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Taking the First Step: What to Expect in the Alcohol Rehab Intake Process

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Rehab for an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a treatment to help you achieve and maintain sobriety. Intake is the first step in rehab, which involves completing paperwork and meeting with a mental health professional to determine your specific treatment needs. Knowing what to expect during the alcohol rehab intake process can help you prepare for this first important step.

What Information Does the Rehab Intake Process Gather?

The intake appointment is usually your first point of contact with a mental health provider, where they assess your level of alcohol use and mental health needs as well as create a treatment plan that’s right for you.1

The intake is essential, not only to establish a diagnosis and treatment plan, but to also build a rapport with the provider. During the rehab intake process, you can ask them questions about treatment and share your concerns and goals for treatment.1

Information is gathered in two ways during an intake: written forms as well as meeting with a mental health professional.2

Rehab Intake Forms

You complete a rehab intake assessment form before meeting with a mental health clinician, either via mail or the internet or you may be asked to arrive 15 to 30 minutes prior to your first appointment to complete it.

Information gathered on these forms typically includes:

Some examples of questions on an intake form are:

  • “Do you have any long-term physical health concerns (e.g., diabetes, chronic pain), and if so, what are they?”
  • “Have you been diagnosed with a mental health disorder (e.g., bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder)?”
  • “Have you ever had thoughts of hurting yourself?”

Completing this paperwork is an important first step because it allows the clinician to prepare for your intake appointment. They read this information beforehand so that they can know what issues to explore with you in more detail. For instance, if you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, they explore how it is affecting you and your alcohol use. Or, if you have had thoughts of suicide in the past, the clinician can discuss those more deeply as the first step in ensuring your safety. Yet another example is that if you report on the form that you are married, the clinician knows to allocate time to explore the dynamics of your marriage and how your alcohol use affects it.

In addition, when you complete an intake form, you are providing information so that the clinician does not need to ask for it, which can free up time during the intake interview to discuss issues you cannot easily put in writing. For example, instead of the clinician having to ask you about what medications you are taking or what illnesses are in your family history, they can spend more time getting to know you.1

Intake Assessment

The intake assessment occurs after the clinician has had a chance to read your paperwork. During intake, the clinician will ask you about parts of your life such as:

You might be hesitant or uncomfortable sharing some information, such as the use of illegal drugs. This is understandable; keep in mind that the information you share is confidential, and health providers cannot share it with anyone, even law enforcement, without your permission.

It is important to be honest and forthright on both the paperwork and in conversation with the clinician. This helps to create as effective a treatment plan for you as possible. People have shared that the intake was helpful for their therapeutic journey and that it allowed them to reflect on their problems, both related to alcohol and not.3

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Who Conducts the Rehab Intake Process?

A variety of mental health professionals can conduct an intake for alcohol treatment. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with credentials M.D. (doctor of medicine) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) who has specialized in psychological issues. Psychiatrists most often prescribe and manage medications in alcohol treatment, but some provide behavioral or psychotherapy treatment as well. A psychologist provides behavioral and psychotherapy treatment and has the credentials of Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy) or PsyD. (doctor of psychology).4

Various masters-level therapists also provide treatment. A clinician with an M.A. degree in psychology can do psychotherapy. Social workers with a Masters of Social Work degree (MSW) in most jurisdictions need to have their Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) credential in order to provide psychotherapy. Lastly, other credentials exist specifically for addictions treatment depending on the jurisdiction, for example, licensed clinical addictions counselor (LCAC).4

How Are Treatment Plans Created?

You and the clinician work together to develop a treatment plan to best meet your needs. Treatment plans integrate your own goals for treatment and the clinician’s recommendations based on evidence-based best practices.1 The most effective treatment plans are ones that address both substance use and other mental health disorders.5

A typical treatment plan for AUD includes both psychological and medical facets. This means that a treatment plan can include psychotherapy and medication, if it is needed.5 The clinician also works with you to establish realistic and measurable goals, as well as a treatment plan to meet your individual needs.4

The treatment plan may also specify the type of individual psychotherapy depending on needs and goals. For instance, it may state the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves exploring thought patterns related to alcohol use, examining where they came from, and changing those thought patterns. CBT will often involve homework assignments, such as keeping a journal to record thoughts and feelings during cravings, which is then examined in therapy sessions. CBT is a scientifically proven treatment to improve AUD symptoms.6

Where Does the Rehab Intake Process Occur?

