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Outpatient Addiction Treatment

For people who do not need intensive care and can maintain relative stability during drug and alcohol rehabilitation, outpatient treatment is an excellent addiction treatment option. With scalable options ranging from regular interval therapy to intensive outpatient services, outpatient drug treatment programs offer a variety of choices to clients who want to overcome addiction.
In outpatient treatment, clients can benefit from psychotherapy, psychiatric services and medical care, usually on a scheduled basis. On the spectrum of treatment settings that ranges from a rigid structure to flexible autonomy, outpatient alcohol and drug treatment are geared toward the latter.
Outpatient addiction treatment requires clients to handle considerable responsibility for the management of substance use disorders and their daily lives, and thus the decision to utilize outpatient treatment should be carefully considered.
Table of Contents

What Is Outpatient Rehab?

Popular images of rehab often feature treatment inside the stark walls of a remote, fortress-like facility. However, the majority of addiction treatment takes place on an outpatient basis. So, what is outpatient rehab, and what does it look like?

How Does Outpatient Drug Rehab Work?

If you have been considering treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, outpatient drug rehab may be a viable option. To determine if it is, it is important to understand the mechanism of outpatient drug treatment delivery. So, how does outpatient drug rehab work? Some other common questions include:
  • What are Intensive Outpatient Programs?
    These programs have similar offerings as a partial hospitalization program, in that it is comprised primarily of therapy and educational activities. In this level of care, clients may live on-site at a rehab facility, or they may reside at home, depending on the facility requirements.
    Intensive outpatient programs are designed to offer about three hours of activity per day, usually for a period of weeks to months. The programs are often available in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate those with work, family or school obligations. Such programs allow for a greater degree of autonomy and flexibility while maintaining access to acute medical and psychiatric care as necessary.

  • What is Outpatient Treatment?
    This mode of treatment has scheduled visits with treatment providers rather than providing immediate access to them and has the most autonomy, flexibility and convenience of all the treatment types, as well as the lowest cost.
    Clients in outpatient rehab live at home and come to treatment offices as previously scheduled. This means that people in outpatient treatment have considerable independence and are subject to the typical rigors and stresses of daily life. It is therefore important that a clinical team and the patient with a substance use disorder collaboratively decide if outpatient treatment is the correct choice as a level of treatment.
  • What's the structure of the program?
    The structure of outpatient drug treatment differs considerably from inpatient treatment. Whereas inpatient treatment offers care around the clock, outpatient treatment is available for a defined amount of hours and on specific days during the week. Inpatient treatment also often starts with medical detoxification and can treat complex cases of chemical dependency.
  • Is detox included?
    Outpatient treatment is usually directed to those with mild to moderate symptoms of addiction, or to those whose severe symptoms have been stabilized by rigorous treatment. While it is possible to perform outpatient detoxification when withdrawal symptoms are mild to moderate, outpatient treatment typically does not include detoxification.
  • How Long Does Outpatient Rehab Last?
    Depending on the type of services you need, outpatient rehabilitation can last one week, several months or even years. Intensive outpatient services are usually designed to last for at least one month. Outpatient services requiring multiple contacts per week often last for three to nine months. Continuing care often lasts for months or years as recovery is a lifelong process.
  • Is Outpatient Treatment Right for Me?
    If you have made the decision to seek treatment, there are several factors that can determine the appropriate level of care for you. You are most likely to be a good candidate for outpatient treatment if:
    • You have reasonable physical and emotional stability
    • There is no need for intensive care for addiction or mental health concerns
    • You live in a stable home environment (or in a sober living house)
    • You are willing and able to dedicate your energy to recovery efforts

Components of Outpatient Treatment

The primary components of outpatient addiction treatment include: individual, group and family therapy, access to medical care, mental health counseling, and medication-assisted treatment with medications like Suboxone and naltrexone, if necessary.

Types of Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is, on the spectrum of available treatments, the most affordable and the most independent of available options. However, even within the broad term outpatient drug treatment, there is a spectrum of intensity.
  • Day Programs:
    Offering the most intensive schedule of treatment, outpatient day programs engage individuals for five to seven days per week, usually for at least six hours per day. Patients have access to individual, group and family therapists, as well as to treatment for medical and co-occurring conditions. Though most patients begin in the inpatient setting and step down to this level of treatment, some day programs can be a starting point for drug and alcohol rehab.
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs:
    With more flexibility than a day program, and similar treatment offerings with fewer hours, intensive outpatient programs offer another way to step down the intensity from the inpatient or partial hospitalization setting. Intensive outpatient programs are often ideal for those clients who require intensive treatment but whose work, school or family roles have required them to pursue outpatient rehabilitation. Typically, intensive outpatient programs offer treatment for three to four days per week, during the day or evening hours.
  • Continuing Care:
    Also known as aftercare, continuing care consists of counseling groups and mutual support groups whose primary goal is to provide connectedness, accountability and ongoing support for clients who have transitioned from more intensive outpatient treatment. Continuing care groups are facilitated by a licensed therapist and are often offered at a once per week schedule.
  • Outpatient Treatment for Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders
    Also referred to as a dual diagnosis, the presence of a mental health condition co-existing with a substance use disorder presents unique challenges to sobriety. The treatment of co-occurring disorders is of the utmost importance, due to the effect of these conditions on the chances of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
    A dual diagnosis outpatient program may require significantly more treatment than either condition alone. However, those with stable co-occurring conditions are candidates for outpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
    Effective outpatient treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions can occur if:
    • The mental health condition and substance use disorder have mild to moderate symptoms
    • Psychiatrists are available by appointment
    • The outpatient treatment program is intensive

Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

When considering the appropriate level of intervention for drug and alcohol treatment, the advantages of one treatment approach must be considered along with a patient’s needs, desires, resources and likelihood of success. Among the benefits of outpatient treatment are:
  • Increased levels of autonomy, compared to inpatient rehab
  • Higher levels of flexibility in scheduling and treatment program design
  • Ability to live at home and continue a committed involvement to an intensive program
  • Freedom to maintain a presence at work, school or with family
  • Lower cost than inpatient rehabilitation
  • Effectiveness at treating mild to moderate substance use disorders


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