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Outpatient Programs

When seeking treatment for substance use, it’s important to know the range of different treatment options that are available. Recovery is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, and that also includes treatment programs. Not everyone requires the same kind of care, and what works for one person may not for another due to the many factors that are unique to a given individual, such as:

  • Medical history
  • Mental health
  • Home environment
  • Severity of addiction

In order to have a successful recovery, some people may need to step away from their regular lives or require the more intense, round the clock care and monitoring provided by an inpatient or long-term residential treatment program. Inpatient care means that they live onsite at the treatment facility and can be insulated from stress, distractions, and temptations and instead focus completely on recovery.

But these needs are certainly not the case for everyone. If someone is still in the early stages of an addiction, is in overall good health, and has their own outside support system that they know they can depend on, then outpatient treatment might be the better choice for their addiction rehabilitation.

When someone chooses outpatient addiction treatment, it means that they can carry on with their normal life as they make regular appointments at a treatment facility or outpatient clinic for detox, therapy, and more.

What Is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment is perhaps best described as part of a sliding scale of addiction recovery programs. On the far side of the scale is long-term residential treatment where someone stays at a treatment facility, and at the other end is general counseling or 12-step groups that are not connected to any sort of addiction treatment center.

In between those two options is an outpatient program. Similar to inpatient care, those who opt to enroll in an outpatient program can expect to receive the same high-quality care from licensed and trained medical professionals at a treatment center or clinic, but they are not required to stay.

Outpatient treatment involves regular visits to a clinic or medical facility for medical check-ins and different kinds of therapy sessions, typically several times a week for varying amounts of time. Once someone has completed their treatment for that day, instead of having to eat, sleep, and live onsite, they are sent home and will come back during their next scheduled session.

What Are the Types of Outpatient Programs?

Within the general classification of outpatient treatment, there are several different subtypes of outpatient programs to choose from based on factors that include the severity of someone’s addiction and whether or not they also require treatment for one or more co-occurring disorders.

While all of them are still done without requiring an inpatient stay, some may require more check-ins per week for longer amounts of time, as well as the length of the treatment itself. The main types of outpatient rehab are:

General Outpatient Treatment Programs

The basic template for outpatient addiction treatment depends mostly on the needs and motivation of the person seeking treatment and is much less structured than the other programs that fall within the outpatient category. It will generally involve some form of education counseling and therapy, along with regular medical check-ins, generally for at least two hours a week.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs

Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs: IOP, as it is frequently abbreviated, is exactly what it sounds like, a more involved level of care usually associated with inpatient treatment. IOP is possibly the most useful and comprehensive form of outpatient rehab, especially for those who may have a history of relapsing or a co-occurring disorder such as depression or PTSD but have been evaluated as not needing 24/7 monitoring. Intensive Outpatient Treatment will generally require about three check-ins per week for between two and four hours at a time.

Partial Hospitalization Treatment Programs

The most intense form of outpatient treatment, PHP is most useful for those who may have serious medical conditions or otherwise require ongoing medical observation, but do not need to be fully hospitalized and have a reliably stable living environment. This form of outpatient rehab is generally offered by hospitals and requires around three to five check-ins per week for about four to six hours at a time.

Therapist talking to a patient about outpatient treatment programs

In terms of length of treatment, an outpatient program can last anywhere from one month to about 90 days, depending on the individual’s needs and outside factors like the period of time in treatment that an insurance provider will cover.

Long-term outpatient addiction treatment, which would mean more than 90 days, is very uncommon and will typically result in a move to inpatient or residential treatment as this is indicative that the person in recovery is not progressing and most likely needs to be removed from their environment in order to avoid relapse.

What Services Does Outpatient Treatment Offer?

When choosing an addiction recovery treatment program, people might assume that inpatient or residential care is the only way to get access to the majority of services necessary for recovery and that outpatient treatment is going to be a more bare-bones situation.

While this might have been true at some point, it certainly isn’t today. Now, outpatient treatment comes with the same level of support and range of services as most inpatient programs, while allowing clients to use the tools and coping skills they learn in their day-to-day lives. On top of medication-assisted treatment, dual diagnosis, and relapse prevention, some of the services offered as part of outpatient treatment include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Educational Classes
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Stress Management

For outpatient detox, someone going into treatment can expect their first visit to involve a physical exam to determine their overall health before being given medication to help ease common withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and nausea. It is normal for someone to be held for several hours for the purposes of observation until it has been deemed safe to let them go home.

