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How to Prepare for Drug & Alcohol Rehab

Entering drug and alcohol rehab is a big step toward a healthier, better future. By taking a few steps to prepare for the transition to rehab, people can feel better about what lies ahead and be prepared to make the most of their time in treatment.

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Emotional Considerations

The decision to enter rehab is a courageous one, but emotional challenges often accompany it. You might be afraid of what’s to come, especially if you’ve never tried rehab before. You might be worried about the physical discomfort that could come with detox. Finally, you might also be worried about what would happen if you relapse after treatment.

Don’t let your fear hold you back. Rehab is a safe space that allows you to reflect and heal. It’s not about punishment.

Take these steps to help you overcome common emotional challenges:

  • Learn more. Dig into details about how detox works, the treatment approaches your team might use, and the success rate of your program. The more you know, the more confident you might be.
  • Shift your focus. Instead of worrying about what might happen, visualize what your life might look like when you’re no longer using substances.
  • Talk it through. Explain your fears and thoughts to someone you trust. Speaking about what worries you have could help you feel better.

Emotional preparation can help you feel ready for the work that’s coming in rehab. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.

Making the Decision

Acknowledging the importance of recognizing the need for rehab and the decision to seek help is your first step toward a life free of substance use. By deciding to attend rehab, you are recognizing a need for change and showing that you are ready to take action. 

The choice to attend drug or alcohol rehab does not need to be voluntary for treatment to be effective.[1] However, by making the decision on your own, you are taking control of your life and are no longer allowing addiction to control you. 

Researching Treatment Options

When it comes to drug and alcohol rehab programs, there is a wide variety of treatment options available. It’s important to find a treatment program that aligns with your specific needs and goals for treatment.

Depending on your history of substance abuse, goals for treatment, living situation, and support network, treatment options to consider include the following:[1,3]

Treatment TypeSetting of CareHow Does it Work?How Long Does it Last?
Medical detoxHospital or clinicManaged withdrawal with the use of medications and medical supervisionUp to a week
Residential rehabSpecialized addiction care facilityLive at a facility for a set period to receive intensive inpatient care30 days or longer
Outpatient rehabAddiction care facility or therapist’s office Continue living at home while attending treatment and therapy sessions throughout the week30 days or longer
Sober living homesSpecialized residential facilityLive in a dedicated sober living home while participating in outpatient careIt depends
Community self-help or mutual aid groupsIt dependsAttend meetings in the community to augment the work you’re doing in treatmentIt depends
  • Medical detox, where withdrawal is managed with the use of medications and medical supervision
  • Outpatient rehab, where you continue living at home while attending treatment and therapy sessions throughout the week
  • Residential rehab, where you live at a facility for a set period, usually several weeks to months, and receive intensive inpatient care
  • Therapeutic communities or sober living houses that provide safe and substance-free housing
  • Community self-help or mutual-aid groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery to augment other forms of care with support

Many rehab programs offer a combination of the above treatment options. Contact a few programs that sound interesting to you, so you can find a program that meets all of your needs throughout the various stages of recovery. Ask about the types of treatment offered, the professionals who provide the treatment, what issues the program specializes in treating, and how the program is able to adapt to meet the unique needs of each person in treatment.

Consulting With Professionals

Before committing to a treatment program, take time to consult with healthcare or addiction treatment professionals. Seeking guidance from treatment specialists will help you make an informed decision about what type of treatment is best for you. Medical doctors, psychologists, therapists, and social workers should all be equipped to provide insight on addiction treatment. 

If you are not sure where to start, your primary healthcare provider is a great resource. Your doctor can conduct a quick screening and make referrals to appropriate treatment professionals and programs. Consulting with the right professionals is a good way to ensure you are seeking the most appropriate treatment for yourself. You may learn about rehab programs you didn’t even know were available to you. 

While you’re researching treatment options, consider asking these questions from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:[4]

  1. If I choose your facility, how soon could treatment start?
  2. Can you estimate my cost of treatment, including my insurance coverage?
  3. Are you licensed and accredited?
  4. Can you tell me about the qualifications of your staff?
  5. How do you create a treatment plan?
  6. Can you tell me about your treatment approach?
  7. Do you use medications in your treatment programs?
  8. How do you address mental or physical health issues?
  9. What do you expect of families during treatment?
  10. How do you handle relapse?
  11. What ongoing support do you provide after treatment?

