Updated on February 6, 2024
8 min read

Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient

Inpatient care, sometimes called residential clinical care or residential care, offers round-the-clock treatment for people addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Inpatient care includes:

  • Detox programs
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Psychotherapy

Inpatient programs begin with a medical detox and offer people access to addiction counseling and psychological treatment. These are structured, supervised programs intended to treat severe addiction.

On the other hand, outpatient services are provided for those who don’t require overnight accommodations, hospital admission, or a hospital stay. You may spend up to 12 hours at a treatment facility, but spend your nights at home.

Outpatient healthcare programs are best suited for people with drug or alcohol addiction who have completed an inpatient program and/or only need sobriety maintenance.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care: 9 Main Differences

There are several differences between inpatient and outpatient treatment, including:

1. Treatment Structure

Your treatment structure determines how often you attend meetings and sessions. This also includes your program's intensity, length, and treatment methods.


Treatment tends to be more structured with inpatient care because people are always onsite. You receive round-the-clock supervision and do everything at the treatment facility. This includes eating, sleeping, and attending rehabilitation services. 


On the other hand, outpatient treatment has a more flexible structure. 

Outpatient programs offer about 30 to 60 minutes of therapy daily (one to three times a week). The remaining hours are dedicated to other activities. You can also go home at the end of the day. 

2. Services Offered

Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offer similar services.


Many inpatient facilities offer access to more support services, such as counseling and therapy. You’re onsite 24 hours a day, so there are more opportunities to participate. Additionally, inpatient programs allow you to focus entirely on recovery without distractions or temptations in your everyday life.


Outpatient programs offer a more flexible approach to addiction treatment. Both inpatient and outpatient services provide the following:

  • Initial assessment
  • Drug screening
  • Medically supervised detox
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medications
  • Education
  • Support
  • Education about addiction
  • Support services

3. ‘Under Observation’ vs. Flexibility 

Some people need constant observation and medical attention. Others do better at home in their usual surroundings at night while they attend treatment during the day.


During inpatient treatment, you’ll receive near-constant observations, with medical professionals available 24/7 for supervision. You can reach out to them any time of the day if you need help.


Outpatient programs are more flexible, with medical professionals only supervising you for a limited amount of time. You’ll attend therapy sessions and support groups regularly, but you won’t have the same level of supervision as in an inpatient setting.

4. Length of Treatment

The length of treatment varies from program to program.


In general, inpatient treatment programs offer 30, 60, or 90 days of care. Some programs only last days or weeks. For instance, an inpatient detox program might last just 48 hours.


Outpatient programs last longer since treatment is less intense. You may attend outpatient programs three times a week for 8 to 16 weeks. 

5. Success Rates

Success rates of inpatient and outpatient programs vary from person to person. What works for one person might not work for another, even if it’s a great program.


Inpatient programs keep people in a safe environment for the first three to four weeks of recovery. Roughly 80% of people report benefiting from improved quality of life and health after completing drug and alcohol rehab.1


In general, intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) offers a longer duration of treatment than inpatient treatment. On average, more than 70% of IOP participants have favorable outcomes.2 However, remember that many factors determine the treatment’s success rate. 

6. Severity of Addiction

Your addiction's severity will also determine how much treatment you need.


If your addiction is severe, inpatient care may be your best choice. This treatment allows you to remove yourself from any triggers and distractions in your daily life. You can focus on recovery without the temptation of relapse.


On the other hand, outpatient care is recommended if your addiction is mild or moderate. If it's possible to stay away from triggers and potential relapse, you may benefit from outpatient care.

7. Providers in Each Setting 

The providers in each treatment setting will vary, but both offer:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Therapists
  • Recovery support specialists


You’ll have more extensive access to healthcare professionals in an inpatient program. This is because you're in a facility with 24-hour access to care. Professionals can immediately respond to your needs and monitor your progress in real-time.


In outpatient programs, you'll only have access to healthcare providers during your scheduled appointments. Immediate help isn't always guaranteed.

