Step 3—CHOOSE Quality Care

How to spot quality treatment

Treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) comes in many forms. How can you recognize quality care? Look for the five signs listed below.

Credentials: What are the provider's qualifications?


Higher-quality alcohol treatment starts with health professionals who have training in addiction treatment. Here's what to look for:

For addiction counselors or therapists, look for:

  • Advanced degree: Master’s degree (MA, MS, MSW), PhD, PsyD, or MD.
  • Current license in counseling, psychology, or social work.
  • Certification and special training in addiction treatment.

 For specialty alcohol treatment programs (inpatient, residential rehab, or outpatient), look for:

  • Current license and accreditation by an independent review board.
  • Counseling staff with advanced degrees (see above) and certification in addiction treatment. An added quality sign is a current license to practice independently.
  • At least one medical doctor on staff or available to consult as needed.

For addiction doctors, look for:

  • A physician who is board-certified in addiction medicine, or
  • A board-certified addiction psychiatrist.

We'll show you how to find these health professionals in Step 1Search. We’ll show you what questions to ask them in Step 2—Ask. See also the FAQ on credentials.

Full assessment: What's the patient's full picture?


Early on, it's important to have a full assessment to shape the treatment plan. The assessment may take place over one or more sessions and should cover:

  • Drinking patterns (how much, how often, with what effects).
  • Use of other substances.
  • General medical health.
  • Mental health.
  • Job status.
  • Housing and transportation.
  • Family and social support.
  • Legal problems.

All these issues can influence a person’s recovery process. That's why they should be considered when developing a treatment plan. If a provider only asks about alcohol and drug use, it’s not a comprehensive assessment.

Caution! When searching for treatment…

Steer clear of a provider who only asks about a person’s alcohol and drug use. Many factors influence a person’s recovery process. All the factors need to be considered to create an effective treatment plan.

Personalized treatment plan: Does it meet the patient's unique needs?


The results of a full assessment should be used to develop a customized treatment plan. Different people need different options. Good treatment providers recognize this. They will be able to offer a combination of services matched to the unique needs of each person.

The person with the alcohol problem should have a role in developing a treatment plan that will:

  • Focus on the person’s own goals for recovery. This might extend beyond their drinking or substance use.
  • Allow progress to be measured. A good treatment plan is a “living document.” As a person’s needs change, the plan should change, too. The treatment provider should help to revise goals and adjust the type or intensity of treatment.
  • Recommend activities or services the person can take part in. This should include some offered outside the treatment setting, such as:
    • A mutual-support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), LifeRing, or SMART Recovery.
    • A social services agency that can help with any legal, job, or housing issues the person may be facing.

Caution! When searching for treatment…

  • Steer clear of anyone promising a “cure” for AUD in a certain period of time. Each person has different needs, and there are no quick solutions.
  • Steer clear of providers who have a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Treatment plans should be tailored to the specific needs of each person. And they should change in response to both setbacks and progress.

Science-based therapies: Are treatments backed by research?


Treatments for alcohol use disorder (AUD) that are based on many years of scientific research offer the best chance for success . These "evidence-based" options include both behavioral treatment and medications.

Behavioral treatment

Behavioral treatment is sometimes called counseling or talk therapy. It is offered by programs and by licensed therapists in solo or group practices. It can be provided in individual, family, or group sessions.

Science-backed behavioral care for AUD has several broad aims. It can help people to set goals and develop skills to cut down or stop drinking. It can also help them manage stress and build a strong social support system. Learn more about different types of behavioral treatments.

In programs, group sessions should go beyond peer support. They should include skill-building led by a licensed counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Programs should also provide regular, individual therapy sessions with a licensed healthcare professional.

And check to see if family counseling is available. It can help to strengthen relationships, which in turn supports recovery.


Three FDA-approved medications are approved for treating AUD:

  • naltrexone (trade names ReVia®, Depade®, or Vivitrol®)
  • acamprosate (Campral®)
  • disulfiram (Antabuse®)

These medications can help people to reduce drinking and maintain abstinence. None of them are addictive. Any primary care or other doctor can prescribe them. In some states, other health professionals may prescribe them as well.

Some programs and therapists will not be able to prescribe AUD medications. But they should be willing and able to work with a doctor who can assess and prescribe if appropriate. Learn more about AUD medications.

Caution! When searching for treatment…

  • Steer clear of any program, physician, or therapist who rejects medications out-of-hand. They may say “We don’t believe in drugs” or “We only offer drug-free treatment.” Current FDA-approved medications for AUD are safe, effective, and not addictive. They can play an important role in recovery for some people. Refusing to consider the use of medications is not in line with scientific evidence.

Continuing recovery support: What is the follow up plan?


After the initial treatment plan ends, it's important to have a plan for ongoing support. These are sometimes called continuing care, aftercare, or discharge plans. They should recommend services and activities to support recovery. They should also include a clear plan for what to do if the person has a relapse. Learn more in Understanding Relapse.

There are no guarantees, but providers with all of these signs are more likely to offer treatment based on the latest scientific research. This can increase your odds of success.

You will ask about these signs of quality in the 10 questions for providers [PDF - 128 KB ]in Step 2, along with other important questions. Be sure to see “Why you should ask” each question and “What to listen for” in the answers.

How to decide which option is best

If you’ve done Steps 1 and 2, it’s time to put all the pieces together to select an option that is the best fit for your situation.

A “best option” may jump out, and if so, your work is easy. But if instead you have several good choices, the Choices Chart in the toolkit can help you compare them. Fill it in with details from your interviews with providers. The “Signs of Quality Care” columns will help you see stronger options at a glance.

If you have been unable to find quality treatment near you, be sure to see the FAQ on More Search Options and Strategies—If Needed.

Selecting an alcohol treatment provider is like making any other health care decision. Keep in mind the signs of quality and the information you gathered and use your own best judgment.