how does outpatient rehab work

How Does Outpatient Alcohol Rehab Work?

Alcohol use disorder is an alarming condition that affects approximately 14 million Americans. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 88,000 people die annually due to alcohol-related causes.

While this is the case, it’s not too late to go back. You can still get treatment without checking yourself in a facility. This form of therapy is called outpatient alcohol rehab, which is one of the most popular regimens for problem drinkers.

What is Outpatient Alcohol Rehab? 

In this kind of treatment, you get the opportunity to go home after a day of treatment. Because of this nature, it’s recommended for those with mild to moderate alcoholism problems – or those who haven’t been drinking for long. 

Additionally, outpatient alcohol rehab is best for individuals with robust physical and mental health. Those with stable homes and good support systems will benefit from this treatment as well.

Types of Outpatient Alcohol Rehab 

Day Treatment

This form of outpatient alcohol rehab treatment is the most intensive of them all. It requires the participant to join half or full-day programs for five to seven days a week. Treatment length would vary according to the person’s condition. Day treatment may include detox, counseling, and therapy, to name a few. 

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Despite its name, intensive treatment is more flexible than day treatment. Sessions are plentiful in the beginning, with the frequency decreasing as time progresses. Meetings are held in the morning or the evening to allow the patient to push through with his work or other prior commitments. 

Because of its’ ‘laxer’ nature, intensive outpatient treatment is recommended for those with strong support systems at home. 

What to Expect in Outpatient Alcohol Rehab

Like inpatient treatment, the first step of outpatient rehab is assessment or intake. The counselor will check your medical history, lab tests, and physical exam results. In case you need to detox, you will be recommended to undergo such a program before you start with outpatient rehab.

Once these things are cleared, your counselor will enroll you to any (or all) of the following treatment modalities:

Alcohol Rehab Treatment with a counselor

Types of Alcohol Rehab Therapy

Group Counseling and Therapy

This is the main activity in most outpatient alcohol rehab centers. It helps the patient attain sobriety by:

  • Establishing structure and discipline
  • Helping the person develop communication skills by socializing 
  • Furnishing a place where clients can learn new information, skills, and behaviors that are necessary for sobriety 
  • Providing an environment where alcoholics can help, support, and if necessary, confront one another
  • Forming norms that reinforce activities that are healthy and vital for improvement 
  • Promoting individual recovery 

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the recommended duration for group counseling is 9 hours per week – or at least 3 hours per day for 3 days. The two popular forms of group therapy include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This treatment will help you explore the feeling and emotions that drive you to drink heavily. Done individually or in a group, CBT can teach you how to cope, change your thoughts, and manage stress – so that you don’t end up drinking as you did before.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy 

This therapy, which usually lasts for 4 sessions, aims to strengthen your motivation – so you have the drive to change your drinking habits. The therapy starts with identifying the advantages and disadvantages of therapy. The counselor will then help you formulate a plan for your sobriety. He/she might teach you techniques on how you can achieve the goals. Such may include tips on how to boost your confidence – and how to develop the skills necessary to execute the plan.

Individual Counseling

This form of treatment deals with the problems that stem from the client’s alcohol habits. It also includes the person’s strategies on how to achieve and maintain abstinence. 

This service is delivered by a counselor with whom you will share a special bond. The usual length of individual counseling services ranges from 30 to 50 minutes per week. 

Marital or Family-Involved Counseling

Alcoholism affects more than just the drinker – his/her spouse and loved ones are devastated by the disorder as well. As such, most outpatient alcohol rehab programs offer marital or family counseling. 

Marital or family therapy is important because it can help the spouse or family learn more about the patterns that lead to the drinker’s behavior. By doing so, the family can be a source of help to the entire treatment process.


Depending on your condition, you might need to take medications throughout outpatient rehab. For example, you might be prescribed Disulfiram, a drug that causes nausea and flushing every time you drink alcohol. It is important to check your aftershave lotion or mouthwash for alcohol content as these may cause the aforementioned symptoms as well.

Another drug that may be prescribed is Acamprosate, a drug that can reduce your alcohol cravings. This medication can help you quit drinking – and remain abstinent for the years to come. 

Continuing Care Groups

Once you are finally able to achieve sobriety with the help of the services above, you are free to move to the final step of the recovery process: enrolling in a continuing care group. 

Meetings last for one to two hours and are usually done once a week. The downside here is if you’re living in a rural area. Since continuing care groups are usually located in the city, you will need to travel to attend the sessions. 

An alternative for this is to attend online continuing care group meetings. As long as you have a computer and a stable internet connection, you can participate in the sessions as needed. 

Of course, you must attend the continuing care sessions as recommended by your therapist. Try not to skip one as this can spell the difference between recovery and relapse. 

If you have a mild to moderate drinking problem that you wish to stop, then outpatient alcohol rehab is a good option. As long as you have a stable home and a reliable support system, you can expect this form of treatment to help you abstain from alcohol for good. 

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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