Informing Your Support Network

Informing your close friends and family members about the decision to seek addiction treatment can lead to significant sources of emotional support throughout the treatment process. You will likely find some loved ones who want to help you access the treatment you need. By informing them of your decision to seek treatment, you are involving them in your treatment process and inviting them to be a part of your active support network.[1]

These are example scripts you might use when talking to people about your decision to enter rehab:

  • “I’ve been struggling with substance abuse for a while now, and I know it’s been affecting everyone around me. I’ve decided to check into rehab to get the help I need to get better.”
  • “I’m starting a rehab program to help me quit using and get back on track. Your support would be very helpful.”
  • “I’m going to step away to focus on my health and well-being. As part of that work, I’ll be seeking professional help. I’ll keep you updated on my progress when I feel comfortable doing so.”

Some people will be excited to hear about your decision, and they’ll ask how they can help. Remember that you’re in charge. If you want them to be part of your treatment, explain how they can do that. If you don’t want them involved, tell them so.

Some people may be confused about your decision, and they might ask questions that make you uncomfortable. You don’t have to share anything about your journey until you’re ready to do so. Feel free to cut the talk short, if needed.

Addressing Legal & Work Matters

Depending on the type of treatment program you choose to enroll in, you may not be able to attend to work matters for some time. Addressing any loose legal or work matters before you enter rehab can help to minimize stress during treatment.

If your addiction came with law enforcement action, contact your lawyer and ensure you don’t have outstanding warrants in your name. Your lawyer can also help you understand if you have pending court cases that could impede your entry into treatment.

Caring for Children

If you have children, you may need to arrange for childcare in advance, so you can be assured your children are well cared for while you focus on recovery. Oftentimes, recovery centers may be able to assist with some of this planning.

What to Pack for Drug & Alcohol Rehab

If you are checking into an inpatient rehab program, you will need to pack some items to make your stay as comfortable as possible. Each rehab program provides its own guidelines about what to pack and what not to pack. Check this list to ensure everything you bring is approved. 

Essential items to pack for rehab include the following: 

  • A few changes of clothing that are comfortable and appropriate for the various activities provided
  • Toiletry items, such as toothbrush and toothpaste, hair brush, shampoo and conditioner, lotions, and makeup 
  • Any prescription medications, though these will be held and administered by treatment staff members
  • Small recreational items, such as books, playing cards, or simple art supplies, that can be used during free time

Depending on the policies of the rehab program you are entering, you may be able to bring electronic devices, such as your smartphone or laptop, as well as small amounts of extra cash, for things like snacks. Some programs also have dress codes, so be sure the clothing you pack complies with any dress codes in place. 

Mental Preparation

An important piece of your preparation for rehab is to mentally prepare for the journey you are about to embark upon. It is likely to be uncomfortable, both physically and mentally, at times, but this is true of anything in life that requires growth. To get to the other side of addiction, you’ll have to work hard, but the work will be well worth it. 

It’s important to set realistic expectations and goals. One of the principles of effective treatment is that addiction is a complex and treatable disease that affects both the mind and behavior.[1] Be ready to work hard as you enter drug and alcohol rehab, but know that you’ll have guidance and support at every step of the way.

Arranging Transportation 

Once you are enrolled in a rehab program and you have your start date, you can arrange transportation to the facility. Planning your transportation in advance helps to ensure a smooth transition into the treatment program. If committing to an outpatient rehab program, you will want to ensure reliable transportation to each of your treatment sessions, to reduce stress and support your participation in the program. 

Again, your chosen rehab program can likely assist you with some of this planning.

Creating a Communication Plan

Staying connected with friends and family while in treatment can be essential for overall support. Prior to entering treatment, establish a communication plan, including how you will remain in contact while in rehab and when you will provide updates. 

In most treatment programs, family therapy is encouraged. Family therapy addresses family dynamics, the impacts of substance use on the entire family, and encourages open communication for building a path forward.[2] It can provide a venue where you establish new communication patterns and repair relationships, helping to solidify your post-rehab support network.

Openness to Change 

If you are preparing for alcohol and drug rehab, you are already open to making changes in your life. It is important to remain open throughout treatment and embrace the rehab process. Actively participating in therapy and recovery programs greatly increases the effectiveness of rehab and your ability to maintain sobriety after rehab ends.

Updated May 8, 2024
  1. What is a substance use disorder? American Psychiatric Association. Published December 2020. Accessed January 24, 2024.
  2. Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction: treatment and recovery. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published July 2020. Accessed January 24, 2024.
  3. Treatment modalities and settings. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published 2013. Accessed May 2, 2024.
  4. Ask 10 recommended questions. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed May 2, 2024.
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