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Updated on February 1, 2022

Outpatient Treatment

What is Outpatient Drug Treatment/Rehab?

Outpatient drug rehab is a treatment used to help people with mild and moderate substance use disorders (SUD).

Many outpatient programs treat both drug and alcohol use, while some dedicate their treatment services to one or the other.

SUDs occur in a spectrum of intensities.

In other words, doctors classify them as mild, moderate, or severe. Outpatient drug rehab treats people suffering from a mild to moderate drug or alcohol use disorder (AUD). It is ideal for people who have high levels of motivation to improve their health but need a flexible treatment option that works around their schedule.

Outpatient programs arrange drug or alcohol treatment sessions according to the patient’s schedule. They come in various formats that differ in levels of intensity, length, and types of services.

The primary objective is to:

  • Provide counseling
  • Educate the patient
  • Provide a system of support

Sessions are more frequent at the beginning of treatment. As a patient’s ability to stay healthy and sober increases, the number of sessions will decrease. The goal is to provide the patient with tools and skills to navigate the world while remaining sober.

Types of Outpatient Drug Rehab

The ideal outpatient program for drug and alcohol rehab will differ from person to person and depend on several factors, including:

  • The type of substance use disorder
  • Severity of the substance use disorder
  • Any existing mental health conditions
  • Age
  • Medical history
  • Insurance and financial status

Here are the four most effective types of outpatient drug rehab:

1. Day Programs

Day programs are typically considered the most intensive outpatient rehab programs. They provide the most structure and services during treatment. Patients must attend five to seven sessions a week for multiple hours each day.

They spend this time in ongoing talk therapy sessions, group counseling, and other therapies. Often, day programs will utilize art or music therapies. After the session, the patients return home, either to their independent residence or a sober living facility.

2. Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

Intensive outpatient programs work by creating treatment plans with clearly defined and measurable goals. As a patient meets these milestones, their requirements and commitments decrease.

The early stages of treatment may require multiple sessions each week. They could involve:

  • Individual counseling sessions
  • Group therapy
  • Relapse prevention education
  • 12-step programs
  • Participation in other recovery support groups

IOPs are best suited for people who are transitioning from inpatient programs or individuals who are highly motivated to stay sober but need to continue working, go to school, or carry out other responsibilities.

3. Continuing Care Groups

Continuing care groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, are ongoing support groups that assist individuals with their commitment to staying sober.

They typically meet weekly and are run by a licensed therapist or members who have achieved long-term sobriety. They also provide counseling, a community of people in recovery, and valuable resources for people working on overcoming their SUD.

4. Recovery Residencies

Recovery residencies, also known as sober homes, halfway houses, and Oxford Houses, are an option for people that are somewhere in between outpatient and inpatient rehab. They are non-medical, healthy, sober, and safe living environments that help people focus on recovering from their SUD.

It is common for people to transfer from inpatient rehab facilities to recovery residencies. Some facilities solely provide housing and peer-to-peer support, while others offer more intensive and structured services.

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Therapies used in Outpatient Rehab

There are many outpatient treatment options available. Therefore, in a rehab program, there is a large variety of therapies utilized.

Some of the most commonly used therapies in outpatient rehab include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — CBT is a talk therapy (psychotherapy) method focused on changing an individual’s thought patterns to effect positive behavioral change.
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) — Sometimes called person-centered counseling, MET uses the patient’s ambitions and resources to build an actionable, goal-oriented recovery strategy.
  • Contingency management (CM) — Contingency management, or evidence based therapy, is a technique that rewards or reinforces a patient when they show evidence of positive behavioral changes.
  • Group Counseling — Group counseling is often paired with a 12-step program. Counseling groups allow patients to share their experiences, hear other people's stories, and experiment with new behaviors in a safe environment.
  • Relapse prevention — Relapse begins before the patient resumes substance use. By teaching them to recognize warning signs, patients can learn to prevent upcoming relapses.
  • Lectures and educational programs — Providing individuals with the knowledge and resources to recover and live a healthy life is crucial to helping them maintain their sobriety.
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy — In some cases, doctors may prescribe medicines to reduce cravings, or reduce withdrawal symptoms. Not all substance use cases can be treated with medication.

When to Seek Outpatient Treatment

While outpatient addiction treatment is available for nearly all individuals with a SUD, it is most useful for people who have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • A high level of motivation to recover
  • A support system in place
  • Familial or work obligations that they must maintain throughout their recovery
  • No other medical or mental health complications

Benefits of Outpatient Rehab

An outpatient rehab program offers several benefits. These include:


Outpatient programs allow patients to continue fulfilling their responsibilities. The flexible scheduling is appealing for people who are working, attending school, or don’t want to leave their families during recovery.


