Why Alcohol Rehab Is Outdated

Last Updated on October 19, 2021

Attending an alcohol rehab program is among the first solutions many people think of for alcohol addiction. But that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective. In fact, alcohol rehab is often expensive, time-consuming, and regularly relies on outdated and ineffective treatment methods.

In 2018, at least 14.4 million adults in the United States had an alcohol use disorder. Of these individuals, only an estimated 7.9 percent received the treatment they needed. With drugs and alcohol among the leading causes of death in the United States, these statistics are alarming. And they point to a serious issue in the way we’re treating addiction.

Treatment for alcohol and drug addiction should be affordable and accessible. As science and medicine advance, treatment methods for alcohol use disorder should be advancing at the same rate, giving people the best possible chance of recovery.

Traditional alcohol rehab often fails to meet these needs, but there is still hope. Effective and contemporary alternatives are available, and they’re working for many people across the nation.

The Problem with Alcohol Addiction Rehab

rehab is outdated and expensive, coin jar
Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

For many years, residential rehab programs have been a go-to option for treating alcohol abuse. But success rates have remained inconsistent, and many people each year go without the care they need. Why? It turns out that traditional alcohol addiction rehab is expensive, time-consuming, and impractical for many individuals. Most inpatient rehab facilities also continue to rely on outdated approaches to rehabilitation, even as research shows there are more effective ways to treat addiction.

→ Rehab is Costly

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the cost of rehab is one of the top reasons people who need addiction treatment don’t receive it. In a survey of individuals who did not receive the care they needed, 32.5 percent cited the inability to afford treatment as the reason they didn’t seek help.

Alcohol rehab insurance helps some people get treatment, but not everyone has insurance. In addition, insurance doesn’t always cover the cost of rehab. And when it does, the amount it covers varies. This can leave people with hefty copayments or out-of-pocket expenses that leave treatment out of reach.

Accidental drug overdose is the leading cause of death in the United States for people under 50. Meanwhile, alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the US. With these statistics in mind, it simply doesn’t make sense to rely on a form of addiction treatment that is so cost-prohibitive. In fact, doing so is deadly.

→ Rehab is Time-Consuming

Traditional alcohol rehab is also time-consuming, making it impractical for many people. Exactly how long is alcohol rehab? Typically, the length of treatment ranges from 30 to 90 days. During this time period, individuals in treatment rarely leave the rehab facility and have limited contact with loved ones.

For people with jobs, children, and other responsibilities, spending a month or more away from home is extremely challenging, if not impossible. Even attending outpatient rehab can cause unmanageable disruptions in a person’s daily life. This is one reason modern alternatives like telehealth rehab are gaining popularity.

→ Rehab Utilizes Outdated Approaches

Cost and time make alcohol rehab dangerously inaccessible for many people, but what about results? How effective is rehab? Do treatment centers work? It turns out that many rehab facilities use outdated and ineffective approaches to treatment, and have surprisingly high relapse rates.

Addiction is a chronic disease, but traditional treatment isn’t always rooted in scientific principles or medical best practices. Nor is there enough oversight of the rehab industry to ensure that its methods are based on real evidence.

Most treatment programs are rooted in the 12-step therapy created by Alcoholics Anonymous over 80 years ago, when the field of neuroscience was just getting started. These programs advocate for an abstinence-only approach, and rely heavily on the belief in a higher power. While this approach might work for some individuals, it can also lead to the idea that addiction is a moral failing, rather than a medical condition.

When addiction is treated as a moral failing, even a small slip-up can result in feelings of shame. Shame can trigger additional slip-ups and even a full relapse. Making matters worse, many rehab facilities continue to rely on outdated, shame-based confrontational strategies, despite the fact that decades of research suggest confrontational counseling does not work, and may even have harmful effects.

Finally, the idea that abstinence is the only option has been disproven over the past several decades. It turns out that some people can relearn to drink in moderation, and that this may work better for them long-term. By prohibiting this choice, the 12 step approach sometimes does more harm than good.

Read More: Where the 12 Steps Stumble

Alternatives to Rehab

alternative rehab, person holding another's hands
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

If traditional substance abuse treatment is outdated, what are some alternatives to rehab that work?

You don’t have to leave home, spend enormous amounts of money, or put your life on hold to free yourself from your dependence on alcohol. You don’t even have to stop drinking entirely if you don’t want to. There are several effective, science-backed approaches that are gaining popularity, within outpatient rehab facilities, at-home addiction treatment, and modern telemedicine programs.

→ Medication For Alcoholism
Medication has emerged as one of the most effective treatments for substance abuse disorders. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends it as the “first line of treatment” for opioid addiction, in combination with therapy or counseling. This combined approach is called medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and is recommended for a number of substance abuse issues, including alcohol use disorder.

Medication for alcoholism remains underutilized, but approaches that use it—such as the Sinclair Method—have shown up to a 78 percent long-term success rate. Those who take medication often report a significant reduction in alcohol cravings, making it easier to stick with their treatment plans.

→ Counseling/Recovery Coaching

Because drinking is often a coping mechanism, counseling is also an important component of treating alcohol dependence. Seeking counseling, therapy, and/or group support can boost your success rate with medication. A review of nine studies showed that recovery coaching is associated with improvements in treatment outcomes.

→ Harm Reduction

As mentioned above, abstinence is no longer the only option for people who wish to change their drinking habits. What the idea of harm reduction does is allow people to make choices. If quitting completely is too difficult, and moderating will make a positive enough impact on someone’s well-being, then treatment will focus on moderation. If abstinence is necessary for their health, treatment will focus on abstinence.

The goal is to achieve the greatest overall good for each person, rather than a pre-set idea of what recovery should look like. This can give people the flexibility they need for lasting success.

→ Mindfulness

Many people who quit or cut back on alcohol struggle with ongoing drinking triggers and cravings. Mindfulness practices such as meditation can help people control their responses to these triggers.

Meditation works by gradually teaching you to observe your thoughts and feelings, without judging them or acting on them. This often helps with problems such as anxiety, depression, stress, and avoidance coping, which are all common triggers for people with substance use disorders. It can also give you tools to sidestep the cravings themselves.

Adopting this practice may seem intimidating at first, but here technology is making things easier once again. Try one of these mindfulness apps if you’re unsure where to start. And remember, meditation is often most helpful when combined with other treatment methods.

Tools like medication, counseling, harm reduction, and mindfulness are all up-to-date, effective ways to change your relationship with alcohol. And the best part is, none of them require you to spend weeks or months in a treatment facility to achieve your goals. Alternative rehab options exists, and are more accessible than ever.

How Ria Health Can Help

Ria Health takes a holistic approach to alcohol addiction. We combine medication, recovery coaching, digital tracking tools, and more, to help you change your drinking patterns on your own time.

Our online program offers both moderation and abstinence as options, and customizes treatment to each individual. We accept many major insurance plans, and also offer a monthly rate that is a fraction of most treatment centers. Best of all, the whole thing can be done through an app on your phone, without disrupting your schedule. It’s a contemporary and convenient approach to treatment, with a strong success rate.

Learn more about how it works, or schedule a call with a member of our team today.

Ashley Cullins
Written By:
Freelance writer with contributions to numerous addiction blogs and a passion for relatable content.
Reviewed By:
Content Writer/Editor
Writer specializing in targeted, informative content. Dedicated to making the abstract accessible.

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