Nursing Homes vs Rehab Centers for Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment

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When you have an elderly loved one who is struggling with substance abuse, it is important to pick a suitable treatment center where they will be given the care and attention they require. There are two possibilities for seniors battling addiction: a rehab facility or a nursing home.1

Elderly patients with an SUD are a sensitive population whose needs have to be addressed in a tailored manner as they commonly suffer from other chronic conditions as well. A skilled nursing facility or rehabilitation center applies evidence-based treatment methods to enable seniors to recover and help them stay healthy and sober.2

To ensure that your senior family member receives personalized and research-based treatment, it is advisable to explore the differences between skilled nursing homes and rehabilitation for the elderly. This will help you reach the best decision for your loved one.1

What Is Drug and Alcohol Rehab?

Senior rehabilitation centers offer programs for the treatment of substance abuse disorders. Their services consist of different levels of care, starting with safe and supervised detox, continuing with inpatient residential stays or outpatient care, and ending in aftercare, which may be provided as part of a sober living community. Treatment may include a wide variety of modalities, such as behavioral therapy, medication, and holistic methods. When making a decision about a rehab center to enter, it is essential to find the right fit, where the patient’s individual needs will be met.3

Rehab facilities treat a range of addiction types, including long-term opioid abuse and its effects. assess the patient’s condition and provide a diagnosis, which enables them to suggest the best course of action for the person. The privacy, confidentiality, and comfort of the individual are protected.4,5

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Rehab Facilities?

If you or a loved one are preparing to enter one of the skilled rehab facilities near you, assessing the positive and negative sides of attending a rehab program may be beneficial. 


The benefits of alcohol and drug rehab are:6

  • Research-based treatment and trained staff: Treatment professionals working at rehab centers are trained and experienced in treating different kinds of addiction, including the addiction to prescription medications, alcohol, and cocaine. They apply safe and effective techniques that help patients become and stay sober.
  • A variety of options: Rehab facilities offer different treatment modalities that help patients wean off substances, stay sober, and attain a better quality of life. Depending on the intensity of their addiction, any co-occurring disorders they may suffer from, and their other specific needs, they may receive medication, behavioral therapy, and a range of holistic care.
  • Personalized plans: Not all programs are suitable for every patient, so a treatment plan that may fit couples may not be adequate for veterans with SUDs and a rehab program that considers women’s needs will not be the best type of treatment for men. Seniors’ unique needs can be addressed with a customized, patient-centered plan.


There may be certain downsides to entering rehab as an elderly patient:7

  • There is a stigma attached to receiving treatment at a rehab facility and seniors may feel embarrassed about entering it.
  • Seniors may be reluctant to relocate as they are typically used to their living space and environment.
  • There is a societal pressure related to suffering from substance abuse and the elderly may not wish to admit to having this condition.

What Are Nursing Homes?

Nursing homes offer care to seniors who cannot take care of themselves without assistance. They are provided with monitoring, medication, and help with daily activities around the clock.1

Some of these facilities are more suitable for people with extensive medical needs and they operate on a more hospital-like basis. Others are more focused on helping seniors enjoy their golden years and establishing a comfortable routine and social life.8

People staying at nursing homes mostly have an indefinite stay because they need ongoing care for their conditions and cannot go back to living independently. On the other hand, some residents only require a shorter stay. For example, they may only need to be in a nursing home while they’re recovering from surgery.9

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Nursing Homes?

Many elderly treatment seekers wonder about the difference between a skilled nursing facility vs. rehab. To decide if a nursing home is the best choice for yourself or a loved one, it is advisable to explore their benefits and potential downsides.


There are several advantages to staying in a nursing home:10

  • Treatment-seeking individuals can easily find a facility of this kind in their area as they are available everywhere. 
  • The proximity of the facility to their former home means that their families and friends can visit them frequently and facilitate their transition.
  • The environment is typically home-like and comfortable.
  • These facilities provide a wide range of care, including medication management and help with daily activities.


There may be some difficulties associated with nursing homes:10

  • Adjusting to a new residence is usually hard for seniors who are used to their old home.
  • A nursing home does not have addiction specialists on staff and does not offer the type of addiction treatment provided by rehab centers.
  • They are different from hospitals, so they do not have certain medications and therapies readily available.

What Are Skilled Nursing Facilities?

Skilled nursing facilities provide care and accommodation to seniors in need of short-term assistance. The residents at these centers offer help with everyday activities as well as nursing and rehabilitation 24/7.1

They have teams of trained and qualified nurses, nursing assistants, therapists, and other specialists. Residents are first assessed and their diagnoses are determined, so that they can receive a customized set of treatment options.1

While most of them provide short-term accommodation, there may be an option of staying at a skilled nursing facility permanently if the patient is not expected to fully recover and regain their ability to live independently.11

What Are the Differences Between a Skilled Nursing Facility and a Nursing Home?

