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Updated on September 27, 2022

Outpatient Treatment for Addiction

How Outpatient Treatment for Addiction Works

Two primary drug or alcohol programs are used to treat addiction: inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation

Outpatient treatments are used to treat more 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.  

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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 into a facility for treatment sessions.

This therapy gives people lifestyle flexibility because they don’t need to move into the facility full time. It allows people to continue going to school, working a job, and maintaining relationships while in treatment. 

Outpatient treatment programs are ideal for those struggling with less severe addictions. Ideally, these people don’t need 24/7 intervention. In addition, outpatient treatment works best if the person attending has a safe and secure home life. 

Outpatient treatments can also be a stepping stone for people leaving inpatient treatment centers. Here, they can use outpatient therapy to assemble back into everyday life at a slow and steady pace. 

Moreover, outpatient addiction treatment is often less expensive.

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) is self-motivated and is considered a mild intervention. People in MI have committed to changing their habits and need minor support. This therapy is often completed in 3 to 4 sessions. 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people explore how their behavior and thoughts are connected to patterns in their lives. 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. Often, the more negative toxicology screens and results, the higher the prize results. 
  • 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. Each treatment program is different. They’re often adjusted on a person-to-person basis depending on their specific substance abuse or drug addiction.

Many outpatient rehab programs are between 10 to 12 weeks. They often operate 4 to 5 days a week, sometimes decreasing to fewer days as the program continues. 

Aftercare Planning

Outpatient rehab is often used as an aftercare program when a person graduates from an inpatient treatment program. Here, outpatient rehab serves as a stepping stone to help people reintegrate after intensive inpatient treatment. 

Once a person has graduated from an outpatient treatment program, aftercare can look like:

  • 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

Outpatient vs. Inpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is different from an inpatient treatment program.

Inpatient programs, also known as residential treatment, are best for people who struggle with severe drug abuse, alcohol addiction, or other substance abuse. Inpatient treatment centers often require people to move into live-in facilities with consistent counseling, therapy, and support. 

Most inpatient treatment centers will start with medically assisted detox from whatever substance they’re addicted to. Professionals will aid individuals in the proper medical care and medicine to overcome symptoms of withdrawals, detox, and cravings.1

Research shows that most people need to stay in inpatient treatment programs for at least three months to impact their substance abuse significantly.2

Outpatient treatment programs can differ in intensity. However, these programs are much less restrictive than inpatient care because they don’t require attendees to live in the treatment centers. Instead, people participate in outpatient therapy alongside their everyday lives. 

12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), are effective groups of people in recovery who share their experiences with others to help them learn how to recover from AUD and SUD.

Studies show that outpatient programs can be just as effective as inpatient, or residential treatment programs, for addiction.3

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Pros and Cons of Outpatient Treatment

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

Pros of outpatient treatment:

  • Outpatient treatments are significantly cheaper than inpatient treatment programs. Most outpatient programs are inexpensive and covered by health insurance.
  • It helps build community and social support during treatment and long after, which helps maintain sobriety.
  • They’re less disruptive to people’s everyday lives. People can stay in school, continue working, and maintain relationships during outpatient rehab.
  • Outpatient rehab as aftercare from inpatient treatment helps people stay in addiction programs longer, which is proven to increase a person’s sobriety in the long term significantly.4

Cons of outpatient treatment:

  • It doesn’t provide 24/7 care and supervision. This may lead to relapses or mental health instability in people with high dependencies on drugs or alcohol. 
  • Medical detox isn’t offered in most outpatient care programs. Someone who needs this type of care will want to start at a higher-level treatment center.
  • Access to drugs or alcohol is more readily available, and triggers may be ever-present, particularly if there is routine and ongoing alcohol or drug use in the home environment. 
  • Attendees can’t speak with their counselors at any given moment.

Deciding if an outpatient program is right for you depends on your level of substance abuse, need for care, and financial situation. If outpatient alcohol and drug abuse isn’t the right choice, an inpatient program may be the better solution.

Both outpatient and inpatient treatment can and do work for addiction. 

How Much Does Outpatient Treatment Cost?

The cost of outpatient treatment services and programs varies. 

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

Oftentimes, insurance companies will cover the costs of rehab 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. 

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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Resources

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  1. Perret, Danielle MD; Whyte, John MD, PhD; Melvin, John MD; Celnik, Pablo MD, PhD; Knowlton, Tiffany JD, MBA; Nguyen, Benjamin MD; Roberts-Atwater, Beverly DO, PhD; Wu, Sam S. H. MD The Value and Role of the Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility, American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. March 2021.
  2. Burdon WM, Dang J, Prendergast ML, Messina NP, Farabee D. Differential effectiveness of residential versus outpatient aftercare for parolees from prison-based therapeutic community treatment programs. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2007 May 15
  3. NIDA. Principles of Effective Treatment. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2020, September 18.
  4. Laudet AB, Savage R, Mahmood D. Pathways to long-term recovery: a preliminary investigation. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2002 Jul-Sep.
  5. French MT, Popovici I, Tapsell L. The economic costs of substance abuse treatment: updated estimates and cost bands for program assessment and reimbursement. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2008 Dec

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