Effective addiction recovery treatment is going to be different for each person entering a rehabilitation program. Just like no one’s substance use disorder is exactly the same, no one’s treatment is going to be exactly the same. What works for someone may not be at all helpful for someone else, given the unique factors involved like:
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- Mental health
- Physical health
- Severity of addiction
- Medical history
- Home environment
For some people, a successful recovery cannot happen unless they are able to be removed from their regular lives and go to a treatment facility for the intensive 24-hour care and monitoring that an inpatient or long-term residential treatment program provides. Living onsite allows someone to be able to focus fully on their recovery, but it’s not going to be necessary for everyone.
If a person is in a fairly early stage of a substance use disorder, is in general good health, and has their own support system that they can fall back on, and a stable home environment, then an outpatient program may be the more effective, practical treatment choice.
Choosing outpatient addiction treatment means being able to carry on with your normal life while regularly visiting either an outpatient clinic or treatment facility for therapy, detox services, and more.
What Is Outpatient Treatment?
An outpatient treatment program, by definition, is an addiction recovery program that is conducted without someone having to eat, sleep, and live on the premises of a treatment facility. Instead, someone in outpatient treatment will have regular appointments at either a treatment clinic or medical facility for therapy sessions, medical check-ins, and more for varying amounts of time, generally several days a week.
On the spectrum of addiction rehabilitation treatment, on one end are long-term residential treatment programs, where someone lives at a professional rehabilitation facility for anywhere from three months to as long as a year. On the other end are programs like general counseling or 12-step programs and support groups that are not connected to any specific treatment center.
In between those two treatments are outpatient programs. Those in outpatient treatment can expect to experience much the same level of care from licensed and experienced medical professionals and clinicians as those in an inpatient program. Once finished with a particular check-in or session, they can return home.
What Are the Types of Outpatient Programs?
There are different subtypes of outpatient programs in which those seeking treatment can choose. Someone may not have a severe substance use disorder to require inpatient treatment but still may have specific needs such as a co-occurring disorder, which requires a higher level of care than an outpatient program.
These options are still able to participate in without needing to stay on the premises of a treatment facility. However, some do require a longer treatment time, as well as more check-ins per week for longer amounts of time.
The three main types of outpatient rehab are:
- General Outpatient Treatment Program: The basic template for someone’s outpatient addiction treatment depends on the specific motivations and needs of the person seeking it and is overall much less structured than other programs within the outpatient rehab category. Generally, it will involve at least some form of educational classes, counseling, and medical check-ins for a minimum of two hours a week.
- Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program: Commonly abbreviated to IOP, this comprehensive form of outpatient rehab involves a level of care that is typically associated with inpatient treatment. IOP is beneficial for those with a co-occurring disorder or history of relapsing but has been evaluated by a doctor as not requiring round-the-clock medical monitoring or intervention. Intensive outpatient treatment usually requires at least three appointments a week for sessions lasting around two to four hours at a time.
- Partial Hospitalization Treatment Program: PHP, as it is called, is the most intense level of outpatient addiction treatment and is most useful for those who might have a serious medical condition or other situation that does require ongoing medical observation. PHP is usually offered at hospitals and requires between three and five appointments per week for sessions that usually around four to six hours in length.
An outpatient addiction treatment program can last anywhere between one and three months, depending on the needs of the person in the program. Outside factors such as how much treatment time an insurance policy will cover are considered.
Long-term outpatient treatment, longer than 90 days, is uncommon and would typically be indicative of the person needing inpatient care to progress to the next stage of recovery.
Outpatient Treatment Services
Outpatient rehab programs have the same resources and a wide range of services as the vast majority of inpatient treatment programs, with the added bonus of clients utilizing the tools and techniques they learn in treatment in their daily lives.
Some of the services commonly available to those in outpatient treatment include:
- Detoxification treatment
- Medical maintenance therapy
- Group therapy
- Individual therapy
- Family therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Motivational Interviewing
- Stress management
- Educational classes
- Relapse prevention planning
In the case of outpatient detox, the person can expect their initial visit to involve a physical exam to gauge their general health, as well as blood tests and other screenings before they are given medication to help ease typical symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms may include nausea, insomnia, or anxiety. During this visit, it is common to be held for several hours for observational purposes until it is safe for them to go back home.