8. Costs

Rehab and detox programs range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per day depending on different factors.


Inpatient programs are almost always more expensive because of the intensive medical care. You can expect to pay an average of $6,000 for a 30-day stay in an inpatient facility. Prices are higher for longer programs and for centers with more amenities. 


Outpatient programs are cheaper since they involve less care. You can expect to pay around $1,000 to $5,000 for an intensive patient program. 

9. Health Insurance Coverage

Health insurance generally covers at least part of the detoxification process. Policies can cover around 60% to 90% of the treatment.


Inpatient programs often cost more than outpatient programs, so you may pay more out-of-pocket. However, it's unlikely insurance will cover the cost of amenities not deemed medically necessary unless you’re paying a large premium for more extensive coverage.


Many provide long-term coverage, especially outpatient coverage. However, you should still speak with your provider about available coverage and how much you'll need to pay out-of-pocket.

Pros and Cons of Inpatient Care

The pros of inpatient care include:

  • More intensive
  • More opportunities to participate in rehab activities
  • Easier medical detox
  • Structured days
  • Removed from stresses of everyday life
  • Round-the-clock supervision from medical professionals
  • Access to wellness programs and holistic therapies

The cons of inpatient care include:

  • More expensive
  • Lack of flexibility and freedom
  • Need to find childcare, maintain employment, and deal with other responsibilities
  • The transition from inpatient to outpatient care and/or regular life is difficult 

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Pros and Cons of Outpatient Care

The pros of outpatient care include:

  • Less expensive than inpatient care
  • Access to obligations and responsibilities in life
  • Flexibility
  • People tend to receive more one-on-one time with counselors because therapy groups are smaller
  • Access to various addiction experts and medical staff

The cons of outpatient treatment include:

  • Lack of access to resources for safe medical detox
  • Exposure to stress in everyday life
  • Less intense than inpatient programs

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Is Inpatient or Outpatient Care Right for You?

Determining whether inpatient or outpatient care is right for you can be daunting. Here are some factors to consider when choosing between the two:

The Severity of Your Addiction 

When considering inpatient or outpatient care, it's important to consider your addiction's severity. If your addiction is severe, an inpatient program may be best for you.

An outpatient program may be more suitable if your addiction is less severe. Your doctor may also recommend outpatient programs after you’ve completed inpatient care. 


Addiction treatment can be expensive, especially if you don’t have insurance. 

Outpatient care might be more suitable for those who don’t have a big budget for treatment. This allows you to still receive treatment at a lower price.

Out-of-Rehab Obligations and Responsibilities

If you have obligations and responsibilities needing your attention, like a job or parenting, outpatient care may be your best option. 

With outpatient care, you can attend therapy sessions during the day and still have time to fulfill your obligations in the evenings. 

Geographical Access

Choosing outpatient care means considering travel time when going to sessions. 

Living far from the facility can be a hindrance. It will mean you must factor in other expenses, such as gas or commute costs.

Co-occurring Conditions

An inpatient program may be better if you have co-occurring mental health conditions. They provide more intensive treatment for underlying issues contributing to your addiction.

How to Get Started With Treatment

The best way to get started with treatment is to get a therapist or call an addiction specialist. They can provide more information about what type of care is available and what options may be best for you.

Here are some tips on getting started with treatment:

1. Assess Treatment Programs in Your Area

You'll need to do some research to assess treatment programs in your area. Look into the different programs available and their success rates. Make sure to consider both inpatient and outpatient options.

2. Ask for Help From Friends and Family

Sometimes, family and friends can help you make the right treatment decision. 

Ask for their input and advice when deciding which program to choose. They may know more about the different programs in your area and can offer their support.

3. Speak to a Professional

Once you've narrowed your search, speak to the professional staff on the phone or in person. This way, you can ask questions and better understand your treatment options.

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Inpatient and outpatient care are both important treatment options for addiction. Considering various factors can help you determine which kind of care suits you. 

After carefully assessing both programs, you can decide which care is best for you.

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

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