After the initial appointment, individuals in outpatient treatment can take advantage of the different services provided based on what is most effective for them. They can participate in workshops, therapy sessions, and more to help them get the tools they need to successfully manage their addiction in the context of their day-to-day life.

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What Are the Benefits of Outpatient Treatment?

As previously mentioned, in recent years, thanks in part to advancements in pharmacology, technology, and addiction recovery research, outpatient treatment has become a form of treatment equal in effectiveness to inpatient care.

In some cases, it’s actually a more effective and more efficient treatment option for those with less severe substance use issues who do not require the more intensive treatment inpatient care provides, but still need extra support that individual counseling or support groups alone cannot provide, as well as for detox.

Some of the many benefits of checking into outpatient treatment include:

  • Providing a practical treatment option for people who do not have the means or ability to leave their work or school, or have a family that they need to care for. This benefit makes addiction rehabilitation viable for people who might otherwise not seek out treatment.
  • Giving clients the ability to put the addiction management skills and techniques they’ve learned during treatment immediately into practice in their daily life as well as being able to quickly course-correct and work on new plans with their counselor if something is not working.
  • The freedom and flexibility that allows for clients to schedule their treatment around their regular life and activities. It also allows for more privacy regarding someone’s addiction recovery instead of having to noticeably withdraw from regular life to an inpatient facility. The social stigma associated with addiction is often the reason many people will not get help for their substance use problems.

Costing significantly less than inpatient or long-term residential treatment while providing the many of the same services. Cost is another barrier that keeps people from entering addiction recovery treatment. Outpatient treatment is also more likely to be covered by most major insurance companies to a greater extent than inpatient treatment. 10 Life Skills Essential to Recovery

Is Outpatient Treatment Right For Me?

While the above benefits can make outpatient treatment sound very attractive, particularly to people who don’t want to be restricted to a facility, it is extremely important for someone choosing their treatment options to fully consider all of the factors involved with outpatient addiction treatment as well as with their own addiction. There is a significant amount of self-awareness and self-reflection involved in knowing if outpatient treatment will be effective for a given individual.

Outpatient treatment may be right for you if:

  • You are transitioning out of inpatient treatment but still require a certain level of professional medical support and care before returning to your daily life.
  • Support and connections to friends and family are an integral part of your recovery. For some, being separated from their family and friends while in inpatient care can actually harm their recovery progress. Outpatient treatment allows for you to receive regular support from them.
  • You are in the early stages of substance addiction, or your addiction is not particularly severe, in which case outpatient rehab may be all that’s necessary for your recovery.
  • You are unable to commit to inpatient care due to either having issues with cost or being in a personal or work-related situation that does not allow for an extended absence.
  • You are using your outpatient program as a form of continuing care. If you have finished your formal rehabilitation treatment program but require more support than a basic 12-step group, this can be an effective way to prevent relapse in the long-term.

If you have a severe addiction that requires a higher level of care and monitoring, then outpatient is not going to be enough to ensure a successful recovery. Also important to keep in mind is whether the freedom and flexibility that comes with an outpatient program might work against your recovery.

Outpatient treatment requires a high level of self-monitoring, which might be too much of a responsibility for someone still in the early stages of recovery. You need to be honest with yourself regarding your ability to monitor yourself without supervision. If you feel like triggers or temptations will be a significant issue for you, then an inpatient treatment program may be the better option.

Start Your Recovery Now with Our Outpatient Treatment Program

If you or a loved one is struggling with a dependence on drugs or alcohol, Pathway to Hope can provide the professional resources and support needed for a successful recovery and long-term sobriety. Whether through our outpatient program or another one of our different treatment programs, we’ll find the one that best fits your unique needs.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Retrieved from

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Chapter 4. Services in Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs. Retrieved from

Rapp, Richard C., M.S.W., Xu, Jiangmin, Ph.D., Carr, Carey A., M.P.H., Lane, D. Tim, M.Ed., Wang, Jichuan, Ph.D., and Carlson, Robert, Ph.D. (2006, April). Treatment barriers identified by substance abusers assessed at a centralized intake unit. Retrieved from

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