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How Outpatient Alcohol Treatment Works

By Anna Giorgi
Medically Reviewed by Arpan Parikh, MD, MBA on August 11, 2021
It allows you to return home daily, providing flexibility that many patients appreciate.

Getting alcoholism treatment doesn’t mean you have to abandon your obligations at home, work, or school while you recover. Enrolling in an outpatient alcohol treatment program allows you to receive the guidance and support you need on a part-time schedule that fits your lifestyle.

“An inpatient treatment program requires that you put your life on hold. However, an outpatient program allows you to continue to do things like hold down a job without taking a leave of absence. It lets you receive treatment without interrupting your life,” Sherrie Rager, PhD, a substance abuse specialist in Pleasanton, CA, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

But alcoholism is a very individual condition with many treatment options. Learn all you can to decide whether outpatient alcohol treatment can help you achieve long-lasting sobriety. 

Why People Choose Outpatient Alcohol Rehab

Outpatient alcohol treatment allows you to return home daily. Inpatient treatment requires that you live in a treatment facility while you receive care. That’s why many people find the flexibility of outpatient treatment a better fit.

For some people, outpatient alcohol treatment is the next step after undergoing alcohol detox or an inpatient treatment program. If you’re at this stage of your treatment for alcoholism, outpatient treatment can help you transition back into a normal lifestyle while avoiding a relapse. 

Outpatient alcohol treatment is also appropriate if you need tele-health services. A tele-health option can help you reach your goals if you: 

  • Live too far away from an outpatient alcohol treatment program. 
  • Don’t have reliable transportation. 
  • Or can’t attend regular appointments. 

The severity of your addiction, your circumstances, and your need for medical detox are factors that your clinician (a health-care professional) will consider in order to determine whether outpatient alcohol treatment is best for you. 

Outpatient Alcohol Rehab: How It Works

It varies by program. You can find this type of alcoholism treatment in: 

  • Substance abuse counselors’ offices 
  • Hospitals 
  • Community mental health clinics 
  • Residential treatment facilities

Outpatient alcohol treatment varies in intensity. In general, there are three types of these programs:

Standard Outpatient Program: This involves counseling sessions that may include group therapy and/or individual sessions. Meetings are typically once or twice per week.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP): You visit a treatment center for 3 to 5 days a week, with each session lasting about 3 to 4 hours. An IOP is more intense than a standard outpatient alcohol treatment program. Services may include: family therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, and medical management when appropriate. 

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP): This typically involves treatment about 4 to 6 hours per day for 3 to 5 days each week. It provides the highest level of outpatient support, often with medical services, individual, group, and family therapy, and medication management. You may benefit from a PHP as a step-down treatment after completing an inpatient program.

“A benefit of outpatient alcohol treatment is that these programs allow you to apply what you’ve learned immediately to real-life situations when you return home each day and resume your normal routine,” Rager says.

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