AA and Residential Alcohol Addiction Treatment. What’s the difference?

AA and residential treatment for alcoholism can both get you onto the path of recovery. Regardless of if you have been to residential treatment or not, you will need to go to AA regularly for your recovery and to maintain your sobriety. I have personally seen people enter recovery from AA and from residential treatment. However more and more people are entering recovery from going to treatment centres.


For alcohol and some drugs, it is dangerous to go cold turkey. Your body is physically dependent on the drug or alcohol, and it can go into shock when you stop. This can cause life threatening seizures. In residential treatment you will be provided with a medicated detox, which helps prevent these seizures and reduces the effects of withdrawal such as shaking, anxiety, sweats, jelly legs and high blood pressure.

It is also very difficult to go cold turkey when you know that a quick drink/fix will cause all the symptoms to stop, so you can easily find yourself drinking/using again. In a residential treatment centre, there are no means to go and get alcohol/drugs. Some people need to be taken out of society for all the pressures there are, but also as it keeps them from drinking/buying drugs when their body is going through heavy withdrawal.


In residential treatment you get a crash course of education of the illness that you are suffering with; in AA education can be slow. Residential treatment provides you with the facts about your illness. You learn that you suffer with the disease of alcoholism, that you obsess about your substance of choice and once you have taken the substance a physical allergy occurs causing you to not be able to stop. Many alcoholics/addicts spend years thinking this time will be different and don’t realise that it’s the first drink or drug that they put into their body that sets them off.

You also learn all about how to maintain recovery, that you don’t need to drink or use a drug again. Most rehabs are abstinence-based rehabs using the 12 steps programme of recovery. Residential rehab takes you through many of the steps to a very detailed level, so you can get a full understanding of where your illness has taken you.

Rehab teaches you that to maintain sobriety that you need to attend AA, get a sponsor, work the steps, meditate, pray and so forth. AA will also educate you in all these areas. However it is given to you on a plate in residential treatment centres: you will not leave not knowing what you should be doing, while in AA it can take time to know what you need to be doing.


Life leads to many distractions, children, work, consequences of your behaviour. Residential treatment gives you the time and space to work on your recovery without these distractions. You have a lot of learned behaviours  and attitudes to change and having the blessing of a month to work on these without external distractions is beneficial.


AA will give you the tools to live life on life’s terms without a drink and drug, you live life working the 12 steps. Most people will need additional therapy to deal with other issues in their lives, this can be done through seeking a therapist in your area and working through these with them. In rehab you receive intense therapy for all the issues that you are facing in your life, in a safe environment. Having therapy once a week can be difficult as you get left with your own thoughts for another week, thoughts we normally drink/use on. Being in residential treatment you will always have someone trained that you can talk to and have no means of drinking /using.

group therapy 1


Regardless of if you are going to AA to get sober or in residential treatment, you will make bonds with like-minded people who suffer with the same illness as you. They have felt how you have felt, have the same fears, the same obsession, the same reaction of not being able to stop drinking/using.   They will know the feeling of getting better, the up/downs of early recovery, the need to have the support of the fellowship/friendship around you. Addiction takes you to a lonely place, recovery is about getting out of this lonely place, both AA and residential treatment support this. 

Essentially regardless of if you go to residential alcohol addiction treatment or AA, it’s all about getting well, living in recovery and living a life free from addiction.  You can spend a lot on rehabs or be in and out of AA like a yoyo, the one thing with addiction is that you have to want to get well and be willing to go to any lengths to get well, otherwise if you cut little bits out here and there you could end up drinking/using again. It’s about accepting and surrendering that you are powerless over your addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling to stop drinking we can help you stay stopped! To find out more or speak to an addiction’s specialist click here to request a free assessment or alternatively you can call us on 01462851414.