Addiction: What Is An Intensive Outpatient Program?

Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) is a highly structured recovery program that provides a more intensive level of care than a standard outpatient or aftercare program. An IOP differs from residential rehab in that patients are allowed to remain at home while they are receiving treatment, which means they can continue in their daily lives.

Intensive outpatient therapy can be used as primary care for someone with mild addiction issues or for a person who has just completed residential rehab and needs a little extra support in the early weeks of recovering at home.

Some people feel anxious about returning home after rehab and can benefit enormously from intensive outpatient care which continues to reinforce everything learned during a treatment program.

The Difference between Inpatient and Intensive Outpatient Treatment

The difference between residential rehab and an IOP is that an outpatient program allows patients to remain at home. Despite the reduced time commitment, the range of services available for intensive outpatient addiction treatment is just as varied as inpatient care and often there is a wider variety of therapies available to support patients.

Whereas inpatient programs are generally structured to last 30, 60 or 90 days and even longer if necessary, IOPs can last for as long as the patient needs extra support in recovery. Therapy and counseling sessions are typically scheduled for 3-5 days a week, lasting up to four hours each day. The benefit an IOP has over residential care is that patients are not required to reside in a facility and they are free to continue with their home or work obligations and responsibilities.

Patients entering intensive outpatient therapy will usually be assigned a treatment team who will work with the individual to work out a personalized recovery or treatment plan. This plan will be devised according to the specific needs of each patient and will be prepared by therapists with complete knowledge of their case history.

Below are some common services offered in IOPs:

Individual and Group Counseling

Counseling sessions are vital in supporting people dealing with addiction illness, particularly in an outpatient program where they remain at home. Counseling serves to provide recovering addicts with immediate support if they are faced with stressful situations that ordinarily trigger substance abuse. Individual and group counseling sessions also introduce structure into an IOP, providing participants with real-time guidance to protect them from relapse.

Family Therapy

A person with addiction is likely to have involved loved ones in their issues as a result of developing the illness. The damage that is done by substance abuse is not only focused on the individual themselves but those around them are invariably caught in the crossfire of negative behaviors and actions. Previously strong and close family relationships can become damaged beyond repair as a result of addictive behavior, which is why family therapy is considered an important aspect of intensive outpatient treatment. Having a therapist act as a neutral third party as families communicate with each other about their loved one’s addiction; prevents emotionally-charged situations from getting out of control.

Holistic Therapies

These days, holistic therapies are fully embraced by the addiction community and are known for being highly effective in promoting a healthier lifestyle and better choices. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can be used in the years in recovery after treatment as effective protection against relapse. When a person has been addicted to powerful chemical substances or alcohol, they can benefit significantly from natural approaches to recovery without using medications.


Individuals who aren’t at risk of developing severe withdrawal or who have mild symptoms of addiction may be offered detox on an IOP.

Who Should Consider an Intensive Outpatient Program?

Just as with other types of addiction treatment, an IOP is not for everyone and some feel more comfortable committing themselves to live in a facility for the duration of rehab. However, outpatient treatment can be highly effective, particularly so if the following conditions are met:

  • They have a strong support network around them and a stable home life
  • They still enjoy good mental and physical health and have no co-existing conditions
  • They have not previously entered intensive outpatient therapy
  • There is a low risk of relapse when returning home after an outpatient session
  • They are completely comfortable in a group therapy setting

Although it may appear as though an outpatient program is some kind of part-time option for people seeking addiction treatment, it is actually very effective. For the individuals who are not able to leave their daily responsibilities behind to focus on themselves or who are concerned about raising awareness of their addiction, an intensive outpatient program is a very effective option.