Common Questions About Intensive Outpatient Programs for Addiction

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For many, addiction can be one of the most difficult things to overcome, and intensive outpatient programs may be the best way for those struggling with addiction to recover. When the word ‘rehab’ comes up, most people tend to think of residential rehab, or inpatient addiction treatment programs. This is the kind of addiction treatment you see in the movies – a three-month stay in a secluded treatment center, with a focus on detoxification and resetting your life. While this has a time and place, residential rehab is not always what treatment looks like. There are many ways to treat addiction, alcoholism and the symptoms associated with these mental disorders. While nearly all addiction treatment programs focus on restoring agency and self-control, this does not always require being removed from the world for weeks or months. Instead, intensive outpatient treatment (sometimes called IOPs or simply outpatient rehab) offers the tools and support that individuals need to recover from their addiction while maintaining their day-to-day lives at home. This post aims at addressing the most common questions that people tend to have about intensive outpatient programs for addiction. The questions addressed here include:

  • What is an intensive outpatient program?
  • How does inpatient care compare to outpatient care?
  • What is the cost and length of outpatient treatment?
  • What are the pros and cons of intensive outpatient programs?
  • How do I treat my addiction with an intensive outpatient program?

Of course, outpatient rehab varies depending on which treatment center you decide to attend, and IOPs are not always for everyone. However, most intensive outpatient treatment programs follow the same treatment philosophy and tools, and all are committed to helping you overcome your addiction for good. This brief guide should help you get an idea of whether or not an intensive outpatient treatment program is the right choice for you.

What Is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

In simple terms, an intensive outpatient program for addiction treatment is a specific form of rehab. It delivers the same behavioral therapy and holistic treatment that makes inpatient therapy so successful, but the difference is that at the end of the day you are able to return home and resume your normal, day-to-day life. You are able to stay with your family, maintain your relationships, keep working or going to school, and generally reduce the amount of interruption that addiction treatment introduces to your life. For many, this is what makes treatment possible in the first place. Just like any other form of addiction treatment, intensive outpatient programs recognize addiction for what it is: a mental disorder that essentially robs an individual of their agency, their self-control and even their sense of self-worth. Drug addiction and alcoholism have both been recognized as a chronic disease, which makes quitting much more complicated than simply having good intentions or a strong will. Intensive outpatient programs for addiction treatment recognize this and do everything possible to re-establish self-control, rebuild self-worth, and strengthen an individual’s agency. Altogether, outpatient rehab provides those looking to recover from their addiction or alcoholism with concrete tools, intensive counseling, and group support. All of these work together to help individuals overcome their addiction. But what do intensive outpatient programs for addiction treatment look like in practice? As mentioned above, though IOPs may vary slightly depending on the treatment center, nearly all outpatient rehab programs focus on the same services and treatment tools. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the set of core services essential to all intensive outpatient treatment efforts include the following:

  • Group counseling and therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Psychoeducational programming
  • Pharmacotherapy and medication management
  • Monitoring alcohol and drug use
  • Building coping skills
  • Case management
  • 24-hour crisis coverage
  • Community-based support groups (e.g. 12-step programs)
  • Medical treatment
  • Psychiatric examinations and psychotherapy
  • Vocational training and employment services
  • Recreational activities

Clearly, outpatient rehab is not lacking in terms of the services that this form of treatment offers. From group counseling to individual therapy sessions, IOPs deal with the roots and effects of addiction from start to finish. In group therapy, individuals recovering from addiction or alcoholism have the opportunity to listen and be heard in an open-ended format. The same people tend to meet in IOT groups, which means you are able to get to know each other and help each other through the recognition and acceptance of problems, as well as provide support in building the skills to cope with addiction cravings. With individual counseling, patients in an intensive outpatient treatment program are given the opportunity to address their addiction with a trained psychologist or psychiatrist. These sessions last anywhere from half an hour to an hour and counselors help clients work through the effects that addiction recovery has on their day-to-day lives. Some of the points that may be addressed in individual counseling in an IOP include:

