Most people recovering from a substance use disorder will require ongoing care to ensure they live in sobriety full time. Outpatient treatment is one form of addiction treatment that helps them achieve this goal. This level of addiction care offers therapies and services for recovery on a more flexible schedule for people who cannot commit to receiving treatment in an inpatient or residential facility for an extended period, usually anywhere from 28 days or more.
Outpatient programs allow clients to live at home or in transitional housing so that they can continue to take care of obligations related to school, work, or home. It is also an ideal treatment program for people who need affordable treatment services that offer the same level of care as programs that require an on-site stay at a facility that offers full-time supervision and medical care.
Because outpatient treatment is an affordable option, some insurance companies view it favorably and are more willing to cover it.
Outpatient treatment programs are ideal for people who:
This kind of program is also most beneficial to people who have a stable living environment and reliable transportation so that they can get to their sessions, and also supportive people around them.
Outpatient programs are low-to-moderate in intensity and offered for nine or fewer hours a week. Programs can run in the daytime or evening, and it is up to clients to find a schedule that works for them. Outpatient programs offer various settings that promote recovery. Clients can receive their treatment at a hospital, area clinic, or rehab facility that treats substance use disorders.
As with other recovery programs, outpatient treatment focuses on the specific needs of the person receiving it. During these hours, clients will follow an individualized program that gives them the specific tools, strategies, counseling, and resources they need to work through their substance use disorder and any accompanying issues. All therapies and services offered will depend on where a person is in their recovery process.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives an idea of what you can expect from an outpatient treatment program.
Before you choose an outpatient program, you might want to evaluate where you are in your recovery journey right now. There is much to consider, including:
Take an honest assessment of your physical, emotional, and mental needs right now to see if an outpatient program is the best fit or if you need another kind of treatment program and facility. You also may want to compare outpatient programs at different facilities to see if they could work with your schedule and personal preferences for treatment.
On the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s continuum of care, outpatient treatment is at Level 1, which means it is among the least intensive settings for recovery from substance use disorders. A less-intensive setting means people who want to participate in an outpatient program will have to take some time to think about if this kind of treatment program is appropriate for where they are in their recovery journey right now.
Residential treatment, which takes place in a structured environment, allows people to check off all the questions above with a “yes” answer. Residential care is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and clients follow a daily schedule with few distractions to give their full attention to working through their substance use disorder and other disorders they may have.
Outpatient treatment does not offer any of these benefits, so people who participate in an outpatient program must be realistic about what they can and cannot handle as they manage their recovery. Outpatient clients must manage their own lives, taking responsibility for everything, including taking prescription medications as directed, paying their own bills, and assessing their risk for relapse.
If you need more hours in a program but still cannot afford full-time treatment, you might find that an intensive outpatient program could work for you.
The key difference between an outpatient therapy program (OP) and an intensive outpatient therapy program (IOP) is the number of hours a person must complete. An IOP requires nine or more hours a week, and the therapy is more rigorous than it is in an outpatient program.
An IOP can be the next level of care a person enters once they have finished their time in residential treatment. It offers more hands-on support for people who are new to recovery or need more time to transition from a more structured program.
Individuals in an IOP can attend a program a set number of hours a day, five days a week. These programs can last for a few weeks to a few months, depending on the person’s needs. IOPs also offer therapies and counseling, as other treatment settings do. They also might cost more than standard outpatient programs, so if cost is a concern, make sure to review this option carefully.
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No matter where a person is on the continuum of care, all people in recovery owe it to themselves to get the most out of their recovery. Starting over after battling addiction is tough, so if you or a loved one decides that you need more time in a structured environment before starting an outpatient program, then know that there are treatment options that can meet your needs.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse advises a person to remain in treatment for as long as needed to be effective. Research shows that 90 days is ideal, but as noted earlier, outpatient treatment can be ongoing for as long as it is needed.
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NIDA. (January, 2018). “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-can-family-friends-make-difference-in-life-someone
Healthline. Relapse Prevention Plan: Techniques to Help You Stay on Track. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/opioid-withdrawal/relapse-prevention-plan
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Drug addiction (substance use disorder). (2017, October 26). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How Long Does Drug Addiction Treatment Usually Last?” Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment-usually-last