Those seeking treatment may not always find success through inpatient programs, particularly those who haven’t made progress in addiction treatment. For some, successful completion of their inpatient programs may require additional therapeutic support, which means they should consider an intensive outpatient option. 

As you might expect with an outpatient program, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) provide flexibility regarding living arrangements and personal obligations while implementing the intensive therapies necessary to safeguard their newly founded sobriety. A client will reap the benefits of continued counseling for substance use without disrupting their lives and schedules. 

What is Intensive Outpatient?

Intensive outpatient (IOP) is a treatment program used to treat various mental health issues like chemical dependency, depression, or bipolar disorder. An IOP group is typically smaller in size than other support groups that allow clients to focus more on themselves and their individual needs. 

IOP does not require residential or partial day services you might expect from a larger addiction treatment facility, and IOP for substance use allows a client in recovery to receive counseling for their addiction while maintaining a routine schedule. It could include fulfilling work obligations or spending time mending relationships with family or friends. 

Intensive outpatient is an attractive feature of substance use treatment because of its flexible scheduling, but it must be noted that IOP does not offer detoxification services. A person stuck in the cycle of active addiction would not find success through this treatment type. The individual should seek detox elsewhere before considering this option. 

IOP services are primarily used for individuals who have completed detox and were deemed medically stabilized by addiction specialists. Some drugs cause uncomfortable and sometimes deadly withdrawal symptoms, making it crucial that an individual receives adequate medical care before admittance into an IOP.

What Types of Therapies/Methods are Involved in IOP?

Intensive outpatient programs consist of intensive therapies, and it’s reasonable to wonder what types of services or treatments are offered during these programs. IOPs consist of a unique curriculum, but it will be tailored around the client’s particular needs. It might be a mixture of the most commonly seen therapy types that we’ll describe below.

Group Therapy

It’s vital to understand that each program is different, but a typical IOP operates on a group basis. It means that during your IOP sessions, you’ll be around other former drug and alcohol users. It’s proven that group approaches are as practical as one-one-one formats. Clients can discuss an array or challenges among their peers that can provide support and empathy from a first-hand viewpoint. This will all take place under the guidance and care of a therapist. 

Individual Counseling

Despite the success found in group therapy, IOP for substance use emphasizes one-on-one sessions as well. A client can expect to spend more time in group therapy, but the primary therapist will meet with each client in a more private setting to discuss more personal issues the individual is facing.

Psychoeducational Programming

During intensive outpatient programs, the client needs to learn about the definition of addiction. During these intense therapy sessions, the therapist will educate the client about addiction and stimulate their personal experiences among the participants. These educational sessions will allow the clients to learn and make behavioral changes based on this new knowledge.


Intensive outpatients may not have an entire medical staff that you’ll find in a medical detox or inpatient treatment facility, but IOPs have psychiatrists and specific medical professionals on duty. Since many drug and alcohol users struggle with mental health issues, prescription medications may be necessary to treat their conditions. The prescriptions will be written and monitored by the staff to ensure the client’s safety and progress.

Monitoring Drug and Alcohol Use

The ultimate goal of recovery is to abstain from drugs and alcohol, and during a client’s stay in IOP, they will be strictly monitored for substance intake. It will come in the form of drug tests that are submitted to laboratories for analysis. The frequency of testing will vary from one client to another. Implementing these strategies will help keep the client accountable during their recovery and allow the staff to closely monitor the client’s progress. 

Who Benefits From Intensive Outpatient Programs?

Intensive outpatient programs are considered as effective as residential or inpatient programs to treat drug and alcohol use disorders. However, clients’ needs will vary widely during addiction treatment, and certain drug or alcohol users may benefit from IOP for substance use. In contrast, others may require a more monitored environment. It is up to the intake staff to determine which path is right for you.

The following will determine if IOP is the right fit for you:

  • You’ve completed a higher level of care (detox, residential treatment, or partial hospitalization)
  • You’ve recently relapsed and seek additional time for recovery.
  • You require additional assistance while transitioning to a full-time sober living facility.
  • You might have co-occurring disorders along with a substance use disorder.
  • You require ongoing support from mental health professionals, therapists, supportive friends, peers, or family members while you receive IOP services.

The primary focal point of IOP is relapse prevention. A standard IOP schedule involves the client receiving counseling anywhere from three to five times a week. Fortunately, sessions can be scheduled around their needs. This flexibility allows the treatment plan to be created around the client’s schedule. 

How Long is Intensive Outpatient?

As we mentioned above, IOP takes place around the client’s schedule. However, they must attend five three-hour sessions a week, anywhere from one to three months. During this type of treatment, the client may also participate in therapy or counseling three to four hours a week. Once the individual reaches their milestones, the sessions could be reduced. The time spent in IOP will vary depending on the severity of addiction and accompanying mental health issues. 

Those who require additional support must attend intensive outpatient therapy sessions more often. This refers to those newer to the recovery process and that are more prone to relapse. It’s about immersing yourself in the process for the best results. 

Those with longer periods of sobriety under their belts can attend two times a week and receive the same benefits. During admissions, an assessment will be taken by a clinician to determine your most pressing needs. Once they understand your situation, they will tailor a treatment plan that sets you up for success.

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