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The Differences Between Outpatient and Inpatient Programs

November 5, 2022

Finding good information on the critical differences between outpatient vs inpatient treatment can feel like a tall order. But it shouldn’t have to feel like wading through a pool of medical jargon. You need the facts! Without them, it is all too easy to make an uninformed decision and wast your time and money on a program that isn’t right for you.

Best information to distingue the difference between outpatient and inpatient programs in 2021

So, what are the differences between outpatient vs inpatient treatment? Outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation services can vary quite a bit–but stick with us and by the end of this article, you will have all the information you need to make an informed decision that will better your life for years to come. A brief description of the distinction between the two treatments in quick simplicity, is inpatient treatment requires the patients to live on campus with 24 hour care and outpatient treatment patients’ lives off campus but commutes to treatment as necessary on campus.

Drug and Alcohol Inpatient Treatment Centers

Inpatient rehab for drugs and alcohol are 1–3-month programs in which the individual stays in a recovery facility or residential treatment center. These programs offer an escape from the modern world, access to counseling, evidence-based therapies, and opportunities for social growth and support.

Short-Term Inpatient Drug Rehab

Short-term rehab follows a 3–6-week treatment model and typically consists of an initial detox treatment followed by brief rehabilitation treatment. While short-term inpatient rehab is preferred by many seeking treatment, it is not for those battling severe substance use disorder (SUD). In addition, it is strongly advised that those completing short-term inpatient care continue treatment at a standard outpatient or intensive outpatient facility.

Long-Term Inpatient Drug Rehab

Long term rehabilitation programs can provide the opportunity for clients to develop crucial skills and support from the community. Research suggests that inpatient drug and alcohol treatment is more effective in 3-month increments.5 Long term rehab programs offer many of the same amenities as short-term rehab programs but allow more time to master skills like craving management and relapse prevention.

Pros and Cons of Inpatient Treatment Centers


  • Highly secure and elapse-free spaces
  • Structured and distraction-free environment
  • Medically supervised
  • Safe and regular access to medication for withdrawal management
  • Access to a wide variety of holistic and evidence-based treatments (i.e., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT], Motivational Interviewing [MI], Contingency Management [CM], etc.)
  • On site recreational facilities and regular group activities


  • More expensive than other forms of treatment
  • Not flexible for those with family, school and work obligations
  • Arrangements for these obligations must be made in advance of treatment
  • You can’t leave the facility one you start treatment
  • Not all insurers will cover inpatient treatment

Intensive Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Treatment

Intensive outpatient programs or IOPs are day drug treatments designed to provide a greater amount of engagement and services than standard outpatient programs. While standard outpatient programs meet a few times a week for an hour or more, IOP’s tend to start at a 9-hour weekly commitment–increasing to 30 hours a week based on the client’s own treatment needs.

Who is a candidate for Intensive outpatient treatment? Ideally, somebody who has completed detox and inpatient rehab and is looking for additional support to ease their way back into independent living.

These programs are great for those with co-occurring disorders, as they are more prone to relapse and may also need help with learning important life skills, accessing social services and developing and maintaining social support systems. IOPs with their highly specialized treatment plans and extensive resources are well-equipped to respond to a wide variety of treatment needs.

Pros and Cons of Outpatient Care


  • Scheduling is flexible, allowing people to work and return home to their families at the end of the day
  • Patients benefit from group and individual counseling
  • Treatments have no set start or end dates allowing individuals to continue treatment based on their own needs
  • Outpatient programs are generally more affordable than inpatient programs
  • Great option for those stepping down from inpatient treatment or those with less severe addiction issues.
  • Regular drug testing helps to keep patients accountable


  • Standard outpatient programs only meet for a few hours 1-3 times a week. This may not be enough for individuals with those who are especially at risk of relapse.
  • Because clients return home at the end of the day, outpatient programs have a higher risk of relapse and a lower retention rate than inpatient programs.
  • Standard outpatient programs and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) provide only limited medical support
  • Standard outpatient programs have fewer mental health resources available than inpatient program

Are Detox Centers for Drug Free Living Worth It?

You may have wondered at some point while planning to clean, if detox centers are worth the hassle. After all, you will have to leave home and enter a medical environment. And then waiting at the end, there’s a bill. This thought process makes total sense. Inpatient-style detoxes are not for everyone, but for those struggling with symptoms of severe addiction, there are several advantages to going into an inpatient detox center such as:

  • Medical detox centers are medically supervised 24-7
  • Medical detox centers are the safest way to detox
  • Medical detox centers are relapse-free environments
  • All steps taken during the detox procedure are informed by a medical evaluation
  • Medication can be administered to ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Medical staff will be able to address any treatment complications quickly and decisively
  • Patients are given vitamins and nutrients

For those with mild to moderate symptoms outpatient detox treatment can also be an effective option. Outpatient programs that offer detox treatment can provide individuals with a nurturing and supportive environment, while giving them the freedom to return home at the end of the day.

As with any, outpatient program, however, a greater risk of relapse remains. For this reason, outpatient detox is not recommended for those with severe symptoms, or negative or unstable living situations.

If you or a loved one is seeking information on addiction or mental health resources please call (888) 564-4780.

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