Trusted Content
DR. ANNA PICKERING

Medically reviewed by

01/25/2020

Outpatient treatment programs are a popular method of treatment for individuals struggling with a substance use disorder. This type of treatment is a great option for people with a less severe substance use disorder as well as those who cannot participate in a more intensive program such as inpatient addiction treatment. In this article, we explore what outpatient addiction treatment is, the different types of outpatient programs, methods of treatment offered in outpatient treatment, and how to decide if an outpatient program is right for you.

Best Treatment Options For Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Rehab

Outpatient addiction programs are one of the most common approaches to treating substance use disorders. This type of treatment provides several benefits for those working to overcome addiction and can be used as either a primary form of treatment or as supplemental treatment following an inpatient program. Because each person is different and has different needs when it comes to addiction recovery, it’s important to be familiar with the various treatment methods to decide which one will most benefit you. Let’s take a look at what outpatient treatment is and whether it’s a good option for your unique recovery needs.

What is an Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Addiction Rehab Program?

Outpatient addiction treatment is a form of substance use disorder treatment that requires patients to attend an addiction recovery program several days a week. During the program, patients will participate in various forms of therapy such as individual and group counseling with a licensed addiction counselor. Outpatient programs may also incorporate other types of treatment such as medication-assisted treatment to further assist patients in their recovery.

Outpatient programs typically last for several months and some patients may even continue on for a year or more in the program. Each outpatient program participant typically receives a customized program of recovery with the ultimate goal being to help patients learn how to get and stay sober in the long-term.

There are a number of outpatient program options available, with the most common being:

Standard Outpatient Rehabilitation

Standard outpatient programs are the least intensive form of outpatient treatment. This type of program typically requires patients to attend treatment at an outpatient facility once or twice a week for a few hours each session. During sessions, patients may meet one-on-one with a counselor, participate in group therapy, and other activities that promote recovery and long-term sobriety.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

An intensive outpatient program is a step up in intensity compared to standard outpatient treatment. An IOP requires patients to participate in on-site treatment for up to 20 hours a week, and many programs ask that patients attend the program five days a week. IOPs typically offer more variety when it comes to treatment methods since patients are in the program for longer periods of time during each session.

Types of treatment an IOP patient may participate in include case management, medication management or medication-assisted treatment, individual and group counseling, and drug testing. This is typically the outpatient treatment program recommended for people who are using it as their primary rehabilitation method.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)

Partial hospitalization programs are the most intensive form of outpatient treatment and require patients to attend treatment up to seven days a week for several hours each day. These programs are typically offered in hospitals or other clinical settings and include various treatment methods such as psychiatric care, dual diagnosis, case management, several forms of therapy, and medication management.

Outpatient Treatment vs. Inpatient Treatment: What’s the Difference?

Inpatient addiction treatment is often considered the most successful approach to substance use disorders especially when a person’s substance use disorder is severe. However, not everyone is capable of attending an inpatient program for various reasons, making outpatient treatment the next viable option for most individuals.

There are a few key differences between inpatient and outpatient drug rehab, with the most obvious difference being the fact that inpatient treatment requires residential living throughout the course of the program. This means that patients must leave behind their day-to-day lives for several weeks or even months in order to participate in the program. This can be difficult or even impossible for some people, especially those with families or jobs that do not allow them to take an extended period of time off.

On the other hand, outpatient programs are often flexible and many offer session options that accommodate patients’ work schedules. For example, someone may be able to attend an outpatient program in the evening after work or on the weekends.

Another primary difference between inpatient and outpatient programs is that inpatient treatment is much more intensive than outpatient programs. In an inpatient program, patients participate in various forms of treatment throughout the entire day every day. This is often preferable for individuals who have a more severe substance use disorder and require extensive rehabilitation efforts to get and stay sober. Outpatient treatment is much less structured and rarely as intensive as inpatient treatment, making it a good choice for people with a milder substance use disorder or after being discharged from an inpatient program to continue the recovery process.

Benefits of Participating in an Outpatient Treatment Program for Substance Use Disorders

There are several benefits for those who choose to attend an outpatient treatment program. However, it’s important to determine when outpatient treatment is the best option for you to ensure you experience all the benefits of this approach to addiction recovery.

