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Outpatient vs. Inpatient Addiction Treatment: Which Is Right For You?

By Zawn Villines
Medically Reviewed by Christopher Rodgman, MD on February 09, 2021
The right addiction treatment depends on your needs, circumstances, and what your insurance will cover. Here's how to choose between inpatient and outpatient care.


Left untreated, addiction can be deadly. Choosing recovery can save your life, improve your relationships, and end the cycle of hopelessness addiction spurs. Choosing between outpatient and inpatient treatment can be difficult. Here's how to choose which option is right for you.

Outpatient vs. Inpatient Addiction Treatment

"The choice between outpatient and inpatient care really depends on both how severe things are, the quality of the specific provider or center, and the specific condition you're seeking treatment for," says Jessica Goodnight, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia.

No single treatment approach works for all people or all types of addictions. Moreover, what works for one person might not for another. So it's important to know the benefits and drawbacks of each kind of treatment.

Inpatient care is ideal when a person cannot keep themselves safe, says Goodnight.

Some benefits of inpatient care include:

  • The highly controlled environment makes it more difficult to use drugs or indulge in other addictions.
  • It offers a break from a stressful environment.
  • It usually provides more intensive support.
  • You can often get help for co-occurring issues, and may have access to medical care related to your addiction. For example, you might get withdrawal medication or have a consultation with a pain management specialist.
  • If you have a mental health diagnosis, inpatient care can offer comprehensive support. "There's some compelling research about doing daily exposure therapy treatments over a period of a few weeks for certain anxiety-related disorders like PTSD and OCD," says Goodnight. It's hard to get daily treatment in an outpatient setting.

The drawbacks of inpatient care are:

  • It may be more expensive.
  • Employment is temporarily put on hold.
  • You'll have less control over your environment.
  • You may share a room with another person.
  • Insurance might require you to pursue other treatments before agreeing to pay for inpatient care.

The benefits of outpatient care are:

  • You can still work, go to school, and control your own schedule.
  • It is usually cheaper, and insurance may be more willing to pay for care.
  • You can choose your provider(s), while at an inpatient facility you might be assigned a therapist or other provider.

Outpatient care also presents some drawbacks, including:

  • There is less control over the environment, which means you'll have more temptation to use.
  • You won't get a break from a stressful home life.
  • You get treatment on a predefined schedule, and might have little support between sessions.
  • If the addiction is very severe, outpatient treatment may be less effective.
  • You might not get adequate treatment for co-occurring issues.

How to Make the Decision

"The main thing people should be considering is the quality of care," Goodnight urges. "A great provider using evidence-based care is the first requirement. An expensive, fancy inpatient center that uses ineffective therapies is definitely not worth your time."

Start by researching the specific treatment methods a provider or facility uses. Check their online reputation, too, to see how other people feel about the care they've received. Some inpatient facilities offer references, and many will let you tour before committing to care. Likewise, quality therapists and other outpatient providers will discuss treatment goals and work with you to build a treatment plan. Make sure you feel comfortable with the plan you create.

As you compare your options, asking yourself a few questions may help you choose the right treatment provider:

  • How severe is my addiction? Do I need comprehensive, 24/7 care? Can I trust myself to stick with a medical detox if I’m administering my own medication?
  • What are my abuse triggers? Can I avoid them while living at home, or do I need to move to an inpatient facility?
  • How might treatment affect my job? Can I take time off of work?
  • Is there quality outpatient treatment near my home?
  • Do I need help with other issues, such as chronic pain or PTSD?
  • What treatment will my insurer cover? Must I try outpatient care before I can get coverage for inpatient rehab?
Life After Treatment: General Information