Outpatient Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the lives of millions of Americans.1 Drug, alcohol, and behavioral addictions can destroy personal relationships, cause chaos at work, and leave families in turmoil.
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, more than 21 million people over the age of 12 had a substance abuse disorder during the previous year.1 Only 10.8% of those people received treatment in a professional addiction treatment program, which is unfortunate, since comprehensive addiction treatment is the key to many successful recoveries.1
Many people do not have the time or resources to attend an inpatient treatment center and may think that is their only option. But many viable treatment alternatives exist, namely outpatient programs.
Consider Outpatient Treatment for Behavioral Health Too
Behavioral health disorders are illnesses that are precipitated or perpetuated by your conscious decisions, despite negative consequences. And treatment for them is just as important as that for substance use disorders. Read More
What Is Outpatient Rehab?
Outpatient rehab programs are programs for individuals rehabilitating from alcohol or substance abuse that are held in an outpatient setting. Individuals who enter outpatient programs are normally required to attend them on a regular basis.3
The treatment plan and protocol depends on personal needs, much like with other models of treatment. As with all other programs, the broader the continuum of services, the better the potential outcomes.3
The frequency of sessions depends on the duration, severity and complexity of a person’s substance use disorder, as well as on the progress they make over the course of treatment. These factors also determine the duration of outpatient rehab, and we can differentiate between long and short-term outpatient rehabilitation. The longer the treatment, the higher the likelihood of positive treatment outcomes.3
A person can start treatment for the first time by entering an outpatient rehab program, or they can transition from inpatient to outpatient treatment after they have made significant progress toward recovery.3
What’s the Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Treatment Programs?
Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs have the same goal: helping you get sober and stay that way. They offer many of the same therapies and treatment approaches, but vary in terms of intensity, length, and cost. What follows is a quick overview of some of the main differences between inpatient and outpatient rehab programs.
Patients in an inpatient treatment program live at the facility for the duration of their treatment. But in outpatient treatment, you live at home and come to the treatment center for a certain amount of time each day or each week.
People in inpatient treatment programs engage in different forms of therapeutic work throughout the entire day. While inpatient programs allow for some free time, they are highly structured to ensure that patients are occupied from morning to night.
By contrast, outpatient programs vary widely in therapeutic intensity. Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) can involve full or partial days of therapy, with patients returning home at night. Other outpatient programs require participation for only a few hours per week.
Outpatient rehab programs are less expensive than their inpatient counterparts, which allows people to stay in treatment longer. Though some people begin outpatient with a similar time frame to inpatient (30, 60, or 90 days), they may then transition to a less-intensive aftercare program, which can last indefinitely.
Inpatient treatment programs are well-suited for people with more severe addictions. Severity, in this instance, accounts for various factors such as the duration of addiction; type(s) of substances used; history of unsuccessful rehab attempts; history of withdrawal complications; and history of mental instability.
Outpatient programs are also an option for people with relatively severe addictions, although some people in this category benefit from first spending time at an inpatient detox facility before transferring into outpatient care. Someone who is medically or mentally unstable can be difficult to treat on an outpatient basis, so doctors might recommend hospitalization before addiction treatment begins. Generally speaking, outpatient programs are most appropriate for those with less-acute addictions.
Inpatient addiction treatment programs can be quite expensive. Costs vary between programs and will depend on factors such as location, amenities, and duration of treatment. Programs that involve residential facilities, meals, and full-time medical staff will, naturally, be considerably more expensive than an outpatient rehab center.
The cost of outpatient rehab also varies between programs depending on location, treatment intensity, and duration. For example, a 5-hour-per-day IOP is more expensive than 2 hours of individual counseling a week.
Insurance policies vary, but outpatient treatment is generally covered more than inpatient treatment. You may find that your insurance covers some, but not all, of your treatment, and there may be a cap on the duration of treatment. Call and find out what your insurance plan covers before making your final decision.
Who Is Outpatient Rehab Best Suited for?
Outpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs come in many forms. Some specialize in particular issues, such as behavioral addictions or alcoholism, while others primarily serve opioid abusers in need of daily methadone maintenance. There are standard outpatient rehab programs that involve 1-on-1 addiction counseling on a weekly or twice-weekly basis. Then there are intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), which, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, represent Level II treatment (inpatient and residential programs are considered Level III).2
IOPs are best suited for people who do not require medical detoxification or 24-hour supervision. This is sometimes the case when a person has already completed a detox program or an inpatient program.
