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Outpatient Drug Rehab: 4 Vital Questions, Answered

By Lan Pham, Jennifer Daluro
Outpatient drug rehab can help you get back on the right track. Here are the answers to four commonly-asked questions about this form of addiction treatment.

Being diagnosed with substance use disorder is an important step towards recovery, and finding the best addiction treatment becomes the next. Outpatient drug rehab comes in a number of forms to suit different patient needs. But what, exactly, is outpatient drug rehab, and how does this type of drug treatment work? More importantly, is outpatient addiction treatment as effective as inpatient drug treatment? Read on for the answers to these vital questions and more. 

1. What is outpatient drug rehab?

In outpatient drug rehab programs, you access addiction therapies and treatment at specific times, while maintaining your normal place of residence. 

These programs do not require overnight hospital visits. You’ll get to stay in your own home and simply visit the center during your allotted time slots. This type of drug rehab allows you a more flexible schedule, in comparison to inpatient treatment. It gives you time to attend to your other duties and responsibilities, especially if you can’t afford to miss work.

American Addiction Centers notes that those with less severe cases of substance use disorder may begin their treatment in an outpatient setting. Patients enrolled in intensive inpatient rehab programs may also transition to outpatient forms of treatment as their treatment progresses. 

2. Are there different kinds of outpatient drug treatment?

"There are differing levels of care including IOP (intensive outpatient programs), MAT programs (Medication Assisted Treatment programs), and outpatient counseling, to name a few," Melissa Smallwood, LPC, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

American Addiction Centers notes that there are different levels of intensity within outpatient rehab programs, including:

  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs). These programs are also known as “day treatment”. Within them, patients are cared for by an interdisciplinary medical team that provides treatment for complex or unstable medical or psychiatric conditions. These types of programs are also well-suited to patients who need a high level of medical or mental health support, but do not require 24-hour supervision. In a PHP, you’ll typically receive at least 20 hours of intensive treatment per week. 

  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Like PHPs, these programs employ the expertise of an interdisciplinary medical team. However, they will generally have fewer medical and clinical support services. You’ll typically receive 9-20 hours of treatment per week. 

  • Standard outpatient programs (OPs). These programs focus on helping patients make the necessary behavioral changes to recover from substance use disorder. Medical services are absent or minimal within these programs, although patients can receive referrals for intensive services as needed. You’ll typically receive 9 or fewer hours of treatment per week. 

3. How does outpatient drug treatment work?

The specific characteristics of your program will depend on the treatment or therapy approaches of your chosen rehab facility.

Generally though, treatment will begin with you working with a staff member to develop a treatment plan based on the severity of your condition. This might include setting recovery goals and learning your program’s dos and don’ts. The program may also ask you to do regular drug tests or complete assignments and tasks outside of your regular sessions.

4. Is outpatient addiction treatment as effective as inpatient drug treatment?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), intensive day programs and group counseling therapies can be as effective as residential programs. Your specific program’s success, of course, will depend on a number of factors—such as your specific medical history and co-occurring conditions, as well as your program’s structure and ethos.

NIDA also notes that addiction is a disorder that can be treated successfully, and getting the right treatment (whether it’s outpatient or inpatient) helps you take back control of your life.

The goal of drug rehab, including outpatient programs, is for you to recover from substance use disorder and go back into being a productive member of your school, family, or workplace. To achieve this, you’ll need to fully invest in your program.

"It truly depends on the client and their motivation for change, external support system, drug of choice, and a myriad of other factors whether or not they will achieve long term sobriety," Smallwood says.

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