Benefits of Outpatient Treatment for Substance Abuse

Drug Addiction Solutions Include Outpatient Options

Even when someone realizes they need to get help for a drug or alcohol problem, the obstacles to actually getting into treatment can seem formidable. One of the widely held misconceptions about addiction rehab is that it involves leaving work and family for an extended period, substantially impacting both career and home life. Another common belief is that rehab is ridiculously expensive. When considering these barriers to treatment, many might just give up on the idea altogether.

Outpatient treatment for substance abuse is a viable alternative to the residential rehab program. While outpatient programs are not a fit for all who seek treatment, for a large percentage of people struggling with a substance use disorder they provide excellent programming at a fraction of the cost. Before rejecting the idea of getting professional help for substance abuse altogether, looking into the outpatient treatment options is well worth the time.

The primary mission of an outpatient rehab is to assist the client in achieving abstinence from the substance of abuse. This is accomplished through a continuum of care that helps the client establish behavioral changes that will support the goal of abstinence, as well as to examine underlying emotional factors that may be contributing to the addictive behaviors. Outpatient treatment helps foster the important peer support piece of recovery, through both the group counseling format as well as the 12-step recovery program.

The Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Rehabs

The primary difference between an outpatient and an inpatient, or residential, rehab is that the outpatient rehab allows the client to reside at home or in a sober living home while undergoing treatment. This is the main reason for the much lower cost of outpatient care, as the rehab does not provide room and board accommodations.

The Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Rehabs
No single treatment is appropriate for everyone.  

Also, the outpatient programs vary in intensity, so for someone with an emerging substance use disorder they can participate in therapy about nine hours per week, allowing them to continue to work or attend school. Mild to moderate addictions will require an intensive outpatient program (IOP), which can require 25-30 hours of therapy. In these cases, evening programming may allow for the individual to remain engaged at work during the day.


Both inpatient and outpatient rehabs offer similar basic therapies, such as individual psychotherapy, group therapy, addiction education classes, medication management, and 12-step recovery group involvement. Some rehabs, both inpatient and outpatient, will offer additional adjunctive therapies, such as eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), biofeedback, medication-assisted treatment and holistic activities such as yoga and mindfulness meditation.

The Different Levels of Care in Outpatient Treatment

One of the advantages to outpatient treatment is the ability to build a customized program based entirely on the client’s unique needs. Generally, there are two different levels of intensity available in outpatient rehab, including:

Basic Outpatient Treatment

This level of care represents the minimal amount of treatment intervention, usually just one or three therapy sessions per week. The basic outpatient rehab services are an excellent option for individuals who have already completed an inpatient treatment program and wish to reinforce their recovery with ongoing therapy and support. This includes relapse prevention, life skills, and psychotherapy sessions.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

The IOP provides a range of intensity based on the client’s particular needs, including what a court might have mandated. This is an appropriate treatment option for more advanced substance use disorders, with programming that can range from 25 hours per week and up, even equivalent to that of a full-time job, but which taper down as recovery goals are met. The IOP often includes family therapy, couples therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.

What Treatment Elements Does Outpatient Treatment Include?

Most outpatient rehabs do not provide detoxification services but will refer a client to a high-quality medical detox program prior to entering treatment, if it is deemed necessary during the intake evaluation. Once detox and withdrawal have been completed, the individual is then mentally ready to fully engage in therapy.

Outpatient rehab programs include the following treatment elements:

  • Individual psychotherapy sessions
  • Group therapy sessions
  • Educational activities that teach recovery skills
  • Relapse prevention planning
  • Family therapy
  • Life skills training
  • A.A. or N.A. 12 step programming
  • Medication management, if applicable

Outpatient Continuing Care

Continuing care represents the phase of treatment that follows completion of the IOP. Transitioning to the basic outpatient care, meeting once or twice per week with a therapist or group. This ongoing therapy provides an important source of support in the early months of recovery when the individual is vulnerable to relapse. Additionally, continuing care might also involve a few months of residing in a sober living setting, providing a drug and alcohol-free environment where new recovery skills can be reinforced before re-entering regular life. 

In conclusion, outpatient treatment is an excellent resource for individuals committed to attaining abstinence from a substance of abuse within a supportive construct that provides the tools for achieving that goal.

About the Author

Benjamin Kaneaiakala has been working in the alcohol and drug addiction industry for over 27 years. He has been mentored to learn and work most positions in the industry. Grateful for the guidance throughout his career, Benjamin has opened his own drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in California. Phoenix Rising Behavioral Health Care Services provides substance abuse treatment services to men and women suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, and dual diagnosis. Benjamin believes the good is the enemy of the better and looks to help those struggling rise from their past to a new and brighter future.

3 thoughts on “Benefits of Outpatient Treatment for Substance Abuse

  1. Oupatient rehabilitation keeps the patient/client in touch with the external environment, e.g. family, work, school that they will continue to experience. Rehab should not be a “vacation” from their problems. Even the best intended inpatient program can be turned in to precisely such an experience, if the client is not completely committed to sober/clean living.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Outpatient programs can provide the perfect balance of recovery for the right person. It just needs to be a good fit. Some of the chronic relapsers do better at an inpatient program. Specifically, one that is far away from their bad influences. It’s great that we have options!


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