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Outpatient vs. Inpatient Addiction Treatment: Which is Right for you?

The U.S. has an enormous substance abuse problem that is difficult to ignore. That’s the conclusion reached in numerous studies published by some of the most well-regarded organizations in the country, one of which revealed that roughly 21 million Americans currently or at one time had a substance use disorder (SUD). Sadly, for those still struggling with the disease of addiction and who want to turn their lives around, it can be a challenge trying to figure out where to go for help, especially if treatment cost is a factor. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), only 1 in 5 people battling a drug or alcohol problem know where to turn for help. But the alarming addiction statistics do not end there; the same AAMC data revealed only 11% of people battling addiction ever receive the treatment they need to regain control over their lives.

Outpatient vs Inpatient Rehab: What To Consider When Trying To Decide on an Addiction Recovery Program

Although the number of people choosing to quit drugs or alcohol is low, those who seek help overcoming addiction deserve high praise. After all, surviving detox and the difficult withdrawal symptoms that often follow is no easy task. Those who manage to get through both and go on to achieve long-term sobriety seldom do so on their own. They almost always seek help from a licensed inpatient or outpatient treatment facility. And it is often the nature of their addiction that informs which of the two addiction recovery programs is right for them. The same applies if someone has a co-occurring disorder, the coexistence of a mental illness and a substance use disorder, or engages in polydrug abuse.

If someone is struggling with either of these issues, especially if a severe addiction is part of the equation, they would be a good candidate for inpatient treatment in a licensed rehab facility. Meanwhile, someone without a mental health problem who needs help overcoming a not-so-severe addiction would be a good candidate for an outpatient treatment program.  To better appreciate what inpatient and outpatient treatments offer in terms of addiction recovery, it helps to look at each individually.

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What Is Inpatient Addiction Treatment?

Also called residential treatment, inpatient treatment at a licensed rehab facility is onsite patient addiction recovery.  That means individuals eat, sleep, shower, and overcome addiction in a controlled environment where they have access to physicians, medications to help with detox-related withdrawal symptoms, and licensed therapists to help them cope with the psychological aspects of overcoming addiction.  Along with the substance that someone is trying to quit and whether or not mental illness is a factor, there are many other things to consider when deciding if an inpatient treatment program is a good fit, some of which include


Some people don’t handle being separated from their friends and family too well while getting the care they need to overcome addiction in inpatient programs. And this is understandable as most programs last between 1 and 6 months. Individuals who are employed or going to school sometimes also have concerns about repercussions related to them being away for however long it takes to get their lives back on track. These are things individuals must consider carefully before committing to such a program.


Much like separation, not everyone deals well with being in a highly structured environment. In an inpatient program, the facility determines when individuals eat, sleep, shower, and partake in addiction recovery treatments.  Such structure can be beneficial in helping someone achieve sobriety, but it can also be too overbearing if that someone likes having the freedom to do what they want when and how they want to do it.


For some people, the cost of treatment in an inpatient rehab program might be an issue.  On average, the cost of treatment is often higher for inpatient care than outpatient care.

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What Is Outpatient Addiction Treatment?

In short, an outpatient treatment program is a less restrictive form of addiction recovery. And there are two different kinds: intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) and partial hospitalization programs (PHPs). With IOPs, individuals attend treatment sessions 3 to 5 days per week, with each lasting about 3 hours. Those in PHPs attend treatment sessions 5 to 6 days per week, each lasting 5 to 6 hours. What makes both of these programs appealing for some people is that they make it easy to tend to work and family obligations between treatment sessions. Aside from treatment duration, these outpatient programs are not too dissimilar from their inpatient counterparts. Except for medication-assisted detox, individuals in these programs still have access to the following:

  • Addiction education courses
  • Counseling
  • Referrals to support groups and sober living homes

It is worth noting that as a condition to remain in an outpatient program, individuals must undergo and pass random drug and alcohol tests.

What Criteria Is Important To Consider When Choosing an Addiction Treatment Facility?

Whether someone is considering outpatient vs. inpatient rehab, there are a few things they will want to look for when choosing a facility, namely how it measures up when it comes to meeting the following criteria:

  • Can provide a safe environment
  • Inclusiveness
  • Can provide comprehensive care
  • Offers an individualized approach to care
  • Aftercare referrals

In summary, overcoming addiction is not easy; it requires help from friends and family and, in most cases, professionals in an inpatient or outpatient addiction recovery program. But it is doable, especially when someone is highly committed to ending their relationship with drugs or alcohol.