An outpatient program allows people with addictions to get the care they need without packing a bag, moving out of the home, and staying in a treatment facility for a long period of time. Outpatient programs come with major benefits, as they allow people to test the boundaries of sobriety every day. As they work through counseling, they may be exposed to the people, places, and things that once spurred their drug use. By staying at home, they can challenge those triggers each day, with the support of the outpatient treatment team.

There are two different types of outpatient treatment programs: traditional outpatient and intensive outpatient (IOP). This article will compare and contrast these two options, which may help families to choose the right program for a person in need.

Comparison of Options

Who Is It For?

Traditional Outpatient

A traditional outpatient program is the least restrictive form of addiction care available. People in this model have a great deal of freedom in terms of their day-to-day choices, and they may have a lot of free time on their hands. As a result, this is not a program that is appropriate for people with severe, longstanding histories of drug or alcohol abuse. Instead, it is best for people who:

  • Have completed an inpatient addiction program
  • Are new to drug use or addiction
  • Need a refresher on sobriety tools after a drug use relapse
  • Have strong family ties and a deep-set urge to get sober
Vs.

IOP

An analysis in Psychiatric Services says that about 12 percent of people receiving specialty addiction care get that care in an intensive outpatient program. Typically, these people have underlying mental health issues that are exacerbated by addiction, the authors of the analysis suggest. These people do not require medical monitoring, and they do not need 24-hour supervision, but they do need a little more than a traditional outpatient program might be prepared to deliver. They can get that care in an IOP.

An IOP is not right for everyone, however. In a study of the efficacy of IOP care for people with alcoholism published in European Addiction Research, researchers found that 36 percent of people who completed the program had returned to drinking. That seems to suggest that at least some people who enroll in an IOP would do better in an inpatient program, where they have a community of help around them from the moment they wake up in the morning until the moment they go to bed at night. The times when they are not within the IOP facility are too dangerous for them.

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Intensive Outpatient: Involves a structured schedule of onsite treatment anywhere from 3-7 days per week in 3-hour blocks of therapy.

Traditional Outpatient: Clients attend outpatient care on an hourly basis, 1-2 days per week, as needed.

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How Long Does It Last?

Traditional Outpatient

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that addiction therapy, no matter the model, should last for at least 90 days. As a result, most outpatient programs are measured in months, not days.

Vs.

IOP

Most IOPs last for 90 days or longer, but many provide clients with the option to step down from care. If they feel they are on the road to recovery and do not need the intense supervision and support the IOP provides, they can transfer to an outpatient program to complete the healing process.

What Services Are Provided?

Traditional Outpatient NIDA says outpatient programs can take many different forms. In fact, any program in which people visit a care team at regular intervals for help with a drug use problem could be considered a traditional outpatient program.

Typically, however, a traditional outpatient program offers group counseling and support group access. Some augment this care with individual therapy, family therapy, and medication management.

Vs.

IOP

An IOP is a robust approach to the problem of addiction. People who enroll in an IOP are expected to devote a large portion of almost every day to the healing process. They may still be living at home, but they may have a daily appointment with the IOP to keep. They may not be able to work or care for children, due to the heavy restrictions the IOP places on their time.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says that core services provided in an IOP include:

  • Psychiatric evaluations
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Monitoring of alcohol and drug use
  • Medical treatment
  • Vocational training
  • Family counseling

Some also provide skills training, recreational activities, adult education classes, and community outreach.

How Much Does It Cost?

Traditional Outpatient

Since people continue to live at home in the outpatient model, these programs can deliver deep savings over traditional inpatient programs. There are no fees for room and board with outpatient care.

However, some insurance programs will not pay for individual outpatient therapy. The insurance company Tricare, for example, will not pay for individual outpatient therapy. Those who wish to use insurance may need to choose a different program or be prepared to pay for the care out of pocket.

Vs.

IOP

An IOP is often more expensive than a traditional outpatient program, simply because the facility is open for longer hours and there are more services provided. Some insurance companies can help to cover the cost of an IOP, but not all of them do.

Getting Started

For people with addictions, treatment is absolutely vital. Drugs and alcohol can cloud brain chemistry in such a way that it is impossible to see clearly and make good decisions. People may want to get better, but they may not have the skills or insights that could make that dream of recovery a reality.

An inpatient program could provide that help, and it might be a part of the recovery process for almost anyone who has an addiction. After all, a study in the journal Addiction Science and Clinical Practice points out that most people with addiction need multiple rounds of addiction care. One enrollment is usually not enough to break decades of damage. For some people, outpatient care is the first step. For others, it is the last step. But it is likely for everyone who enrolls that it is an important step. Here, people can pick up the tools they need in order to heal.