After this first appointment, those entering outpatient treatment will work with their counselor or therapist to put together a treatment program that works best for them, taking advantage of the various therapeutic services provided. They can participate in therapy sessions, classes, workshops, and more to get the skills they need to better manage their addiction in the context of their day-to-day life.
What Are the Benefits of Outpatient Treatment?
Advancements have been made in addiction recovery research, pharmacology, and medicinal technology. The level of care provided in outpatient treatment has been proven equal in its effectiveness to inpatient treatment.
It can be a more effective and more efficient option for addiction treatment for people with less severe substance use disorders who may require more support than individual counseling or outside groups can provide. Some patients do not require the more encompassing, round-the-clock level of treatment offered by inpatient care.
Of the many benefits that come with choosing outpatient rehab, some of the biggest ones are:
- It gives clients the freedom and flexibility to schedule their treatment sessions around their regular life and other daily activities. This also means they get more discretion regarding their addiction recovery rather than having to noticeably withdraw from their life to an inpatient facility. The social stigma surrounding addiction will often keep people from seeking out the help they need for a substance use disorder.
- It costs substantially less than inpatient or long-term residential care while offering many of the same therapies and services. The cost can be a significant barrier for people when it comes to seeking out addiction treatment. The fact that outpatient treatment programs are also more likely to be covered by insurance than inpatient treatment helps make it a feasible option.
- It provides a more practical means of treatment for those who do not have the ability or the means to leave their family, work, or school to enter into addiction treatment. This can be another major barrier that keeps people from getting the help they need.
- It gives clients the opportunity to put the addiction management tools and skills they’ve been learning to immediate use in their regular life, which makes it easier to course-correct and try something new if it becomes obvious that a current coping technique is proving ineffective.
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Is Outpatient Treatment Right for You?
When seeking addiction treatment, you will go through an intake and assessment process that’s designed to help connect you to the right level of care. Clinicians will help identify your immediate needs and place you in a program that can address those needs.
Most intake coordinators and clinicians will refer to the ASAM criteria when determining the level of care they recommend. The criteria is a list of factors in addiction treatment that has been outlined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).
It involves six dimensions that cover a holistic approach to treatment, including biological, psychological, and social factors. The six dimensions include:
- Withdrawal potential or acute intoxication. If you are likely to go through withdrawal, you may need higher levels of care or medical services.
- Medical conditions or complications. Medical conditions need to be addressed as a first priority in treatment to maintain safety.
- Psychological complications. Psychological needs can impede addiction treatment if they aren’t addressed. Issues like depression and anxiety are extremely common and should be addressed alongside substance use issues.
- Readiness to change. Some people enter addiction treatment because of a court order or to appease family members. However, there are therapies designed to motivate and engage people who are apathetic towards treatment.
- Relapse potential. If you haven’t progressed in treatment far enough and you would likely relapse on your own, you may need a higher level of care.
- Recovery environment. Your living environment can help or hinder your recovery. For instance, a roommate that still abuses drugs would mean living in a poor recovery environment.
If you have high-level needs, outpatient treatment may not be right for you. For instance, if you are have recently stopped using drugs after developing a chemical dependence, you will go through withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the drug, withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant or even fatal.
Likewise, if you have urgent medical or psychological needs, a program with 24-hour monitoring might be best for you. If you haven’t gone through enough treatment to recognize triggers and plan for high-risk situations, you may be vulnerable to a relapse. In that case, a higher level of care like an inpatient program or an intensive outpatient program might serve you better.
If you’ve already gone through higher levels of care, and you’re ready to live on your own, an outpatient program might be an important step in treatment. Outpatient programs are for people with low-level needs in addiction treatment.
A patient with a mild substance use disorder, like a pattern of abuse without having developed a chemical dependence or an addiction, outpatient treatment can help you avoid more serious consequences of addiction.
If you’re unsure whether or not outpatient is right for you, the best way to find out is to speak to an addiction treatment specialist or an intake coordinator. Talk about your recent history with drug use, your concerns, and your needs to learn more about the treatment options that might be best to address your potential substance use disorder.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? Retrieved from from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (Alcohol, Marijuana, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Nicotine). Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Types of Treatment Programs. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). 12-Step Facilitation Therapy (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opiates). Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-4
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Treatment, C. F. (n.d.). Chapter 4. Services in Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64094/