The rehab intake process for alcohol treatment can occur in various treatment settings.7


Outpatient treatment usually involves meeting with a therapist once per week. This would be appropriate if you have  less severe AUD, few other mental health concerns, and a supportive living environment.7

Intensive Outpatient

Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) involves more frequent appointments, usually about three times per week for three or more hours per day. Treatment may also include group therapy and family therapy. This would be an appropriate setting if your AUD is more severe or if you could benefit from hospitalization or residential-style treatment but also need to be able to work during treatment.7

Partial Hospitalization

Partial hospitalization (PHP) involves even more intensive treatment that includes services at least five days per week for four to six hours per day. Partial hospitalization is appropriate if you have severe AUD and other mental health concerns but have a supportive living environment that can be free of alcohol and drugs.7

Residential or Inpatient Treatment

Residential or inpatient treatment is the highest level of care and can be short-term for as little as 30 days or long-term for about 12 months. In this treatment setting, you live at the facility and focus solely on recovery. Treatment usually involves individual and group therapy multiple times per week, family therapy, educational programs on alcohol and drugs, and building responsibility and healthy coping skills. Treatment may also include vocational rehab for those who need help getting back into the workforce.7

Inpatient treatment would be an appropriate fit for someone who has:7

  • Severe AUD
  • Complex mental health and/or medical problems
  • Social problems that get in the way of achieving and maintaining abstinence
  • An inability to function well on a daily basis (e.g., not going to work, neglecting personal hygiene)

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What Do I Need to Do Before Scheduling an Intake?

There are a few steps to take before beginning the rehab intake process:4

  1. Meet with your primary care doctor. Inform them that you are seeking treatment for AUD. They can assess your alcohol consumption patterns, determine if medical treatment may be indicated, and recommend a treatment setting. It is important to get a referral from your doctor to the treatment program and provide signed permission to have your doctor’s record be shared with the treatment program, so rehab center providers can take your medical history into account while developing a treatment plan.
  2. Contact your health insurance company and find out what types of treatments your plan covers, what the co-pay would be, the number of services covered, and the limit on the number of appointments your plan covers in a year.
  3. Contact treatment programs based on cost and location to find a program that could work for you. If your insurance does not cover the full portion, or if you do not have health insurance, ask the facilities what payment plan options they offer to help you afford the cost.

The rehab intake process is the first important step on the road to recovery. Call 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers 24/7 to speak to a specialist that can help connect you with substance use providers in your area.


  1. Nakash, O., Dargouth, S., Oddo, V., Gao, S., & Alegria, M. (2009). Patient Initiation of Information: Exploring Its Role During the Mental Health Intake Visit. Patient Educ Couns, 75(2), 220-226.
  2. Owens, R.L., Magyar-Moe, & L., & Lopez, S.J. (2015). Finding Balance via Positive Psychological Assessment and Conceptualization: Recommendations for Practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 43(5), 634-670.
  3. Gomes Alves, P.C., Dias Sales, C.M., & Ashworth, M. (2016). “It is not just about the alcohol”: Service Users’ Views About Individualised and Standardised Clinical Assessment in a Therapeutic Community for Alcohol Dependence. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 11(25).
  4. National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  5. Kelly, T.M., & Daley, D.C. (2013). Integrated Treatment of Substance Use and Psychiatric Disorders. Social Work in Public Health, 28(3).
  6. Magill, M., & Ray, L.A. (2009). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment with Adult Alcohol and Illicit Drug Users: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 70(4), 516-527.
  7. National Institutes of Health. (2014, January). Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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