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Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment for Substance Abuse - Topic Overview

If you have a drug or alcohol problem, your doctor may suggest treatment at an inpatient or outpatient facility. At inpatient facilities, you stay overnight. At outpatient facilities, you come only during the day. How long you stay varies among programs.

How are inpatient and outpatient treatment similar?

Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs both usually involve the 12-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Treatment may include group therapy, one-on-one counseling, drug and alcohol education, medical care, and family therapy.

Your doctor or counselor will help you decide whether you should have inpatient or outpatient treatment. The choice may depend on:

  • How severe your addiction is.
  • Your mental health.
  • Your family support.
  • Your living situation.
  • How the treatment will be paid for.

Inpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment may be part of a hospital program or found in special clinics. You'll sleep at the facility and get therapy in the day or evening.

Inpatient treatment may be a good option if:

  • You've tried outpatient treatment but it didn't work.
  • You have other physical or mental health problems.
  • Your home situation makes it hard to stay away from drugs or alcohol.
  • You don't live near an outpatient treatment clinic.

You may stay for 1 to 6 weeks, depending on how your recovery is going. After inpatient treatment, you should go to outpatient treatment for more counseling and group therapy. Inpatient treatment also may be residential, which means you stay at the facility for months.

Outpatient treatment

Outpatient treatment happens in mental health clinics, counselors' offices, hospital clinics, or local health department offices. Unlike inpatient treatment, you don't stay overnight.

Outpatient programs can be a challenge because you may continue to face problems at work and home. But it will help you build the skills you need to handle everyday problems.

In standard outpatient treatment, you may have 1 or 2 group therapy sessions a week. Treatment may go on for a year or more. Sessions may be in the evening or on weekends so you can go to work.

Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) usually involves around 10 to 20 hours of counseling or group therapy spread over 3 days a week. This may last for 1 to 3 months. A more intensive form of outpatient treatment is day hospital. This means you go for treatment 5 days a week, usually for most of the day.

Outpatient treatment may be a good option if:

  • You can't or don't want to quit work or take a leave of absence.
  • You want to be close to loved ones.
  • You can stay away from drugs or alcohol where you live.
  • Inpatient treatment is too expensive.

For outpatient treatment to work well for you, it's important to go to your sessions regularly and also get other support, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Having support from loved ones, good transportation, and a stable place to live also are important.

Whether you get inpatient or outpatient treatment, it's important to stay committed to a drug-free or sober lifestyle. With treatment, you can make healthy changes and keep drugs or alcohol out of your life.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 18, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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