Treatment Types: Inpatient vs Outpatient Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one has a substance abuse problem and are considering treatment, you will probably be weighing the benefits of an inpatient or outpatient treatment intervention. An inpatient treatment is a 24-hour facility. You will leave home and stay there, often for several weeks. If you choose an outpatient treatment model, you will stay at home. You will meet with a therapist and probably attend a group. This article will detail the differences between outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment.

Physical Addiction

One of the first things to consider is whether or not there is a physical addiction. When you have been using drugs or alcohol long enough, your body will have developed a dependency on the drug. Withdrawing from that chemical will cause very difficult physical symptoms. If you are physically addicted, even to alcohol, it is safest to detox in an inpatient facility. Once detox is successful, the individual is referred to an inpatient facility. Why? An inpatient treatment program is a 24-hour program that can provide the structure and support someone needs following detox.

Around-the-clock Services

One of the most important distinguishing features of an inpatient facility are the availability of staff. An inpatient treatment center is staffed with a multidisciplinary team that includes social workers/therapists, nurses, psychiatrists, case managers and mental health workers. In early stages of recovery, an individual often requires a great deal of support. In an inpatient facility, staff are available 24-hours a day.

If you have an additional mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, you will meet with a psychiatrist within one day of your admission. If you need to be evaluated for medication, this will happen quickly. If you are in outpatient services, a psychiatric consult can take several weeks. For some individuals, this can complicate recovery.

Respite Services

In some ways, an inpatient program is a respite. An individual has the opportunity to leave the stresses that were contributing to their problem and work intensively on their issues. There won’t be any obvious triggers to use. You will be away from negative influences (including friends who use/abuse drugs) and treatment is private and confidential. This can be very important. You will have time and space to concentrate on your treatment.

If you stay at home, you will be surrounded by your old triggers. You and your therapist will have to come up with a plan to cope with these stressors. This can be very challenging in early recovery.

Intensive Short-term Treatment Services

Remember, inpatient treatment is a way to ‘jump start’ your recovery. You will be working with a therapist or counselor on intensive issues, but the focus is to give you the tools you need to transition back home. Inpatient treatment is supposed to be the first step in recovery. When you leave the program, case managers will be helping you set up appointments for outpatient treatment in the community. You will be expected to meet with an individual counselor and continue group treatment once you leave. Inpatient is just the first step in your long-term recovery.

Outpatient treatment is considered long-term treatment. You will have an individual therapist and you will be working on long-term recovery goals.


Inpatient treatment is very expensive and most individuals seeking this kind of support will pay for the treatment with medical insurance. Outpatient treatment, by comparison, can be paid by medical insurance, but most communities also have low-cost treatment options. These are often funded by the state through mental health contracts.

Although few things are as difficult as trying to stop using drugs or alcohol, it’s important to remember that the first step is often the hardest. Admitting you have a problem is a sign that you are ready to begin your recovery. Take stock of what you need and call for help. It’s one of the best decisions you can make.

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