  • Discussing how you are dealing with abstinence and sobriety
  • Covering what urgent issues with recovery you are facing that week
  • Talking about what reactions you had to group therapy and why
  • Addressing the anxiety and fear related to recovery
  • Developing specific treatment plans and coping strategies
  • Helping you transition into and out of intensive outpatient recovery

The combination of individual and group therapy helps those struggling with addiction recognize what problems their addiction have created in their lives and develop specific tools and strategies for overcoming these issues. These sessions help addicts overcome negative thinking in order to enable self-change through a variety of therapy approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational interviewing, all three of which have been shown effective in managing addiction and maintaining sobriety. No matter the therapy approach, the skills developed through an intensive outpatient program for addiction treatment include:

  • How to accept and integrate feedback from peers and counselors
  • How to communicate effectively and patiently
  • How to relieve and reduce stress in healthy, non-destructive ways
  • How to identify triggers for addiction and enact healthy means of dealing with them
  • How to recover and create healthy relationships with friends, family and loved ones
  • How to consistently make healthy decisions

By now, you likely have a better understanding of what outpatient treatment for addiction is. But you still may be asking how these programs work, what they look like on a daily basis, and how they compare to other treatment options. Don’t worry – we are here to answer those questions as well. Just read on.

How Does Inpatient Care Compare to Outpatient Care?

As mentioned above, the major difference between intensive outpatient rehab and inpatient addiction treatment is that the latter involves a residential stay at a treatment center, while the former covers much of the same ground while allowing those undergoing treatment to maintain their daily lives at home. This important difference alone makes it clear that an intensive outpatient addiction treatment program may not be right for everyone. If someone has been addicted to drugs or dependent on alcohol for several years or more, it may prove more effective (and even safer) to attend an inpatient rehab facility. Similarly, inpatient care is likely more appropriate for those who have attempted rehab before without effect. Besides the residential facilities (or lack thereof), there are several other important differences between inpatient addiction rehab and outpatient treatment. These include the following:

  • Outpatient programs tend to last longer than inpatient rehab
  • Inpatient programs usually incorporate detox programs into treatment
  • Outpatient programs are less likely to use medication as a form of treatment
  • Inpatient programs have a specific schedule for patients to follow
  • Outpatient programs usually allow more flexibility in scheduling
  • Inpatient programs offer 24-hour medical supervision
  • Outpatient programs consist of just 2-3 hours of treatment each day, with no medical supervision at home

The pros and cons of intensive outpatient programs (particularly as they compare to inpatient or residential rehab) are discussed below. However, an overview of the major differences between the two treatment programs makes it clear that while outpatient addiction treatment may not be right in every case, this form of rehab is often more than sufficient for those looking to overcome addiction. Outpatient rehab covers all of the major steps of recovery, just like residential rehab, while also giving those struggling through their addiction the flexibility they need. Unless you have struggled with addiction for years, with multiple rehabs and recovery attempts in the past, an intensive outpatient program for addiction treatment may be the right choice.

What Is the Cost and Length of Outpatient Treatment?