Outpatient rehab is generally cheaper than residential care while still providing quality treatment. Insurance is accepted at nearly all facilities and can often cover most of the treatments.

Family Support

Many people benefit greatly from being surrounded by their families during their recovery. Inpatient treatment requires you to live in a separate facility, whereas outpatient allows you to remain at home.

Real World Practice

With outpatient treatment, people can take what they’ve learned and immediately apply and practice it in real-life situations at work, at home, and with their friends.

Disadvantages of Outpatient Rehab

There are downsides to both inpatient and outpatient rehab.

The main disadvantage of outpatient rehab is that it is not as structured or intensive as inpatient treatment. People who are not highly motivated to stay sober may find it challenging to achieve success through outpatient treatment. Also, if a patient needs medical treatment for withdrawal symptoms or other effects, inpatient treatment may be required.

In an outpatient setting, an individual is surrounded by triggers and old friends. This increases the chance of relapse. Inpatient settings or recovery residencies help alleviate temptations and reduce risk factors.

Outpatient Treatment Timeline

It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s pace through outpatient treatment will be different.

Treatment and recovery paths are developed based on the individual’s progress and needs. Still, there are some common milestones that nearly all outpatient treatment programs strive for.

Here are the three general stages of an outpatient treatment program:

1. Getting sober

The first step in getting sober is to stop substance or alcohol use. Then detoxification flushes the chemicals from your system so that your brain and body can begin the healing process. It will take time for the body’s necessary functions to stabilize, such as sleep and having a healthy appetite.

During this time, a patient also will begin to replace substance use with healthy behaviors, learn how to deal with cravings, and build a support group.

2. Strengthening sobriety

This stage involves a lot of learning and sharing. A patient will hear other people’s experiences, learn new skills and techniques, and explore the various available resources. This is when they start making sober friends and applying the new behaviors and thought processes to their everyday lives.

3. Thriving in sobriety

Ongoing treatment, or “aftercare,” is common, even when someone has become sober. This helps the individual enjoy life without drugs or alcohol, practice new healthy behaviors, prevent relapse, and ultimately, be of service to others.

Preparation for Outpatient Drug Rehab

There are two main things one needs to do to prepare for outpatient rehab:

  • Understand the program they’re enrolling in — It’s crucial to research your different treatment options. By speaking with the employees and other patients, you can get a better idea of what to expect from a program.
  • Get support from family and friends — At first, it may be uncomfortable to talk about your SUD with people close to you. But gaining the support of people who care about you will greatly increase your chances of a successful recovery

Cost and Insurance Coverage for Outpatient Rehab

Most outpatient rehab facilities accept health insurance, and often the treatments are covered by insurance. In these cases, the cost is dependent on your health care coverage and out-of-pocket expenses.

Outpatient programs are cheaper than inpatient programs. Many programs have a price tag of approximately $5,000 for a 3-month program. Some programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, are donation-based.

Outpatient programs may also offer financial assistance or payment programs for people who need them. Speak with an associate at the program before enlisting to review all of your payment options.

Outpatient Rehab vs. Inpatient Rehab

While there is a broad spectrum of outpatient rehab treatment options, they are all less intensive than inpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment is most effective for highly motivated individuals who have support systems in place.

Inpatient rehab facilities are a better option for individuals suffering from severe substance use disorders. They are also more effective at treating co-occurring disorders (when someone has a SUD and a mental health disorder simultaneously).

How to Choose an Outpatient Rehab Center

Finding an outpatient rehab facility that fits your needs, schedule, and budget is the best way to maximize your chances of recovery.

Here are some questions you should ask before enrolling to make sure the program is right for you:

  • What types of addictions do they treat?
  • What types of therapies do they use?
  • What are their patient policies?
  • What is the length of treatment?
  • Do they provide comprehensive aftercare?
  • Who will be in charge of your treatment?
  • Are they properly accredited and licensed?
  • Will your insurance cover treatment?
  • What are the payment options?
  • Where is the facility located?

If you’re looking for help in recovering from an AUD or SUD, outpatient rehab can help. Contact a professional today to begin reviewing your options.

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  1. "Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2013.
  2. NIDA. "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 17 Jan. 2018.
  3. Bradbury, Allison. “Behavioral Health Treatments and Services,” SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 30 Jan. 2019.
  4. Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment for Substance Use Problems.” Cigna, Oct. 2017.
  5. McCarty, Dennis et al. "Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence," Psychiatric Services, 2014 Jun 1; 65: pp. 718-726.
  6. Finney, J W et al. “The effectiveness of inpatient and outpatient treatment for alcohol abuse: the need to focus on mediators and moderators of setting effects.” Addiction (Abingdon, England) vol. 91,12 : 1773-96; discussion 1803-20.

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