If you are trying to stop using a substance like drugs or alcohol, outpatient rehab is an effective, flexible treatment option. Outpatient care allows you to attend treatment sessions while still living at home and functioning in your regular daily routines. Rehab is a positive step toward recovery, and outpatient rehab has some specific benefits.
In this article:
- What Is an Outpatient Rehab Program?
- Types of Outpatient Rehab Programs
- Advantages of Outpatient Rehab Programs
- Disadvantages of Outpatient Rehab Programs
- Outpatient vs. Inpatient Rehab
- What to Expect in Outpatient Rehab
- How to Choose an Outpatient Rehab
What Is an Outpatient Rehab Program?
Outpatient rehab programs will vary in what they offer and how they look. Unlike inpatient rehab in which you live at the facility, outpatient programs involve attending therapy and counseling and returning home during non-treatment hours, typically in the evening. These programs can be standalone or integrated into more involved or long-term treatment plans.
Some of the different settings that offer outpatient services include:1
- Various health clinics, such as a community mental health clinic or a hospital clinic
- Professional counselor’s offices
- Local health department offices
- Residential rehab centers that offer outpatient services
Components of Outpatient Addiction Treatment
While every rehab may have different offerings, you can expect outpatient drug rehab to include the following components:
- Detox for mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms
- Behavioral therapies
- Addiction treatment medications, if applicable
- Mutual support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery, and others
- Drug education classes
- Vocational training
- Group counseling
- Family therapy
- Relapse prevention planning
Types of Outpatient Treatment Programs
Standard Outpatient Treatment
These outpatient treatment programs are the least intensive and most flexible option for those looking to recover from a drug or alcohol addiction. You attend counseling for a couple of hours per week, split up over one or two sessions. This option may be best for someone with a mild addiction and a strong motivation to quit using drugs or alcohol. Alternatively, it may be a good option for someone who has already attended inpatient treatment.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are a form of outpatient rehab that is sometimes offered after you have left a residential program. Other times, they are a person’s first point of contact with addiction treatment.
An intensive outpatient program provides a higher level of care than a standard outpatient program. IOPs will have more appointments and offer a minimum of nine hours of treatment care per week and sometimes more.2 This can happen in three sessions a week, each one lasting for three hours. Depending on your care needs, you may have up to 20 hours of treatment a week in an IOP.
Over time, the number and length of sessions will decrease until you are in a standard outpatient program. Depending on your needs, you can also start your recovery at the outpatient level. Standard outpatient treatment is usually only a couple of sessions per week and may even taper to sessions every other week as you continue to recover.
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are more intensive than IOPs, involving several hours of treatment per day, for five to seven days per week.
A PHP can be a good alternative to inpatient rehab, as it’s more intensive than IOPs, but you don’t have to pay for lodging and can still apply what you learn immediately to your daily life.
Advantages of Outpatient Rehab Programs
Choosing outpatient alcohol rehab programs over inpatient care has some unique benefits, including:1,3
- Outpatient programs usually cost less than inpatient since you are not paying for overnight stays and you will be attending fewer appointments.
- You have more flexibility in your schedule to attend appointments while also maintaining your work, school, and personal life.
- There is easy access to outpatient programs.
- Since you are leaving appointments to return to your day-to-day life, you have immediate opportunities to practice the skills you learned.
Disadvantages of Outpatient Rehab Programs
Choosing an outpatient program rather than a residential center can also have disadvantages, including:
- You will not have 24-hour access to medical professionals in an outpatient program.
- If your home or work environment is triggering, you risk returning to your substance misuse without proper coping skills in place.
- You may miss out on the chance to build a robust support system that develops during residential stays.
Outpatient vs. Inpatient
Talking with a healthcare provider is the most direct way to determine if outpatient or inpatient rehab is best for you.
Outpatient treatment may be generally more suitable for you if you have a supportive environment in your home and community, especially if your drug or alcohol addiction is mild.
Conversely, inpatient care may be best if your living or working environment has a lot of triggers that lead you to use a substance as a coping mechanism. Triggers can be people, places, or things that lead to a craving or make the substance easily accessible for you to use.
What you are able to afford and access may also affect your decision to enter inpatient or outpatient rehab.
What to Expect in Outpatient Rehab
The wide variety of outpatient programs differ in their schedules, formats, and styles, so you can decide which one will best fit your lifestyle and preferences. Depending on what your treatment team recommends, you can opt for more or fewer sessions per week. Many centers offer evening and weekend appointment times that coordinate well with work and school schedules and family responsibilities.
All outpatient programs will offer some forms of behavioral therapy as part of your recovery treatment. Some of the more common therapies offered include:4
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you to identify and change thinking patterns that lead to substance misuse behaviors
- Family therapy, which is particularly helpful for adolescents or if your substance misuse has caused stress in your relationships
- Motivational interviewing, which utilizes questioning to help you discover what it will take to make meaningful changes in your life
- Contingency management, which uses incentives and positive reinforcement to encourage abstinence from substance use
Outpatient drug programs will also offer education on your substance use disorder and provide tools to help you in your recovery. Relapse prevention plans are usually included to help you recognize early signs of a relapse and ways to cope if you begin to experience triggers.
How to Choose an Outpatient Rehab
While any treatment is a step in the right direction, you should consider a number of things while choosing the right outpatient rehab facility for your needs. Some questions you can ask yourself when choosing an outpatient rehab center include:
- Does the rehab facility accept your insurance, and what are the costs going to be?
- How close is the facility to my home, job, or school?
- Is this organization religious or secular, and which do you prefer?
- What programs does the center offer?
- Is there a waiting list to begin the program?
- What are the scheduling options for appointments, and will they fit into my current lifestyle?
- Do you need or want specialized programs, such as those for women, LGBTQ, or co-occurring mental health conditions?
If you are still uncertain about the best route forward, you can speak with your healthcare provider or call 800-743-5860 (Who Answers?) to speak to a specialist about treatment options. Getting an assessment from a professional is a great way to understand the level of care you need and where you can find it.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2014). What is substance abuse treatment? A booklet for families. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4126. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- McCarty, D., Braude, L., Lyman, D. R., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S., Ghose, S. S., & Delphin-Rittmon, M. E. (2014). Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence. Psychiatric Services, 65(6), 718-726.
- Texas Health and Human Services. Adult Substance Use Outpatient Program.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 17). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. National Institutes of Health.