A Elements Behavioral Health Guide to Drug Rehab
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Outpatient Drug Rehab

Drug Rehab - Choosing the Right Treatment
Drug Rehab Treatment
Outpatient Drug Rehab

Addiction professionals have long recognized the need for intensive therapy at affordable prices. In recent years, intensive outpatient treatment (IOT) has begun to bridge the gap between traditional inpatient drug addiction treatment and weekly outpatient sessions, providing a cost-effective option for those struggling with addiction.

Differences Between Outpatient Rehabs and Inpatient Rehabs

Traditional outpatient drug rehab usually consists of counseling, either individual or in a group setting. However, research has shown that weekly counseling is not sufficient to treat patients with moderate or severe drug addiction, nor is it comprehensive enough to address psychiatric or medical issues that may be present along with the drug addiction.

By comparison, inpatient drug rehab is the most intensive treatment available. Patients are removed from their unhealthy environment and live in a highly structured and supportive drug rehab center. Under 24-hour supervision by a medical professional, patients undergo drug detox with minimal withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Following detox, patients participate in intensive therapy, educational sessions, 12-Step meetings and other recovery-related activities. Inpatient drug rehab is typically necessary when patients cannot maintain sobriety without 24-hour support or have significant medical, emotional or behavioral issues.

Bridging the Gap

Outpatient Drug RehabGiven the cost of inpatient drug rehab, a less costly alternative was needed. Enter the intensive outpatient model of drug rehab. As with other types of drug rehab, intensive outpatient rehab programs (IOP) come in many varieties and are administered in a multitude of settings. This type of treatment falls about halfway between the intensities of traditional inpatient and outpatient treatment and is far less costly that inpatient addiction treatment.

Every year drug addiction and alcoholism cost upwards of $100 billion in lost productivity, medical expenses, crime and road accidents. Yet we currently spend less than 10% of this amount on addiction treatment programs. As the incidence of drug- and alcohol-related problems continues to rise, addiction professionals must learn to do more with less. Intensive outpatient treatment is emerging as the solution to this problem.

Intensive Outpatient Rehabs Give Patients the Opportunity to Receive Intensive Treatment without the Costs of Inpatient Treatment

Studies have shown that the more time a patient spends in drug rehab, the more likely he is to stay clean. Given the cost associated with inpatient treatment, it is fiscally impossible to provide adequate inpatient addiction treatment to all patients who require it, especially for patients whose care is being paid for by insurance companies or government agencies.

When patients are given longer periods of treatment, they are able to practice their newly learned behaviors, test out their sober selves and become part of the sober community in their area. Patients in inpatient settings may have to wait until they are discharged to experiment in these areas, in some cases without the support of addiction professionals or supportive peers.

Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Drug Rehab Treatment


Since intensive outpatient drug rehab is about half the cost of traditional inpatient treatment, patients can receive several more weeks of treatment than they would get if inpatient was the only option. In addition to higher sobriety rates, patients who continue to participate in intensive outpatient treatment are typically more productive members of society. They are often better equipped to stay in school, hold down a job or care for family members than those who are discharged from traditional outpatient facilities. When intensive outpatient addiction professionals work closely with community-based providers in developing a patient’s discharge plan, additional financial savings have been demonstrated.

Customized Treatment

Since the idea of hospitalization is a turnoff for many patients, the intensive outpatient model offers an attractive alternative. Addiction professionals have also found that this model allows them to customize treatment in response to the needs of local residents or special groups of patients. Some patients feel more comfortable in IOT as they can often avoid the embarrassing disclosure of personal information that could occur if they had to explain the need to miss school or work to participate in inpatient drug rehab.


Clinicians applaud intensive outpatient drug rehab for its flexibility. The severity of addiction varies among patients and within each patient over the course of treatment. In a typical case, the patient will require more intensive drug rehab treatment early on and then gradually taper off. Complications such as relapse, medical emergencies and other mental health issues may require the patient to return to a more intensive level of treatment. Intensive outpatient  programs (IOP) can easily increase in intensity without having to place the patient in an inpatient drug rehab facility.

More Individuals Equals More Specialized Treatment Options

Intensive outpatient programs are able to treat more patients than inpatient programs and, thus, may be able to create specialized groups for patients with similar backgrounds. This is especially helpful for those who have experienced sexual trauma, relapse and anger management. Since IOT is a team-based treatment that offers more than just individual or group therapy sessions, studies have shown that patients are more likely to stick with treatment than when in a traditional outpatient program.

Continue Encountering Real Life Situations

A unique characteristic of IOT is that it encourages patients to apply what they have learned to real-life situations. For instance, when faced with stressors or challenges, they can immediately apply coping strategies that they have learned. When patients are introduced to new behaviors during inpatient treatment, they sometimes have to delay real-life application. With outpatient treatment, the effectiveness of particular strategies or behaviors can be monitored real-time and modified as necessary to give the best chance at lasting recovery.

Focuses Treatment on the Individual

In addition to treating addiction, intensive outpatient drug rehab provides opportunities to address problems related to family, job, social groups or other mental health issues. Addiction professionals can work with family members, co-workers and friends to help strengthen or repair interpersonal relationships that were damaged during the period of active addiction.

Relapse Prevention

Once these support networks are established, the patient will be better equipped to handle any relapse challenges they may face. Further, daily contact with treatment providers enables patients to address relapse even before it happens (for instance, when a patient reports the re-emergence of addiction “triggers”).

If an intensive outpatient participant does relapse, it is seen less as a failure and more as an indication that the treatment goals need to be modified or that the patient has not gone far enough in making lifestyle changes. Patients typically respond well to this approach and, more often then not, stay in treatment and use the relapse as a learning opportunity.


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