People with mental health problems are far more likely than the general population to have substance abuse issues.
IOPs often treat people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, such as anxiety and a benzodiazepine addiction. People with mental health problems are far more likely than the general population to have substance abuse issues. Conversely, people with substance abuse issues are far more likely to have mental health problems. Treating both conditions at the same time is essential for a successful recovery, which is known as dual-diagnosis treatment.
How Do Residential and Outpatient Rehab Programs Compare?
Originally, the residential treatment model consisted of a hospital-based inpatient treatment which lasted between 3 and 6 weeks, which was followed by extended outpatient therapy and other forms of continuing care. There is also a positive correlation between the success of residential treatment programs and access to continuing care available in outpatient and/or aftercare programs.3
The most obvious difference between residential and outpatient rehab programs is the treatment setting. In a residential rehab program, recovering individuals receive intensive care in a residential setting.3
For an outpatient program of rehabilitation to work out, certain requirements may need to be taken into account:3
- Not all outpatient programs are the same and there are considerable variations in terms of services available at different outpatient programs.
- Regular attendance is key to program effectiveness.
- Location matters: it is easier to attend appointments on a regular basis if the facility is located near the person’s place of residence.
- It may be necessary to have access to reliable transportation if the facility is not within walking distance.
What are the Types Of Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Rehab Programs
Common outpatient treatments include:
- Detox. Some people are much better off detoxing at an inpatient detox facility, but others can benefit from outpatient observation. However, you are less likely to receive medically assisted detox treatment on an outpatient basis.
- Individual therapy. This involves meeting 1-on-1 with a therapist to discuss the underlying causes of your addiction and to plan strategies to reduce your risk of relapse.
- Group therapy. This involves therapist-led discussion among a group of people struggling with addiction. People might share stories and discuss their commonalities and differences.
- Mental health therapy and treatment. This involves meeting with a counselor or a psychiatrist to discuss emotional or behavioral problems. If needed, medications such as antidepressants may also be prescribed at this time.
- Aftercare planning. You work with your treatment team to develop a long-term sobriety plan. This may include slowly decreasing the number of hours spent in professional outpatient treatment, transitioning to meeting weekly with a therapist, or attending 12-step meetings.
- 12-step meetings. Peer-to-peer support groups are a part of many treatment plans. As you decrease the number of hours you spend in professional treatment, you might increase the amount of time you spend at these free support meetings.
Types of Therapies offered in Outpatient Addiction Treatment Centers
Several different types of therapy are offered in outpatient treatment settings, including:
- Family therapy. Addiction often causes chaos in families, so family therapy brings in parents, children, partners, and other family members to open communication around the damage that addiction has caused and discuss how to restore those relationships.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on understanding the thoughts and behaviors that led you toward drugs, alcohol, and behavioral addictions. The goal of CBT is to help you identify negative thought patterns and replace them with healthier ones and choose better behavioral responses.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT is most often used as a treatment for borderline personality disorder, but it also works well in addiction treatment. DBT encourages mindfulness and helps people recognize problem emotions and behaviors.
- Motivational Interviewing (MI). MI is a therapeutic tactic that helps you discover and strengthen personal motivators to get clean.
What Is Intensive Outpatient Therapy?
Outpatient treatment is not typically as expensive nor as demanding as residential or inpatient treatment, but it may not be a good fit for every individual battling substance abuse. Many individuals battling long-term substance use require high-intensity treatment and constant medical supervision as they begin their recovery process.3
However, for individuals with steady jobs or extensive, stable social supports, outpatient treatment can be a good start.3
When it comes to outpatient treatment, there are great variations in terms of type and intensity of services offered. Low-intensity outpatient programs are often limited in terms of access to services, and they may focus exclusively on providing education on the topic of substance use.3
But that is not to say all outpatient programs are low in intensity. Intensive outpatient treatment is a high-intensity form of treatment provided in an outpatient setting. In terms of intensity, services and overall effectiveness, this outpatient model is comparable to inpatient and residential programs.3
Group counseling is often a major component of outpatient rehab programs. Some outpatient programs also have the resources to treat individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders or medical conditions. Depending on the individual patient’s characteristics and needs, an outpatient rehab model combined with other forms of care, and especially structured continuing care, may lead to lasting recovery.3
Special Outpatient Treatment Programs
Outpatient treatment programs are sometimes targeted toward special populations. While most programs are designed to be inclusive, some meet people’s unique needs better than others, including:
- Teen-specific. These programs are designed to meet the unique needs of adolescents, who are often more comfortable with other teens. Program curriculum and activities are tailored to be age-appropriate.
