Outpatient Treatment Centers for Alcohol and Drug Addiction

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Substance abuse is a complicated issue, potentially impacting all areas of one’s life, including work, health, and interpersonal relationships. Hopefully, at some point, an individual battling with drug or alcohol addiction will reach out for help.

Thankfully, there are numerous settings and levels of addiction treatment available to provide recovery assistance.1 After an assessment from a doctor or other qualified addiction medicine professional, outpatient treatment may be recommended. Usually, it is reserved for those whose addictions are less severe, who don’t have other mental health disorders, and who have a supportive home environment.1

Here, we’ll provide you with an overview on outpatient treatment, its benefits, the types of outpatient treatment and services, the differences between outpatient and inpatient, and how to prepare for entering outpatient treatment.

What is an Outpatient Treatment Center?

There are a number of treatment options for those struggling with substance abuse. One option is an outpatient treatment center. These centers are an excellent option for those who know they need help for drug abuse or alcohol addiction but are unable to stop working or attending school to get it.

Programs for outpatient treatment do vary but generally provide assistance a few times a week for a few hours.1 Outpatient treatment centers provide a level of flexibility that many individuals require, but its effectiveness can be limited, especially for those who need medical as well as psychological recovery services—the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that some low-intensity outpatient programs don’t offer much more than drug education.2


Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

Depending on the individual’s needs, outpatient treatment can be a good means of obtaining substance abuse recovery help. Outpatient treatment is appropriate for those whose condition is sufficiently stable, whose symptoms are mild, and are willing to participate in the treatment plan.1

With that in mind, there are many potential benefits to seeking treatment on an outpatient basis. For one, outpatient treatment can be delivered through various settings:3,4

  • In a hospital clinic.
  • In a community mental health clinic.
  • At a local health department.
  • At a therapist’s office.
  • By telephone.

Additionally, the daily schedule can be adjusted in many outpatient programs to allow sufficient time for school and/or work commitments.3

It should be emphasized that it is of utmost importance to first receive a thorough evaluation and detailed examination of your specific drug abuse issues from someone qualified to make the recommendation for outpatient treatment.


What is Intensive Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment?

Intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment may more closely match the services and effectiveness of inpatient programs. Those with more severe addictions may fare better in an IOP than in a lower-intensity program. IOPs typically include more, and longer, therapeutic visits per week. These programs tend to cost more than regular outpatient programs, though this cost varies by program.5,6



What is Partial Hospitalization or Day Treatment?

Slightly higher on the continuum scale of treatment levels in terms of intensity is partial hospitalization (PHP).1 While it might not sound like it, this is still considered an outpatient level of treatment, albeit a “very intensive outpatient” level of therapy. Also called “day treatment,” partial hospitalization level treatment is appropriate for those requiring more intensive blocks of therapy based on the seriousness of their addiction history and is an alternative to inpatient treatment.7

Those who meet the criteria for partial hospitalization are seen as able to make progress on their treatment goals when they return to home, school, or work, but still require more frequent or concentrated periods of access to medical care and monitoring by treatment professionals or other addiction treatment staff to maintain recovery momentum.4

Partial hospitalization is sometimes reserved for those who have been through an inpatient or residential treatment program, but need to continue a relatively intensive course of treatment to avoid relapse.

It may also be appropriate for those who need medication or other medical services or treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders.4 Day treatment, expectedly, requires more of a time commitment than other outpatient treatment levels—it varies dependent on individual situations, but can exceed 20 hours per week.7 What it has in common with the other, less intensive levels of outpatient treatment is the fact that patients continue to live at home for the duration of treatment.7


What Services Are Offered Through Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment can incorporate several types of support services to help individuals addicted to drugs or alcohol. These can include:3

  • Individual, family, and/or group counseling.
  • Medications.
  • Informational sessions or classes.
  • Drug and alcohol education.
  • Medical care.
  • Recovery support groups or 12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Occupational/recreational therapy.

Behavioral counseling will likely be part of your outpatient treatment plan. A few common forms of behavioral counseling are:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, where individuals learn to recognize and steer clear of situations that may lead them to drug or alcohol use.
  • Contingency management, where individuals learn to abstain from drugs or alcohol through incentives and rewards.
  • Motivational interviewing, where individuals are assessed on their willingness to make positive change and begin treatment.

Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment: Understanding the Difference

The most important consideration in determining the need for inpatient or outpatient care is dependent upon the severity of your condition. Your evaluation will determine which treatment will best serve your needs. Understanding how each one works can be useful as you plan and prepare.

Inpatient treatment:

  • Removes the individual from an environment that may have contributed to the development of drug or alcohol addiction.
  • Provides 24/7 care and support, including necessary medical staff for co-occurring medical or mental health conditions and/or severe addiction or withdrawal symptoms.
  • Mandates follow-up or aftercare treatment after the period of treatment ends, ensuring continuity of care and continued recovery.

Outpatient treatment:

  • Allows individuals to continue to live (and in some cases, work and attend school) in a home environment.
  • Provides the recovering person a way to more accurately test the efficacy of ongoing treatment and practice newly developed skills while remaining amidst those triggers.
  • Challenges a patient to seek out and utilize sources of support in their home environment, such as in finding local self-help groups or other recovery mentors in the neighborhood that can help guide someone down the path of recovery.3

Those struggling with an addiction might face a much greater challenge of abstinence in an outpatient treatment center, especially in the early stages of recovery. Since their environment is not changing, they can easily access the addictive substance and are faced with temptation on a regular basis.

If substance abuse is interfering with your life, your relationships, your job, or your medical or mental health, inpatient programs frequently will prove a better option.

Given that the transition from inpatient to outpatient treatment can be distressing, the individual in recovery will need the support of the community where he lives, works, and belongs to welcome him back to wellness and to a life without addiction.

What to Prepare Before Seeking Help

Before seeking out a treatment program for yourself or a loved one, you will want to ensure you have the necessary information. Try to find out:

  • How long the substance use has been going on.
  • How much of the substance is being consistently used.
  • If any other drugs are being abused at the same time.
  • If there are known medical issues/diseases.
  • If other mental health disorders are present.

You should also have some financial information at hand, especially your insurance information. When you call a hotline or a specific treatment center, whether outpatient or inpatient, you may be asked to provide specific details about your coverage, so have your or your loved one’s insurance card handy. Also remember that you can ask about payment options like loans, financing, and scholarships.

To find out more about outpatient treatment for drug or alcohol addiction or what your insurance policy covers, contact an admissions navigator at 1-888-744-0069 , use the “Verify Your Insurance” portal, or fill out the form below.


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Jennifer Fifield is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for drugabuse.com and recovery.org. She holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism and a master’s degree in Health Promotion Management. Jennifer has served as a content editor on numerous articles, web pages, and blog posts within the medical, dental, and vision industry. She has 15+ years of experience in higher education including writing/editing, administrative, and teaching positions within the health/wellness, accreditation, and health communications areas.
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