Benefits of an outpatient addiction program include:

  • Allows individuals to receive support from friends and family while participating in a treatment program
  • Allows patients to continue to work while undergoing treatment
  • Enables students to continue their coursework and not get behind on school while still receiving addiction treatment
  • Outpatient treatment is often much less expensive than residential treatment options and many health insurance plans cover the majority of an outpatient program
  • Let’s patients attend treatment while maintaining their privacy
  • Gives patients the opportunity to form relationships with others in recovery in their area

Types of Treatment Provided in an Outpatient Addiction Program

There several different types of treatment modalities utilized in an outpatient addiction program. The particular treatment options and therapies offered will depend on the type of outpatient program as well as where it is offered. Some outpatient addiction programs specialize in certain types of treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy whereas other programs provide a few different treatment options.

The following are the most frequently used treatments in outpatient programs for substance use disorders:

Individual and Group Therapy

Individual and group therapy is typically the cornerstone of an outpatient addiction treatment program. Individual therapy consists of patients meeting one-on-one with a professional addiction counselor to address both the person’s addiction and the parts of their life that may contribute to it. Individual counseling helps people develop the tools needed to confront various life struggles and healthy ways of coping with life in sobriety.

Group counseling is also regularly used in outpatient programs and is often very effective in keeping individuals motivated and engaged in their treatment plans. Group therapy provides patients with the opportunity to share their experiences, struggles, and progress with individuals who are going through similar situations and gives people a sense of accountability to their peers. It also shows patients that they are not alone and that others are experiencing the same difficulties they are.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, also commonly referred to as CBT, is a type of therapy that focuses on finding solutions for specific problems. In the case of outpatient treatment, CBT is typically geared towards helping people identify the thoughts and behaviors that promote substance abuse and how to change them.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment may be used in some outpatient programs, especially the more intensive outpatient options such as IOPs and partial hospitalization programs. MAT is when a patient is given medication to help ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings and helps to prevent against further substance use. Popular medications used in a MAT program include disulfiram, naltrexone, suboxone, methadone, and acamprosate. MAT is most commonly used when a person is struggling with an opioid or alcohol addiction but may be used in other cases.

Drug Testing

While not necessarily considered a therapy, drug testing is often an integral part of an outpatient program and ensures patients remain sober throughout the course of their treatment. Patients may be drug tested weekly or more frequently depending on the outpatient program. People who test positively for drugs may be asked to leave the program or start over.

Other Therapies Offered in Outpatient Treatment

There are several additional therapies that are often incorporated into an outpatient addiction program. Some of these include:

  • Contingency management therapy: This type of therapy is based on establishing rewards and consequences to promote positive and healthy behaviors. The ultimate goal of contingency management is to help a person associate positive outcomes with sobriety.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy involves both the patient and their families including spouses and parents. This type of therapy is typically used when a person’s family contributes to or enables their addiction. It may also be used to teach the family of the patient ways to cope with the patient’s addiction.
  • Motivational interviewing: This is a form of therapy that helps patients overcome their resistance to recovery and establish a viable motivation for getting and staying sober. Motivational interviewing is most frequently used in the case of marijuana and alcohol addiction.
  • Relapse prevention: Relapse prevention is a type of counseling that helps patients become familiar with the signs of impending relapse and a plan for stopping relapse before it occurs. Most patients in an outpatient program will participate in relapse prevention counseling before they are released from the program.

Who Will Benefit from an Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Rehab Program?

Outpatient addiction treatment isn’t right for everyone. Understanding the pros and cons as well as your specific needs when it comes to addiction recovery is imperative when choosing which type of treatment you will pursue. People who are most likely to benefit from an outpatient program include those who:

  • Do not have a high risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms or medical complications after quitting using substances
  • Have a more mild substance use disorder
  • Have a solid support system and a healthy home environment
  • Have access to reliable transportation to get to and from the outpatient program
  • Are motivated to overcome addiction and willing to attend regular sessions
  • Are not regularly exposed to drug and alcohol use at home or in their immediate environment
  • Cannot take time off of work or school to attend an inpatient addiction program

If you do not relate to the above situations, you may want to consider attending an inpatient addiction program to ensure you receive the most effective treatment for your needs.

Is an Outpatient Treatment Program Right for Me?

If you are unsure whether an outpatient program is the best option for you or a loved one, it’s important to speak with an addiction specialist to determine your needs and what type of program will meet them. To learn more about outpatient treatment and whether it’s right for you, contact one of our dedicated treatment specialists today. We’d be happy to answer any questions you have and provide you any additional information you may need to make the best decision for your recovery.