What If Outpatient Treatment Is My Only Option?

If you have no choice but to select an outpatient treatment program for substance use disorder treatment, it is important to understand that outpatient care can be just as effective as residential rehab.There are different types of outpatient care that include a variety of therapy types and supplemental treatments, ranging from one visit per week to several hours per day, weekly. The best option for treatment depends on your specific needs.

What most people imagine when they think about addiction rehab is a residential facility where people stay for a month or longer. This is called inpatient treatment and it is one of the most popular ways to treat substance use disorders.

But, it is important to know that there is no single style of treatment that works well for everyone. Not everyone can afford the time or money needed to go through residential care and are forced to look for alternatives. The good news is that outpatient programs can be just as effective as inpatient treatment.

Outpatient vs. Inpatient Treatment


The terms outpatient and inpatient refer to two broad categories of types of care for patients with substance use disorders. Inpatient treatment, also sometimes called residential treatment, is a program in which the patient stays in a facility, overnight, for a specified period of time. There may be organized outings or times for family to visit, but during the treatment period the patient stays in the rehab facility.

Outpatient care is any type of treatment that does not involve overnight stays in a residential facility. This may include a weekly therapy session, regular 12-step support group meetings, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient programs.

Whether inpatient or outpatient services are better depends highly on the needs of the individual, and it is a misconception that inpatient care is always better. Rehab does not have to be residential to be successful. Research indicates that the length of time spent in a treatment program is important for recovery, and that the longer an individual receives care the more likely they are to remain sober longer. However, there is no indication that a treatment plan of several months or longer has to be an inpatient program.

Intensive Outpatient Programs


If you were hoping to be able to get inpatient care and are disappointed to find that it isn’t an option, consider an intensive outpatient program, or IOP. Many residential rehab facilities now offer IOPs as an alternative. IOP refers to any program during which the patient stays at home or in a sober living house and comes to the rehab facility a few hours a day, several times per week, for treatment.

Because this kind of outpatient rehab is intensive and usually offered at a residential facility, patients have access to a wide range of services, often just as many as residential patients. Some of the services that are considered to be core to IOPs include:

  • Group counseling and support
  • Individual counseling and behavioral therapies
  • Psychoeducation
  • Skills development
  • Relapse prevention strategies
  • Stress management training
  • Family or couples therapy sessions
  • Medical treatment if appropriate
  • Case management
  • Crisis support
  • Planning for ongoing care

Additionally, an IOP may provide access to alternative therapies, holistic care, nutrition and diet planning, exercise, meditation, vocational skills, housing and transportation assistance, and recreational activities.

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Benefits of Outpatient Rehab


There are benefits and drawbacks for all types of treatment, but there are some definite reasons to consider outpatient care and to be satisfied with it when options are limited. One important benefit is the ability to stay at home. Many people feel more comfortable at home, and those with supportive families benefit from being around those who love them and have their best interest in mind.

Being able to stay home also provides the benefit of being able to keep working and earning. Many outpatient programs have evening and weekend sessions to accommodate working patients. And, many outpatient programs cost less and allow patients to attend sessions for an overall longer period of time than a residential program.

Another important benefit is that outpatient programs are proven to be effective, especially intensive outpatient programs. One study found that 75 percent of participants in an IOP were sober at a three-year follow up and that more than 20 percent had no relapses during the three-year study period. A larger review of multiple studies of IOPs found that these programs were largely successful in helping patients reduce or stop drug and alcohol use.

Outpatient treatment for alcohol or substance use disorders is a valid and effective option and alternative to residential care. If you have no choice but to choose outpatient care, find the best program for you and stick with it for the best results.