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There are many treatment options available for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Residential treatment centers (RTCs) offer comprehensive detox and recovery programs to help people overcome an AUD.

Residential treatment is a choice for some, while it may be medically necessary for others.

In 2015, more than 37,000 people battling alcohol use disorder entered residential treatment programs in the United States. For those battling AUD, along with another substance, that number rose to over 43,000.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

What are Residential Treatment Centers?

Residential treatment centers are inpatient facilities that offer 30-day, 60-day, or 90-day treatment programs. In some cases, residential programs can last up to a year. This form of treatment provides 24-hour-a-day care in a non-hospital setting. 

Treatment begins with a medically-assisted detox. On-site medical specialists are available to monitor withdrawal symptoms.

After detoxing, treatment can take multiple forms, including:

  • Examining and understanding destructive patterns of behavior
  • Learning trigger signs
  • Undergoing mental health and general health services
  • Learning self-care techniques
  • Wellness and fitness activities
  • Family support and participation
  • Training for coping skills
  • Attending support groups with peers
  • Educational and vocational training
  • Creating a continuing care plan
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Difference Between Residential Treatment and Inpatient Treatment

Residential and inpatient treatment are often conflated with each other, but there's a difference:

Inpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment is short-term and intensive. It's meant for emergency situations, such as when a person is detoxing. It usually takes place in a hospital.

Residential treatment

Residential treatment is longer-term and less intensive. People go to attend therapy sessions and take medication to prevent relapse. It's also voluntary - patients can leave whenever they like.

When is Treatment at an RTC Necessary?

Residential treatment centers can treat a variety of obstacles to recovery.

These include:

Previous Unsuccessful Recovery Attempts

Those who have relapsed before have a higher chance of doing so again.

Old Age

People over 60 are more likely to experience complications during withdrawal. For this reason, regular monitoring of symptoms is necessary to ensure the best possible outcome.

Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

Those who have both an AUD and a mental illness need additional medical intervention during detox and afterward.

Residential treatment centers have mental health specialists on-site that can help a person through the effects of detox. They can also work with the person's mental health care following detox to help prevent relapse.

Co-Occurring Substance Abuse

Anyone with AUD and another substance use disorder may experience complications during and after detox. In a residential facility, specialists monitor vital signs and help manage withdrawal.

History of Other Illnesses

Alcohol detox and its withdrawal symptoms can be very hard on the body.

Those with a history of heart, breathing, or liver problems should be under medical care during detox and recovery.

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Is Residential Treatment Effective?

Residential treatment has a higher rate of success than outpatient care and 12 Step programs alone.

This is due to:

  • Continuously supervised care
  • Supportive community
  • The ability to focus on treatment without outside distractions

A 2004 study looked at the effectiveness of long-term residential treatment centers for women. Researchers discovered abstinence rates of 68 to 71 percent in women who spent six months or longer at an RTC.

By contrast, those that didn't complete a full six-month treatment only saw a 51 to 52 percent abstinence rate.

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Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction, including:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center.

These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to medical monitoring.

The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer.

Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOP).

Compared to inpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs provide similar services. These include medical services, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies. However, in a PHP you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program.

PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs.

These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment. They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school.

Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Sometimes, medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment.

Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat AUD.

When combined with other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.

Support Groups

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) are open to anyone with a substance abuse problem.

They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. They can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

Updated on April 7, 2022
10 sources cited
  1. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers.
  2. Bauman, John. “The Three Benefits of Residential Treatment.Bradford Health Services - Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center, Bradford Health Services - Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center, 2 June 2018.
  3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Mar. 2019.
  4. Greenfield, Lawrence, et al. “Effectiveness of Long-Term Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for Women: Findings from Three National Studies.The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2004.
  5. Jr., William C. Shiel. “Definition of Interpersonal Therapy.MedicineNet, MedicineNet, 21 Dec. 2018.
  6. MAT Overview.MAT Overview / SAMHSA-HRSA.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Types of Treatment Programs.NIDA.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Motivational Enhancement Therapy (Alcohol, Marijuana, Nicotine).NIDA.
  9. Perishable. “About IPT.IPT Institute.  
  10. SAMHSA.

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