What Is Involved in Inpatient Alcohol Rehab?

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  • Written By: Susan Abe
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 28 June 2014
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Inpatient alcohol rehab — an abbreviation of the more formal term, rehabilitation — refers to a patient's admission to a drug and alcohol treatment center for medical stabilization and initiation of an alcohol dependency treatment plan. In the past, most health insurance carriers covered a treatment period of 30 days. This length of treatment became the norm until medical expense cost-cutting forced the majority of alcohol rehabilitation programs to become day therapy — or outpatient — programs in order to be covered by most medical insurance plans. The inpatient admissions that remain are thus truncated and intense. The primary emphasis of inpatient alcohol rehab involves a safe and supervised medical detoxification, group therapy and education classes, introduction of sobriety support programs and establishment of an outpatient treatment program.

Abrupt cessation of alcohol consumption for an alcohol-dependent patient can lead to alcohol withdrawal syndrome or the more severe delirium tremens, both potentially life-threatening conditions. Most inpatient alcohol rehab patients are "detoxed" with benzodiazepines, a sedative-type medication that uses the same neurotransmitter pathways that alcohol does. Benzodiazepines help treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome and prevent the development of delirium tremens by temporarily mimicking the depressant qualities of alcohol, and therefore avoiding the rebound effect on the brain and nervous system when the depressant is withdrawn. This detoxification process is monitored by frequently measuring the patient's vital signs and mental status. Laboratory tests are also conducted to assess for electrolyte imbalances, dehydration and vitamin deficiencies common to those undergoing inpatient alcohol rehab.


In addition to medication and laboratory tests, inpatient alcohol rehab patients also participate in group therapy and group education sessions. These daily sessions are conducted by nursing staff, addiction counselors, psychologists and nutritionists. Group therapy introduces sobriety and sobriety issues, usually through the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous® program. Education classes typically cover the physical, mental, behavioral and social effects of alcohol, alcoholism and addiction. Other topics of instruction include nutrition, positive coping skills, communication skills and types of non-alcohol-related recreation and hobbies.

A great deal of inpatient alcohol rehab focuses on the patient's planned outpatient rehabilitation program. These plans are coordinated by the facility's staff in conjunction with the patient's needs, insurance coverage and available community resources. Many inpatient alcohol rehab programs have direct discharge for patients to their day treatment or outpatient program, if such therapy is covered by the patient's health insurance. Discharge to a long-term residential program may be considered if the patient has a long history of alcohol abuse and the financial ability or an insurance plan to cover the costs. Regardless of the formal outpatient treatment planned, the patient's participation in Alcoholics Anonymous® is almost always suggested.


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