What is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)?

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People addicted to drugs, alcohol, and other substances have the option of seeking either inpatient or outpatient treatment. 

Within these general categorizations are subcategories including intensive outpatient programs (IOP). These programs can be the next step in treatment or serve as the primary treatment option for patients.

Intensive Outpatient Program

IOPs allow patients to continue their “normal” daily lives while undergoing treatment. They are similar in intensity to inpatient or residential programs but do not require patients to live on-site at the treatment facility.

The primary function of IOPs is to help people leaving inpatient treatment or hospitalization adjust to life with their families and communities. The group provides people with the support system needed to maintain sobriety and deal with relapse if and when it occurs. 

What to Expect During an Intensive Outpatient Program

Intensive outpatient programs are exactly as the title indicates: intensive, despite patients not living on site. People attend treatment for up to 15 hours a week. Programs must be at least nine hours to be considered intensive. Therapy sessions might last three hours at a time, three to five days a week.

Most participants continue working, attending school, or fulfilling other obligations while not at treatment. For this reason, therapy sessions might be in the evening, on the weekends, or at other flexible times.

However, despite the flexibility these programs offer, some participants take a leave of absence from their other responsibilities while in an IOP program. You and your medical team will discuss what works best for you before you begin treatment.

IOPs include many of the other components of treatment including:

  • Initial screening and intake
  • Psychological and behavioral treatments
  • Peer support groups
  • Education about addiction
  • Group sessions
  • Support services, including housing and job assistance

All reputable programs assist patients in developing:

  • Coping skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Self-awareness
  • Ability to recognize unhealthy behavior
  • Role-playing and practicing asking for and receiving help

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How Long is Treatment?

Patients attend nine or more hours of treatment. Sessions are three to eight hours per day, five to seven days a week. 

As time passes, sessions taper based on how well a patient demonstrates:

  • Ability to avoid relapse
  • Progress in their specific treatment plan
  • Growing reliance on community support

Types of Intensive Outpatient Programs

Intensive outpatient programs offer treatment for a variety of issues ranging from drug addiction to identity or adjustment issues. Some of the most common types of IOPs include:

IOP for Substances

IOPs for substances help people addicted to prescription and illicit drugs. Programs include group therapy, individual counseling, and assistance transitioning from rehab to regular life. 

People who have co-occurring conditions might participate in mental health IOPs and substance use IOPs simultaneously. 

IOP for Alcohol

IOPs offer varying levels of support for people with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Whether you are moving from a residential program, in need of treatment for co-occurring disorders, or prefer an outpatient program because of work or family obligations, IOPs for alcohol provide intense options without an around-the-clock commitment.

IOP for Teeangers

Children and teens with substance use disorders benefit from IOP participation because they are still able to attend school. These programs provide a structured environment but do not require patients to live onsite.

IOP for Eating Disorders

Patients with eating disorders benefit from IOPs after completing a residential program or those not in need of medically supervised treatment around the clock. 

These programs typically include medication management, group and individual therapy, and in some cases, family therapy.

IOP for Mental Health Disorders

People with depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or other mental health problems, with or without co-occurring substance use issues, benefit from IOPs. 

Inpatient Programs vs. Intensive Outpatient Programs 

Inpatient programs and intensive outpatient programs are similar and have the same goal: to support addiction recovery. 

However, each of the programs offers a different arrangement to ensure that people with different needs have access to a recovery program that works for them. 

The main difference between these programs is where patients spend most of their time. 

In an inpatient program, participants live onsite. These are residential programs, which means participants remain at the treatment facility around the clock. 

Intensive outpatient program participants spend a lot of time at the treatment facility (nine hours or more per week), but they do not live onsite

Inpatient or residential programs are best for people with:

  • Severe drug addictions
  • High tolerance for their substance of choice
  • Dangerous withdrawal symptoms
  • Unsupportive social support
  • Poor living conditions
  • History of dangerous or impulsive behavior
  • Comorbidities

These programs offer a controlled environment free of temptation. They allow patients to focus on recovery 24-hours a day. They engage in constant interaction with other people focused on recovery and engage in rigorous, full-time counseling and therapy.

As effective as inpatient programs are, they make it difficult to transition directly back to regular life once the program is complete. This is why IOPs are so often used as a bridge between inpatient rehab and return to daily life. 

Additionally, some people just aren’t able to step away from their responsibilities and live onsite in a program for 30-days or more. Some patients also find these programs stifling and too structured. 

Who Benefits From IOPs?

IOPs offer more flexibility, while still providing intensive treatment to people recovering from addiction. You can benefit from an IOP if you:

  • Are in the early stages of treatment
  • Are transitioning from a residential program or hospital
  • Do not need full-time supervision
  • Have a support system within your family and/or your community
  • Must work or attend school during recovery
  • Cannot afford inpatient or residential treatment
  • Someone with a history of relapsing
  • Dealing with a co-occurring disorder or mental illness

Pros and Cons of IOPs

Like all treatment programs, IOPs have both pros and cons. For example:

Pros

  • No need to relocate or adjust your current living situation
  • Ability to continue your daily schedule
  • Remain in contact with an existing support system
  • Flexible
  • Easier transition from treatment to regular life
  • Access to behavioral health treatment and support for co-occurring disorders

Cons

  • Exposure to temptation when not at the treatment site
  • Must comply with treatment requirements
  • Higher risk of relapse than those in inpatient treatment

How Much Does Intensive Outpatient Treatment Cost? 

The cost of intensive outpatient treatment varies from program to program. Costs range from $3000 to $10,000 for 30-days. Programs typically cost about $250 to $350 per day.

Factors affecting the cost of IOP cost include:

  • Services offered
  • Intensity of treatment
  • Duration of treatment
  • Population treated
  • Location of treatment center
  • Amenities provided

How to Find an IOP

It’s important to find an IOP that offers the services you need. In many cases, your doctor will provide you with a referral to an IOP. You might also be directed to a specific program when you transition out of your residential treatment program or finish with medically supervised detoxification.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Society of Addiction Medicine also offer information about programs. These organizations provide information about the various levels of care, so you’ll be able to evaluate programs in your area and determine which works best for you. 

This information is also available for family members who want to help addicted loved ones.

Find Help For Your Addiction

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Resources +

“Intensive Outpatient Program for Addiction Treatment | UC San Diego Health.” UC Health - UC San Diego, https:/www.health.ucsd.edu/specialties/psych/clinic-based/addiction/Pages/intensive-outpatient.aspx.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Overcoming Addiction: Find an Effective Path toward Recovery.” Harvard Health, https://www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/overcoming-addiction-find-an-effective-path-toward-recovery.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Types of Treatment Programs.” Drugabuse.gov, 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs.

“Treatment and Recovery.” Drugabuse.gov, 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Effective Treatment.” Drugabuse.gov, 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment.

“NIMH» Eating Disorders.” www.nimh.nih.gov, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/#part_145416.

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