What is the Difference between Inpatient and Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Rehab?

Once you’ve decided to seek treatment for your drug or alcohol addiction, you will have to choose which type of program will work best for you. Addiction treatment generally falls into two categories: inpatient (residential), and outpatient. There are pros and cons to both inpatient and outpatient treatments, and knowing what each offers is the best way for you to make an informed decision about how to get started with your recovery.

Difference between Inpatient and Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Rehab

What Is Inpatient Treatment?

Inpatient treatment is a safe, structured, 24 hours a day, residential program that usually lasts 30 – 90 days, in a rehab facility. Residential treatment offers recovery education, individual and group therapy, and medical and psychiatric care if needed.

Advantages of Inpatient Treatment

There are some definite advantages to checking into an inpatient treatment program, here are just a few:

Medically supervised detox. Most patients need to detox when they arrive at treatment. Residential programs generally offer a detox program at the beginning to allow time to get the drugs or alcohol out of the patients’ systems. Medical detox is much safer and more comfortable than attempting to detox alone.

Around the clock support and care. Going to rehab can be emotional and daunting. You may have contradictory feelings of fear and relief or anxiety and hope. Whatever you are feeling, when you attend an inpatient rehab, you have support from people who understand just how you’re feeling – around the clock.

Intensive therapy. Most addiction treatment programs offer a mix of individual and group therapy because many people suffering from addiction have underlying psychological issues that need to be addressed.

A sense of community. Peer support is a huge part of addiction recovery. It’s very comforting to be around people who are struggling and working through the same issues. In residential rehab, bonds between patients are formed quickly because a common challenge is shared.

No outside distractions. Inpatient rehab takes you out of your daily life, so there aren’t any outside distractions to impede your focus on recovery. This allows you to build a foundation of recovery before you have to face the challenges in your daily life.

Aftercare. The support and care that you receive in residential treatment don’t end when you complete your stay. Most rehab centers offer patients alumni meetings or aftercare for continued support.

Disadvantages of Inpatient Treatment

Like most things, residential treatment also has some drawbacks. Although the positive definitely outweighs the negative, here are some of the disadvantages to inpatient treatment:

No freedom to come and go. When you are in an inpatient facility, you cannot come and go as you please. There are sometimes trips off of the campus (doctor appointments, recreation, 12 step meetings, etc.), but they are scheduled and supervised.

Structure, structure, structure. The days in residential are very busy and nearly every minute is scheduled. You will have classes, lectures, meetings, therapy sessions, other activities, and meals as they are scheduled; there is very little downtime. This could also be considered an advantage to residential treatment though because structure is one of the best things for people starting in recovery.

You cannot work or go to school. If you have a job or are a student you will have to take a leave of absence to attend an inpatient treatment program.

The cost. Residential rehab can be expensive (of course, it can also be a matter of life and death, making no price too high). Most insurance companies will cover some, or most, of the cost, and most treatment centers will help with a payment plan for the remainder.

What Is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment for addiction, usually called Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), offers recovery education, some therapy, and relapse prevention on an outpatient basis. Outpatient treatment offers some advantages that inpatient does not:

Advantages of Outpatient Treatment

Lower cost. Outpatient programs cost far less than inpatient, and a portion is usually covered by insurance.

You can live at home. This can be a disadvantage as well because outpatient treatment doesn’t remove you from the environment in which you used drugs or alcohol. However, if you have a strong support system at home, it can be an advantage to be there.

You can work or go to school. Most outpatient program schedules can accommodate you staying at your job or at school. Again, this can be good or bad depending on the stress level at work or school. Financially it may seem better to continue earning a paycheck while receiving treatment, but it may not be conducive to your recovery if you are stressed out at work.

 You receive therapy and education. Much of the therapy and education in outpatient treatment is the same that you receive inpatient. You learn about self-awareness, addiction, coping and life skills and relapse prevention, only in a more abridged manner.

Disadvantages of Outpatient Treatment

You’re not in a drug-free environment. Outpatient treatment doesn’t offer the safety of not having drugs or alcohol around. Once you leave a session, you may be right back in the same places, around the same people, that you were during active addiction. Those things can be difficult to maneuver in early sobriety.

Distractions abound. The challenges of daily life can make it easy to lose focus on recovery. It can be difficult to put your recovery first when you have a family, job, and bills. Outpatient treatment is definitely a step in the right direction, but it can be hard to find the balance between recovery and the rest of life.

Which Treatment is Right for You?

Ultimately, deciding which type of treatment to seek is up to you. If you have done outpatient before and relapsed, inpatient treatment may be more helpful. If you have a job that will not allow a leave of absence, then outpatient might be right for you. Weigh the pros and cons, talk with the supportive people in your life, and make the decision that is right for you.

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