The cost and length of outpatient treatment is not necessarily equal across the board. However, IOPs are generally longer and less expensive than residential rehab. The programs are longer because the treatment is not as intense as an inpatient treatment program – rather than participating in treatment all day, every day, those going through outpatient treatment attend group meetings and individual counseling sessions for just a few hours each day. The cost of outpatient treatment is less prohibitive for a similar reason: instead of paying a premium for the room, board, and 24-hour medical supervision, you are simply paying for the treatment that you receive for several hours each day. For this reason, the cost of outpatient treatment is less expensive but takes place over the course of months. An intensive outpatient program for addiction treatment can last anywhere from two to three months. During that time, individuals working toward overcoming their addiction attend treatment at least several times per week for several hours each day. The idea behind this flexibility is to allow patients to attend treatment around their school, work or family commitments. This is the main reason that outpatient treatment is longer than residential rehab. While attending an intensive outpatient program for addiction treatment, you can expect to attend treatment for roughly ten hours per week split across several different days of the week over the course of eight to twelve weeks. After that point, many programs encourage those working toward recovery to continuing attending group sessions (and even individual counseling) once or twice per week. “IOPs are alternatives to inpatient and residential treatment. They are designed to establish psychosocial supports and facilitate relapse management and coping strategies. Compared with inpatient care, IOP services have at least two advantages: increased duration of treatment, which varies with the severity of the patient’s illness and his or her response, and the opportunity to engage and treat consumers while they remain in their home environments, which affords consumers the opportunity to practice newly learned behaviors.” The cost of intensive outpatient treatment can vary widely depending on several factors, including both the facility you use and your insurance coverage. Many estimates put the average cost of IOPs at close to $7,000 for the entire program or less than $200 per day of treatment. Of course, there are both high and low prices in the range, so the cost can vary from as high as $10,000 to as low as $3,000 for the program. Some of the factors that influence the price of an IOP include:

  • The level of services included in the treatment
  • The duration of addiction treatment
  • The hours of treatment each week
  • The level of health insurance that covers treatment
  • Geographic location (i.e. major cities are generally more expensive)
  • The balance of group sessions versus individual counseling

Most forms of insurance cover all the costs of outpatient care once deductibles are met. If you are thinking about an intensive outpatient program, you can verify your insurance here.

What are the Pros & Cons of Intensive Outpatient Programs?

Of course, intensive outpatient treatment for addiction or alcoholism is not the right choice for everyone. If you are struggling with addiction or alcoholism, the important thing is to get the treatment you need – whether that is an intensive outpatient program, residential rehab, or a support group in your area. That said, outpatient treatment is often the best option for those who are ready and willing to start treatment right away, and are looking for the support they need without the time away from home that residential rehab requires. If you are still uncertain whether or not you would benefit more from an IOP or residential rehab, consider the following benefits and drawbacks of intensive outpatient programs. The Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Treatment

  • Freedom. You are able to continue in your everyday life and daily commitments, such as school, work, and family care.
  • Flexibility. Not only are most IOPs scheduled at night or on the weekends, but programs can work with you in creating a schedule that works well with your previous commitments.
  • Application. Instead of waiting until you are out of rehab, participating in an IOP means you are able to start applying your coping skills and behaviors on a daily basis, right away.
  • Cost. Intensive outpatient treatment is generally much less expensive than residential rehab, making it a more plausible treatment option for many around the country.
  • Support. Many IOPs include the opportunity for family sessions, which allows loved ones to better understand addiction and its treatment.

The Potential Drawbacks of Intensive Outpatient Treatment

  • Safe space. Residential rehab offers a drug- and alcohol-free space for recovery; with an IOP you may still face many of the same temptations and triggers if you do not have a supportive environment.
  • Distractions. While participating in an IOP offers flexibility in treatment, this same flexibility may also translate into distractions that detract from your recovery process.
  • Medical care. IOPs do not offer 24/7 medical supervision, so if you have suffered from addiction for a significant amount of time or attempted rehab before, a residential facility may be a better fit.

How Do I Treat My Alcoholism or Drug Addiction with an IOP?

This post has covered what an intensive outpatient program looks like, how this type of treatment compares to residential rehab, the cost and generally expected length of treatment, and the pros and cons of IOPs. All of this information should give you a good idea of whether or not intensive outpatient addiction treatment is the right option for you – or for someone you love. If you are ready to start treatment, do not hesitate to contact us today. The first step toward recovery is recognizing that you have a problem in the first place. Consider taking this online quiz to determine whether you are addicted or just a casual user. If it becomes apparent that you have an addiction, take the next step and reach out for the help that you need. If you have any additional questions about intensive outpatient programs or even addiction and treatment in general, please leave a note in the comment section below.