December 13, 2022

What is residential rehabilitation?

Group counselling

Residential rehabilitation is for people experiencing a dependence on alcohol or other drugs (AOD).

It involves a structured live-in program where a group of people receive treatment and support for their AOD use.1

If you, or someone you know, might benefit from residential rehabilitation but you’re unsure of what it might look like – we’ve put together this Q&A to help.

Who provides residential rehabilitation services?

Residential rehabilitation services are run by alcohol and drug services/organisations and charities, including youth services.

For example, in Victoria, some of the public (government funded) services for adults and young people include:

To explore what services are available in your state/territory, check out the ADF’s path2help tool or call the national hotline on 1800 250 015 to be connected to your state’s alcohol and drug information service (ADIS). In Victoria, this service is called Directline.

What’s the difference between private and public services?

In Australia, publicly funded AOD treatment services must follow the relevant state or territory accreditation standards, policies or guidelines. This means they have to maintain certain levels of health and quality standards, and are assessed on whether they’re meeting these standards.2

And, effective from 28 November 2022, all service providers must also meet the requirements of the National Quality Framework for Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Treatment.

If you decide to engage with a private treatment provider, it’s important to gather as much information as possible on:

  • the type of treatments they provide
  • the qualifications of their staff
  • the quality of the facilities
  • the provider’s alignment with the National Quality Framework.

Recently, a review was completed by the Health Complaints Commissioner on private AOD treatment providers in Victoria. You can read the report on the HCC website.

It’s also worth noting that there are fees associated with private providers, whereas public treatment services are often low-cost or free.

What does public treatment cost?

Costs vary. Some public residential rehabilitation clinics or services are free, but others might ask for a small co-payment. For example, in Victoria, rehabilitation services and some other programs charge a small fee drawn from your Centrelink, disability or other government benefit. This fee varies across services.

Contact the clinic or service before you attend to find out about costs. It might also be good to chat to your doctor about Medicare rebates.

How long does residential rehabilitation last?

Stays are usually around three months – although this depends on your needs and the type of service model the residential rehabilitation runs.3 Some people might stay for as long as 12-18 months.

Can I leave the program at any time?

Yes. Alcohol and drug treatment in Australia is voluntary – you can’t be forced to stay against your will.

It’s important you feel safe and respected in any treatment setting you attend. It’s also important for your treatment provider to support you with a discharge plan so you have access to suitable services and supports in the community when you do choose to leave (regardless of when that is).

Victoria and NSW both have legislation in place permitting compulsory treatment in very limited circumstances (where treatment is urgently required to save someone’s life or prevent serious damage to their health). In this instance, the person must be incapable of making decisions about their substance use and personal health.

Other states/territories do not have similar legislation. However, a person may be required to attend compulsory treatment anywhere in Australia if it is the subject of a court order. This is reserved as a sentencing option for people with a drug or alcohol dependency who have committed associated criminal offences.

Are there wait times for residential rehabilitation?

Access to residential rehabilitation is not always immediate and you might have to wait for a period of time.

Wait times can vary across services and change at short notice. There are many factors that contribute to this.

Talk to your treatment provider directly to find out about wait times.

Treatment providers will often provide in-community support, such as alcohol and drugs counselling, while you are waiting for admission.

What should I expect in residential rehabilitation?

Residential rehabilitation should be a safe and supportive environment where qualified staff will help you address the underlying issues associated with your drug use.

It’s a highly structured program that may include treatments like:

Programs also usually involve activities that teach living and coping skills.

It’s a 24/7 live-in environment that includes accommodation, meals and recreational space.3 Although each facility is different most rehabilitation facilities typically include:

  • bedrooms
  • bathroom/toilets
  • shared living area (might include television/music room, etc.)
  • dining room and kitchen areas
  • activity program areas (such as art, music, exercise, computers, billiards, table tennis and gymnasium)
  • outdoor areas (for activities like gardening, animal care, BBQs).3

There’s usually a range of staff working in a rehabilitation facility, including:

  • alcohol and drug workers
  • nurses
  • counsellors and psychologists
  • social workers
  • admin staff
  • housekeeping staff
  • medical doctor/s.3

Can I take my kids?

There are some residential rehabilitation services in Australia that have family inclusive programs where parents can undertake treatment while their children live with them. Odyssey House Victoria and Odyssey House NSW both run such programs.

To find out what family inclusive rehabilitation services are available in your state or territory, contact the National Drug and Alcohol hotline on 1800 250 015.

Are there different services for young people?

Yes. Youth residential rehabilitation services may have similar aims and objectives to the adult services but they provide an environment specifically for young people.

This recognises that young people who experience issues with drugs have particular needs and require an age-appropriate environment.3

Alcohol and drug workers will help each young person figure out some of the factors that might be contributing to their drug use, how using drugs affects different parts of their life, and also help them plan and practice strategies to maintain changes, and to stay healthy and safe.5

While undergoing treatment, young people are encouraged to engage in recreational and skill-building activities. This might include things like arts and crafts, bike-riding or playing musical instruments. Some programs may also involve training and education opportunities.3

Check out YSAS’s Birribi Residential Rehabilitation in Victoria, and Uniting’s youth alcohol and drug rehabilitation for more information.

Are there any requirements before accessing residential rehabilitation programs?

There are many different treatment options available for people wanting support for their alcohol and other drug use, including in-community counselling, care and recovery support, day programs, residential detoxification and rehabilitation.

To access AOD treatment and find out if residential rehabilitation is suitable for you, call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline (1800 250 015) to be linked to your closest provider. Your provider will complete an assessment to help determine the best treatment options for you in line with your goals and life circumstances.

If residential rehabilitation is a suitable option, a referral will be made to a residential rehabilitation service. You can make suggestions as to which service this is.

Before entering residential rehabilitation, you will also need to be drug-free or stable on pharmacotherapy treatment.6 This can be done through a detox at an AOD treatment service/withdrawal facility, or through home-based withdrawal.

You might also need a Medicare card, or other documentation – the residential rehabilitation service will support you through this process.

What’s the best way for me to get in touch with a residential rehabilitation service?

There are many options for treatment, and residential rehabilitation is just one of these options.

It’s useful to find out about the different treatment pathways to help you work out which might be the best option for you.

There are a few ways you can connect with treatment providers:

  • Call the National Drug and Alcohol hotline: You can call the hotline on 1800 250 015 to connect with treatment services in your state. Staff on these phone lines can talk you through the different treatment options (including residential rehabilitation) and connect you to your local provider.
  • Speak to your GP: Your doctor can provide alcohol and other drug advice and refer you to appropriate support and treatment options.
  • Contact a service directly: You can also contact residential rehabilitation services directly if you know of some in your area or come across one after doing an internet search.
  • Explore service options through the Australian Drug Foundation’s Path2Help: An intuitive online tool designed to help you find alcohol and drug support tailored to your needs or a loved one’s.
  1. Victoria Department of Health. Residential treatment services 2021 [27.06.2022].
  2. Health Complaints Commissioner. Review of private health service providers offering alcohol and other drug rehabilitation and counselling services in Victoria. 2020.
  3. Victorian Health and Human Services Building Authority. Alcohol and Other Drug Residential Rehabilitation Facility - Part B: Health Facility Briefing and Planning. Victoria Government; 2018.
  4. Odyssey House - New South Wales. The Parent’s & Children’s Program 2022 [21.11.2022].
  5. Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS). Birribi Residential Service [21.11.2022].
  6. Department of Health and Human Services. Residential rehabilitation alcohol and other drug treatment: factsheet. Victoria State Government; 2018.

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