What To Expect During Admission To Drug Or Alcohol Rehab

For many people trying to come to terms with their addiction, time becomes a very real factor. For some, the time it takes to go from realizing they have a problem with substances to taking an action could be a matter of days, while others may take years. However, once the decision to seek help occurs, the very next question becomes: what does admission to a drug or alcohol rehab look like? Furthermore, what can you expect when entering a treatment facility?

This question brings up a lot of hypotheticals and perhaps even scenes from popular movies or TV shows that depict what drug or alcohol rehab is like. Oftentimes, these scenes contain biased perceptions of what admission looks like, and are not an accurate reflection of what an actual experience at a treatment center may be like. A great first step is to reduce those biases by seeking insight from people who have actual functioning knowledge of what treatment centers truly look like from the inside and out.

Step 1: Reaching Out

The first step for anyone seeking help is to ask for it. For many people, this may be the hardest step in their journey to sobriety. Reaching out for help usually starts by speaking with a loved one, by making a phone call, sending a text, sending an email, or whatever it takes to get the communication ball rolling.

Once you’ve reached out to a loved one, the next step is to speak with a trained, licensed treatment professional to learn about the admission process. Before selecting a rehab to attend, conduct research on how to select one that fits your needs. There are many different types of drug and alcohol treatment centers, such as inpatient and outpatient rehab with varying degrees of intensity. Learn more about selecting a rehab here.

Once you have selected a treatment center, it’s likely that your loved one will begin discussing the entire admission process to you with a friendly and non-judgmental professional at the rehab center you have identified. They will help answer all the technical questions like insurance coverage, financial costs involved, travel details, and other administrative aspects. They might also share some of the program services and philosophy of treatment that they believe provides the best chance for recovery. Do not hesitate to call multiple treatment centers and ask questions until you find an option that works for you.

After this call is completed and agreements have been made, the next step can seem like an impossible one to make: taking action.

Step 2: Taking Action

The call has been made, the agreements decided on, and now the next step is taking the action of transporting yourself to the center. For some, this may be a short drive to a nearby treatment center. For others, this may include traveling by airplane for a not-so-local treatment center that has all the requirements they were searching for. Either way, the action of getting there remains the next goal.

For those who do long distance travel via airplane, they will be greeted at the airport by a staff member who often has a non-descript vehicle waiting to privately transport their incoming patients to the treatment center. Depending on how large the treatment center is, you could be alone or with a small group of people all seeking treatment together. Usually, the staff will offer a light snack and beverage while providing basic information about what to expect as you arrive at the center. This is a great time to ask any questions and get comfortable with the staff at the treatment center.

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Step 3: Arriving At The Treatment Center

As the driver completes the transport and helps escort the patients to the admission area, additional snacks and drinks are often provided. There is an opportunity to get to know some of the staff as they introduce themselves and begin the assessment process. The admissions staff members are generally registered nurses or licensed therapists who will be there throughout the entire assessment. The admission process is designed to get an accurate history of any recent substance use to rule out any severe medical conditions such as potential risk of cardiac events or other life-threatening conditions that may require immediate intervention.

Most treatment centers must follow a set of rules and regulations that are based off federal and state guidelines. These often involve the state health department and large-scale organizations such as the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) that provide guidance on best practices in residential care for substance use as well as behavioral health services. It is important to be aware that the procedures they follow are for safety purposes and are meant to ensure the patient and providers remain safe while all medical tasks are being completed. This may take some time to perform correctly, which is why it is important to try and be mindful during the process.

This assessment process often includes the following:

  • Taking vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen level, etc.).
  • Completing a urine drug screen.
  • Completing a breathalyzer to determine blood alcohol levels (BAC).
  • Completing blood work (hospitals often do this during admission).
  • Reviewing any personal & family history of medical conditions.
  • Reviewing any personal & family history of psychiatric conditions.
  • Completing all treatment agreement & financial documentation.
  • Placing any valuable (or requested) items in a safe for safekeeping.
  • Conducting inventory of any belongings and potential items not allowed in the center (e.g., alcohol-based items).
  • Completing potential additional testing as needed (e.g. COVID test).
  • Contacting family & loved ones to let them know the admission status.
  • Conducting orientation to the treatment center and its services provided.

Treatment centers are well versed in substance use disorders, and the providers there are no strangers to the incredible difficulty people have in restraining from using anything prior to entering treatment. For example, alcohol is served at most airports and even on the planes, so it is common for incoming patients to have consumed some alcohol prior to arrival. Often, the medical services on site suffice for most detox symptoms an average patient may have. However, patients sometimes attempt to enter treatment after consuming a large amount of a given substance, which may require help from a local emergency room to ensure they are safe.

It is critical to be open and honest about any recent substance use that may have occurred to ensure all medical care is appropriate. To learn more about the detox process, click here.

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The First Day Of Admission

Depending on what time you arrived at the center, it can take anywhere from 1-2 hours to complete the admissions process. After the initial admittance, many centers will provide a tour of the facility and basic information such as the schedule of services, meals, activities, and other amenities or services available during your stay. Most likely, they will introduce the nurses and other staff working to help ensure all concerns are handled. Depending on how you’re feeling, and what time it is, they may encourage you to attend a group therapy session, meet some of the other patients if interested, get food if you’re hungry, or retire to your room to sleep if you’re tired.

Whatever you choose, there’s no need to worry. No one has expectations for new patients to remember all this information or feel pushed to engage in every service on day one. Take time to breathe, relax, and explore your new surroundings with curiosity. Once you’ve had time to adjust, the next steps will include being seen by all the professionals at the treatment center. These typically include the medical provider, psychiatric provider, therapist, and case manager to help make a treatment plan for your success.

Oftentimes, the hardest part of getting treatment is reaching out for help. Fortunately, there are treatment providers ready to answer all your questions and start you on your path to recovery. For further details on what admission looks like, contact a treatment provider today.

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Travis Pantiel, LMHC, MCAP

Photo of Travis Pantiel, LMHC, MCAP
  • Travis Pantiel is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Board-Certified Counselor with specialized expertise in the co-occurring disorder treatment field.

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