What Types of Alcohol Treatment Are Available?
People often think there are only two places to get help for alcohol problems—Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or residential rehab. But today there are more choices than you might expect.
Healthcare professionals now provide up-to-date treatments backed by science. Care is offered at different levels of intensity in a variety of settings. Many outpatient options allow people to maintain their regular routines and their privacy, too, if desired.
Two main components of professionally led treatment
Health care professionals provide two types of treatment for alcohol use disorder:
- Talk therapy. A licensed therapist can help people build coping strategies and skills to stop or reduce drinking. Treatment can include one-on-one, family, or group sessions.
- Medications. A primary care clinician or a board-certified addiction doctor can prescribe non-addicting medications. These can help people stop drinking and avoid relapse.
These two options can be used in combination and tailored to individual needs.
Four basic levels of care
There are four basic levels of care or intensity for alcohol treatment. These levels, as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, include:
- Outpatient. Regular office visits for counseling, medication support, or both. See below for some "lower intensity" alternatives for outpatient care.
- Intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization. Coordinated outpatient care for complex needs.
- Residential. Low or high intensity programs in 24-hour treatment settings.
- Intensive inpatient. Medically-directed 24-hour services; may manage withdrawal.
How do you know which level is right for someone? A complete assessment of a person’s alcohol problems and complications provides guidance. See Why do different people need different options?
Three modern alternatives for "lower intensity" outpatient care
If a full assessment shows that lower intensity outpatient care is appropriate, you have several options. You can use the Navigator to find a high-quality, traditional outpatient program. And you can consider some new alternatives such as these, which can help maintain privacy and regular routines:
Do-it-yourself – build a custom care team.
If you have insurance coverage or other means to cover the costs, you can build your own care team. The Navigator can help you find therapists and doctors with addiction specialties to team with your primary care provider.
This combination can mirror the "active ingredients" of the best specialty programs. At the same time, it's a way to get higher quality, one-on-one care that maintains privacy. A mutual help group can be added if desired.
Telehealth—phone or video sessions.
In many states, insurance companies and Medicaid now cover “telehealth” services. These are phone or video sessions for talk therapy or medical care. They can be particularly useful in locations with few addiction health professionals. There are even accredited, all-telehealth alcohol treatment programs. Check with your insurance company about coverage.
The Navigator can help you find alcohol telehealth services:
- Find treatment programs here and filter for “telemedicine/telehealth.” Note: More programs are likely adding telehealth services during the COVID-19 emergency. If needed, search without the filter and call to check availability of telehealth services.
- Find therapists with addiction specialties here. Note: You’ll see a filter for “online/phone counseling” but it’s not necessary to use it. Most therapists listed are shifting to telehealth services. Contact therapists of interest to confirm.
- Find doctors with addiction specialties here and ask office staff whether they offer telehealth services.
eHealth options—online or mobile.
See the Helpful links section for a sample of e-health tools developed with NIAAA funding. Each has research showing its potential to help people overcome alcohol problems. They include:
- A computer-based cognitive-behavioral therapy program, which any physician or licensed therapist can prescribe
- A digital self-help program
- A mobile tool to prevent relapse, used by some specialty treatment programs
Regardless of where or how you seek treatment, it's important to look for approaches that are “evidence-based.” This means the treatments are backed by large, well-designed studies. The Navigator will help you spot higher-quality care.
In addition to professionally led treatment, many people benefit from mutual support groups. Here, too, are more options than people might expect. Groups can vary widely, so it's important to try different ones to find a good fit.
For more information about treatment options, see NIAAA's Treatment for Alcohol Problems booklet.