While both skilled nursing rehabilitation centers and nursing homes offer their own unique set of advantages, they are different in terms of the services they provide. It is important to make a distinction between the two in order to be able to select the right type of care. While a nursing home provides long-term stays for individuals who cannot take care of themselves, but require mostly non-medical care, skilled nursing facilities typically offer short-term accommodation and extensive medical treatment.12

How Common Is Alcohol Abuse Among the Elderly?

Alcohol abuse is the most common type of substance abuse among seniors and it has been on a steady rise for the last 20 years. The number of elderly women who are battling alcoholism is particularly high. This is especially worrying as seniors metabolize alcohol less effectively than younger individuals. Due to this, elderly people are more likely to experience serious consequences of alcohol abuse.13

How Common Is Substance Abuse in the Elderly Population?

The elderly may often become addicted to prescription medication since many of them take several different ones and may accidentally or purposefully take more than prescribed. This can lead to an elevated risk of overdose and negative health consequences. Since alcohol abuse is the most prevalent form of substance abuse among the elderly, dangerous interactions between alcohol and prescription medications are also possible.14

Opioid abuse poses one of the biggest threats to seniors’ health and well-being because they often suffer from chronic pain and use opioids to relieve it. Opioids are highly addictive and carry a high risk of overdose.14

How Does Inpatient Treatment for the Elderly Work?

If you are considering a stay at a residential facility, such as a skilled nursing facility or senior rehabilitation center, and you also struggle with substance abuse, it is worth exploring the advantages of inpatient addiction treatment for the elderly. Inpatient rehab provides extensive care to help the elderly overcome substance use disorders. They also ensure balanced nutrition, help with daily activities, and holistic care.3

Inpatient treatment creates an age-sensitive environment where seniors can feel comfortable as they recover from their SUD. They receive tailored treatment based on their initial assessment and diagnosis. The plan may include multiple types of behavioral and medication therapies while also taking into account the individual’s medical needs and requirements in terms of pace and intensity of treatment.3

What Is Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Treatment for the Elderly?

Outpatient treatment is meant for those who are looking for a transition from inpatient care and do not require intensive, 24/7 treatment. Rehab facilities conduct these programs during the day and the patients attend them without staying at the facility overnight. They are typically more affordable than inpatient services, less time-intensive, and effective for those seniors who can continue taking care of themselves and living independently. They usually offer a combination of behavioral therapies and medication management.14

Where Can the Elderly Receive Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders?

In addition to addiction percentages among the elderly being on the rise, the instances of co-occurring mental health conditions in this age group are also increasing. Substance use disorders are frequently found in individuals who struggle with cognitive decline, such as dementia. Depression and alcohol commonly occur in seniors together. The combined effects of these disorders can have harmful consequences to the person’s mental and physical well-being.14

Mental health issues that often co-occur with substance abuse among the elderly are:14

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Alzheimer’s.

Senior nursing and rehabilitation centers typically conduct a thorough, age-sensitive assessment to reach a dual diagnosis and determine an individualized treatment plan, which usually includes the application of cognitive behavioral therapy as well as pharmacotherapy.14

How Can I Find a Nursing Home or Rehab Facility for Substance Abuse Near Me?

To give your loved one the standard of care they deserve, it is necessary to research various options and understand the differences between them. Nursing homes may be easier to access in any location and they are primarily focused on patients who cannot care for themselves and need a long-term solution. On the other hand, rehab facilities are focused on treating substance use disorders and enabling seniors to return to their normal routine. For example, nursing homes can be a suitable solution for alcoholics if their medical and addiction treatment needs are not intensive.15

You can use the national Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator run by SAMHSA to research nursing and rehabilitation for the elderly. Once you identify a few potential options, it is best to contact the facility’s hotline and discuss everything that may interest you.16

With tailored care and research-based approach at American Addiction Centers, your elderly family member can overcome their struggles and lead a more fulfilling life. When you reach out to AAC, their helpline staff will walk you over all the details and explain how the admission of your elderly loved one would work.

Are Nursing Homes and Rehab Facilities Covered by Insurance?

Your private insurance plan will typically help cover the costs of different kinds of long-term care, including that at skilled rehab facilities. On the other hand, when it comes to long-term care at a nursing home, financing the stay out-of-pocket is usually the only possibility.16

While Medicare will not provide coverage for long-term stays at a nursing home, it can be your solution for financing skilled rehab facility stays after you complete a qualifying inpatient stay.16

Rehab for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders is likely to be covered by the majority of insurance plans, either completely or in part. It is possible to verify your insurance coverage by contacting your rehab facility or insurance carrier. Finding a treatment option that is within your budget is also possible if you are not insured, through options like grants and loans.16

Frequently Asked Questions