- Single-gender. Some programs are exclusive to either men or women.
- Faith-based. Faith-based treatment programs take a more spiritual approach to addiction treatment and include something for people of all faiths, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
- LGBTQ+. Some programs are exclusively tailored toward members of a diverse sexuality and gender identity–based community who face their own set of unique issues every day.
- Veterans: Focused on the specific needs of those returning from combat or other military assignment, veterans programs provide a supportive community of people who have been through similar experiences.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Outpatient Rehab?
The key advantages of outpatient rehab stems from the fact that these programs are often more convenient, more flexible and more affordable than their inpatient counterparts. Recovering individuals who are diligent with their treatment can have beneficial long-term outcomes and they do not have to be away from their friends and family while they are in treatment.3
Another important advantage is that recovering individuals who achieve progress in inpatient rehabilitation can transition to rehab in an outpatient setting. Things can also work the other way around: a person can begin treatment in an outpatient facility and then move on to a high-intensity inpatient rehab option.3
Detoxification is managed with medications in both inpatient and outpatient treatment, and the therapy is administered by a physician, which eliminates the risk of fatal side effects which a person may experience without these medications.3
A disadvantage of outpatient treatment is that recovering individuals are not under constant supervision, which may raise the risk of relapse and possibly fatal or life-threatening outcomes arising from overdose.6
A person may overdose even if they haven’t used in a long period of time, and the risk may even be higher in that scenario. No longer exposed to the drug, the body’s tolerance to the presence of the drug lowers considerably in the meantime, so if a person relapses and uses the dose of a substance they were used to before they started the treatment, they may overdose.3
Does Outpatient Rehab Include Detox?
According to the principles of effective treatment, detox is an essential component and the first stage of treatment in any setting. Detox enables the recovering individual to begin the rehabilitation process in a safe and controlled environment, eliminating humanitarian and safety concerns.3
However, detoxification is unable to produce any lasting behavioral changes, and the actual process of change takes place once a person has entered rehab, designed to address all the issues associated with drug abuse. Detoxification is typically followed by a formal assessment, based on which a person receives a recommendation or referral to a treatment program. For some individuals, outpatient rehab can be a viable solution, but for others battling chronic, long-lasting polysubstance abuse, it may be necessary to enter rehab in an inpatient facility with constant supervision from staff available for assistance and support 24/7.3
During detoxification, the recovering individual undergoes medically managed withdrawal. When in withdrawal, the body clears itself of drugs and the person experiences the unpleasant effects caused by an abrupt cessation of drug intake. These effects are acute, but they are also potentially dangerous. It is therefore important for detoxification to take place in a medically supervised setting, with assistance from medications which relieve the symptoms of withdrawal.3
What to Consider When Choosing an Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Rehab Facility?
There are many factors to consider before choosing a drug and alcohol rehab program, so it might help to make a list of your top priorities and concerns. Ask yourself a few questions, such as:
- How much will it cost? Insurance might cover some, but not all, of the cost. Can you afford a particular program?
- Do you want a mixed-gender program? Many people prefer single-gender programs to reduce unwanted distractions.
- Do you want to be with your peers? Such as with LGBTQ+, veterans, adolescents.
- What treatment level do you want? Would you prefer standard outpatient or intensive outpatient.
- Do you need mental health treatment? For depression, anxiety, or some other mental health condition.
- Which treatment approach do you prefer? Such as CBT, DBT, family therapy, or trauma therapy.
- What kind of aftercare are you looking for? Examples include an alumni program, continued counseling, and the like.
- Are online reviews important to you? What are people saying about the program, the staff, and the follow-up care?