient rehab program may work very well to safely allow the person to get clean while still living at home and attending to their usual, if slightly modified, schedules. Regardless of the setting in which detox takes place, it is important to ensure that the facility you consider employs evidence-based treatments, as well as medical detox options.
Each person’s treatment needs are unique and will depend number of different factors, including the presence of polysubstance abuse, mental health issues, and any previous attempts at detox and rehab. Consulting with a treatment professional will be an important first step in selecting the right type of rehab center.2
Substance Dependency & Addiction
Alcohol and drug addiction develops over time, but in some cases, it can happen rather quickly. At first, when alcohol or drugs are used, it can create a pleasant high in the individual, filled with good feelings and a motivation to repeat the behavior. With repeated use over time, the person may develop a tolerance to the alcohol or drug(s) and need a larger amount of the substance to achieve the same high.
A person may then become physically dependent on alcohol or drugs—a point at which suddenly stopping or even cutting back on use may result in a number of withdrawal symptoms. And while it’s true that not everyone who becomes physically dependent is addicted, the two often go hand in hand.3
What Are the Effects of Prolonged Use?
Prolonged alcohol dependency and addiction can devastate the physical and mental wellbeing of the drinker. Over time, alcohol addiction can cause the following effects:4
- Cognitive problems
- Emotional issues
- Disrupted heart rhythms
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Alcohol-induced hepatitis
- Cancer of the stomach, breast, mouth, and throat
The damaging health effects don’t end with alcohol. Different drug types can exact their own physical and mental health tolls. For example, heroin and prescription opioids can lead to:5
- Breathing difficulty and pneumonia.
- Chronic constipation.
- Risk of accidental overdose.
- Heart infections (if abused intravenously).
- Issues with emotional regulation.
- Impaired decision-making abilities.
Drug Rehab Centers
At the start of many rehabilitation efforts is what’s known as the detox period—whether the treatment services are offered in a standalone professional detox center, an inpatient or residential rehab, or integrated as part of a formal outpatient substance abuse recovery program.
Detox services can provide safety and comfort throughout the duration of acute substance withdrawal. Managing withdrawal from substances is an important component of treatment because withdrawal can be quite unpleasant and, in some case, dangerous. Because of these challenges, successfully withdrawing from substances is something that many people are unable to do on their own. Inpatient detox provides an entirely sober escape from the challenges and temptations of day-to-day life. These programs can cost between $600 and $1,000 per day depending on the length of stay required to safely recover. 6
For example, opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Diarrhea and stomach cramps.
- Bone pain.
- Constant runny nose.
- High blood pressure.
- Rapid heartbeat.
While these symptoms are very uncomfortable and unpleasant, they are not necessarily dangerous. However, improperly managed withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly hard to endure, which may lead to a relapse when the person desperately wants relief from the symptoms.7
Other drugs affect the body differently, but in most cases, withdrawal is quite difficult to endure without proper supervision and support. Withdrawal symptoms affect certain people more than others, especially if they have underlying medical conditions, polysubstance abuse, a long history of addiction, or a particularly severe addiction.7
Many drug rehab centers offer FDA-approved medications specifically for alcohol or opioid dependencies. As an adjunct to ongoing behavioral therapeutic interventions, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help people taper off from illicit drugs or the misuse of some prescription drugs.
Some drugs, such as cocaine, do not have any medications that specifically target the underlying substance dependence, but there are medications that can symptomatically treat common withdrawal side effects like headaches and insomnia.
Heroin and prescription painkiller dependencies can be treated with stabilizing and maintenance doses of medications such as Suboxone and methadone, which help to minimize the more severe physical symptoms of withdrawal, allowing those individuals to eventually and gradually taper off these opioid drugs in a safe, manageable way.
Getting Rehabilitation for Alcoholism
When an alcohol-dependent person tries to stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms typically surface shortly thereafter. The acute alcohol withdrawal process can be dangerous, including the following symptoms:
- Restlessness and agitation
- Loss of appetite
- High fever
At times, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. The process of alcohol withdrawal is rather unpredictable, but, generally, older people who have used alcohol for a long time and who have made repeated detox attempts are at greater risk for seizures or death. It is important that people who abuse alcohol receive a proper assessment and appropriate intervention (e.g., seizure prophylaxis) for their unique situation rather than try to quit alone.7
Professionally supervised alcohol detox often takes place in either a hospital or other inpatient setting. At times, medication is used to treat alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines have been used in some programs to manage seizures, but there is a risk of addiction with this class of medication.
Other medications, such as barbiturates, are sometimes used, as are certain anti-seizure medications, such as Tegretol. Seizures and delirium are the biggest concerns in rehab for alcohol abuse, so the type of careful observation and assessment provided in alcohol rehab programs is necessary to prevent and treat these consequences of alcohol withdrawal.
Comparing Your Treatment Options
The therapeutic interventions provided in rehab centers for alcohol and drug dependency and addiction are, for many, a solid starting point on the path toward long-term recovery. Detox with or without medication to control symptoms may get a person through the first few days of withdrawal, but many people benefit from a period of more intensive rehabilitation to provide them with the skills to avoid alcohol and drugs on a daily basis. Inpatient help ($200-$900 per day) tends to cost more than outpatient ($100-$500 per session), though the sober escape and medical support that an inpatient program can provide may be a vital part of recovery for certain individuals.6
A longer-term course of treatment that lasts several weeks can provide a person with the supportive counseling needed to make such changes. For some people, long-term treatment is essential and may last for several months. In most cases, however, people do not use a long-term treatment program unless they have made several attempts at treatment and have been unable to stop using drugs or alcohol.
Rehab programs are not only plentiful, but there are many types to suit a person’s preferences. Some specialized rehab programs are all female, for example, while other programs may be faith-based, which provides comfort for people of a specific religion to engage in a rehab program.
Some programs are very tough in their treatment approach, employing a confrontational manner, and other programs take a gentler approach.
Some programs are quite luxurious, with a spa-like atmosphere and private rooms, although these types of amenities come with a much higher price tag.
Some programs offer individual counseling, while others focus on different kinds of group counseling and meetings. There are also programs that emphasize family as a key part of treatment and expect the family of the person in treatment to attend sessions.
Regardless of the level of amenities, treatment approaches, or other factors, being treated for drugs and alcohol dependency and addiction in a rehab center should be followed by ongoing aftercare. Institutions like 12-step AA and NA groups help ensure that a person has the support necessary to stay on the road to recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.
No one program is right for everyone. Research different drug and alcohol rehab programs to choose the best one for you. Our treatment admission consultants can assist you or your loved one in your search; before calling, be sure to have your insurance information accessible and be prepared to answer details about the nature of your or your family member’s addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2011). DrugFacts: Treatment statistics.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). DrugFacts: Treatment approaches for drug addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2014). DrugFacts: Heroin.
- American Addiction Centers. (2017).
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Treatment Improvement Protocols: Physical Detoxification Services for Withdrawal from Specific Substances. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.