Updated on February 6, 2024
7 min read

What Is Outpatient Treatment?

What is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment is a form of therapy that helps people overcome addiction by allowing them to maintain a normal lifestyle. This means eating and sleeping at home and going to a facility for treatment sessions.

Outpatient treatment is one of two primary drug or alcohol programs used to treat addiction, the other being inpatient treatment. Outpatient treatments are used to treat mild to moderate forms of addiction.

The goal of these services is to provide people with the skills to live their lives without drug or alcohol addiction. In this article, we’re going to explain everything to know about outpatient rehab.  

Is Outpatient Treatment for You?

Outpatient treatment is a good choice if you struggle with less severe addictions. People with less severe addictions don't need 24/7 intervention. It also works best if you have a safe and secure home life.

Outpatient treatment is flexible because you don't need to move into the facility full-time. You can continue going to school, work, and other social obligations while in therapy.

Deciding if an outpatient program is right for you depends on factors such as:

  • The level of substance abuse
  • Need for care or supervision
  • Financial situation

You might benefit from inpatient treatment if outpatient treatment isn't for you.


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Who Should Go to Outpatient Treatment?

The people best suited for outpatient addiction treatment are those who:

  1. Are highly motivated
  2. Don’t require medical supervision for detox
  3. Don’t have co-existing psychiatric diagnoses (such as depression, bipolar, severe anxiety, or PTSD)

In addition, an outpatient treatment program works well for people who have recently graduated from inpatient addiction treatment. Finally, outpatient care is helpful to people looking for continued support in the real world after leaving a residential drug abuse facility.

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Outpatient vs. Inpatient Treatment

Outpatient programs are less restrictive than inpatient care because they don't require you to live in the treatment facility. Instead, you can continue with your day-to-day life alongside therapy.

On the other hand, inpatient programs or residential treatment require you to move into a live-in facility. They're the best for people who struggle with severe substance abuse disorder or addiction.1 This is because they offer consistent counseling and around-the-clock support.

Studies show that both programs are effective treatment options for addiction.2,3 The most important part of choosing between inpatient or outpatient treatment is understanding which one is better for you.

How Much Does Outpatient Treatment Cost?

An intensive outpatient program can easily cost between $1,000 and $5,000 for a three-month program.5 Other outpatient addiction treatment facilities can cost up to $10,000. 

However, other drug addiction and alcohol abuse programs are very affordable. For example, AA and NA have no dues or fees and are free of charge.

Often, insurance companies will cover rehab costs in full or partially. This may help offset the price of more expensive outpatient services.

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Does Insurance Cover Outpatient Treatment

Using insurance to pay for treatment services is the most common way people can afford outpatient addiction treatment.

The types of insurance often used to attend outpatient care are:

  • State-financed insurance
  • Medicare or Medicaid
  • Private insurance 
  • Military insurance

In addition, many outpatient care facilities will offer financing options to individuals, so they can pay for their services over time rather than all at once. 

Pros and Cons of Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatments have pros and cons depending on the level of care needed. 

Pros of Outpatient Treatment

Pros of outpatient treatment:

  • Outpatient treatments are significantly cheaper than inpatient treatment programs
  • It helps build community and social support during treatment and long after, which helps maintain sobriety
  • They’re more flexible and less disruptive to people’s everyday lives
  • As an aftercare program, outpatient rehab can help you stay in addiction programs longer, increasing your chances of long-term sobriety4

Cons of Outpatient Treatment

Cons of outpatient treatment:

  • It doesn’t provide 24/7 care and supervision
  • Medical detox isn’t offered in most outpatient care programs
  • Access to drugs or alcohol is more readily available
  • Triggers for substance abuse are easier to come by (liquor stores, drinking activities, etc) 
  • you can’t speak with counselors at any given moment.

Types of Outpatient Treatment

There are various types of outpatient treatment programs. Each offers a different approach that can cater to your specific needs.

These treatment programs include:

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

PHPs are structured mental health programs where you participate in activities during the day and return home at night. This program provides comprehensive care while allowing you to live your life outside of treatment.

PHPs are sometimes referred to as "day programs." They also offer various evidence-based therapies and medical monitoring.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)

The primary function of IOPs is to help you after inpatient treatment or hospitalization. They provide counseling and therapy to help you adjust to life with your loved ones. IOPs also provide a support system to help you maintain sobriety and manage relapses if they happen.

Florida Model

The Florida model or "sober living" is a combination of IOPs and inpatient treatment. This allows a certain degree of independence as well as monitored medical support.6

The Florida model involves living in on-campus housing instead of treatment facilities. This provides home-like comfort and can help you reimagine your daily rountines.

The program incorporates learning therapies for real-life situations, including:

  • Building social skills
  • Decision-making techniques
  • Nutrition
  • Conflict-resolution

Continuing Care

Continuing care programs are follow-up support programs to provide support after hospitalization. These programs are often 12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

In these programs, members meet weekly and offer support for alumni of various treatment programs. These support groups share their experiences to help you learn and recover from addiction.

How Do Outpatient Programs Work?

The first step in outpatient treatment programs is to be evaluated by a professional. These can be conducted in community centers, treatment facilities, or hospitals.

Once evaluated, a professional decides which drugs or alcohol services are needed. They can then create a personalized program. 

Outpatient programs differ, but there are a few standard therapies offered. These therapies may vary from program to program in length, intensity, and scheduling.

Common outpatient therapies include:

  • Motivational interviewing (MI): Focuses on self-motivation and changing habits to promote healthy choices. This therapy is often completed in 3 to 4 sessions. 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Explores the link between behaviors, thought patterns, and addiction. It focuses on substance abuse, coping mechanisms, and relapse prevention. 
  • Contingency management (CM) is also called the motivational incentives method. During CM, people receive awards or prizes for completing milestones in their recovery.
  • Intensive family systemic therapy (IFS) is an approach where people focus on restoring and addressing their mental balance. IFS treats each person’s sub-personalities within their core “self” to manage their traumas.

How Long Are Outpatient Programs?

There is no fixed timeframe for outpatient rehab programs. They’re often adjusted on a person-to-person basis depending on their specific substance abuse or drug addiction.

However, there is an approximate duration for each type of outpatient program. In general, these programs can last for:

  • Outpatient programs: 2-3 days a week for 3-4 hours a day
  • Partial hospitalization programs: 5-7 days a week for 7-8 hours each day
  • Intensive outpatient program: 4 times a week and can last up to 90 days

Aftercare Planning

Outpatient rehab is often used as an aftercare program when a person graduates from an inpatient treatment program. Once you complete outpatient treatment, aftercare can involve:

  • Attending recovery meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Joining support groups or making friends with other sober people
  • Knowing your triggers and staying away from environments where they may show up
  • Attending therapy or counseling weekly
  • Starting new hobbies that keep you engaged
  • Moving into a sober living community
  • Constructing a relapse prevention plan to help manage when you’re triggered

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Updated on February 6, 2024
6 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024

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