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What Types of Alcohol Treatment Are Available?

It's common to think that there are only two places to get help for alcohol problems—Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or a long-term residential rehab program. But today there are more choices than you might expect.

You may be surprised to learn that for many people, outpatient professionally led treatment is a good option that can help them recover while still living at home. Some examples:

  • Attending individual or group counseling sessions one or more times per week.
  • Receiving a prescription from a primary care doctor or psychiatrist to help reduce alcohol cravings.
  • Participating in family therapy to build a supportive foundation for recovery.

These are just some of the many options. Professionally led treatment takes place in a variety of settings, is offered by health professionals with different kinds of training, and can involve a variety of clinical services. Here's an overview of the full range of professionally led treatment options:

Types of professionally led treatment

  • Behavioral treatments—one-on-one, family, or group sessions that aim to change drinking behavior through counseling or “talk therapy.”
  • Medications—nonaddictive treatment to help stop drinking and prevent relapse.

Settings where treatment is offered

  • Outpatient—visits to a medical doctor's or therapist's office, or an outpatient treatment program.
  • Inpatient—overnight stays in a hospital, with care provided by doctors and nurses.
  • Residential—overnight stays at a treatment program for several weeks, with a full daily schedule of counseling, education, and wellness activities.

Health professionals who provide treatment

  • Therapists—licensed professional therapists, including Master’s level counselors and social workers; clinical psychologists; and psychiatrists.  
  • Doctors—primary care physicians or psychiatrists, including board-certified addiction specialists.

For an overview of these treatment options, as well as mutual help groups that can complement professionally led treatment, see NIAAA's Treatment for Alcohol Problems booklet.

Depending on the severity of their condition and other factors, different people need different combinations of professionally led treatment services. Generally, treatment providers suggest that people try an outpatient option first. If more intensive treatment is required, a health professional can recommend an inpatient program or another appropriate option. (Learn more in the next section, Why do different people need different options?)

Regardless of where you seek treatment, it's important to look for higher-quality care. Thanks to decades of scientific research, many health care professionals now offer a flexible mix of approaches that are evidence based. This means the treatments are grounded in science, drawn from carefully designed studies involving thousands of people with alcohol problems. The Navigator will help you spot these evidence-based approaches and other signs of higher-quality care.

For anyone thinking about treatment, talking with a primary care doctor can be an important first step. These physicians can evaluate a person's overall health and identify medical issues that could complicate treatment. See our FAQs to learn how primary care doctors can support people with alcohol use disorders (AUD).