Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab

Deciding whether to enter a residential rehab program or seek outpatient care is an important step toward sobriety.

Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment

beauty-654309_1280Drug and alcohol treatment programs generally fall into one of two categories — inpatient or outpatient rehab. While equally focused on rehabilitation, each type has unique attributes and benefits to offer.

Inpatient rehabs are intensive, residential treatment programs designed to treat serious addictions. Outpatient rehabs are part-time programs, allowing the recovering user to keep going to work or school during the day.


It’s important that both the addicted person and their loved ones understand the differences before selecting a treatment program. Finding the right treatment program can put you or a loved one on the road to sobriety.

Inpatient Rehab and Treatment

Inpatient recovery programs, also known as residential treatment, require patients to check themselves into a controlled environment to overcome their addictions. Patients stay at a clinic with 24-hour medical and emotional support.

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Preparing for Inpatient Rehab

It’s important to properly prepare for rehab. There’s no set amount of time needed to prepare for treatment. It is important to set an entry date for rehab and to have affairs settled before that date.
Some of the things to take care of before entering rehab include:

  • Talking to your employer
  • Finding living arrangements for children or other family members
  • Planning how to get to and from the rehab center
  • Finding out what personal items are allowed

Family Support and Contact in Inpatient Rehab

Successful inpatient clinics know family involvement is crucial to recovery. Family members can contact loved ones in residential treatment to provide emotional support and encouragement.

When it comes to how and how often residents can communicate with their loved ones, each inpatient center’s policy is different. Some rehab centers also provide counseling for the addicted person’s family.

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Daily Life During Inpatient Rehab

During inpatient treatment, residents are able to completely focus on getting well and sober without the distractions of everyday life. A typical day in residential treatment is carefully scheduled and accounted for. Psychologists, counselors and psychiatrists meet with patients individually and in group settings to guide inpatient recovery.

A typical inpatient program runs anywhere from 28 days to six months.

The first step in inpatient treatment is medically assisted detox. Physicians and addiction specialists monitor patients’ vital signs while the drugs exit the system. Drug cravings are common during detox and can be difficult to overcome, often leading to relapse.

Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps guard against relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medicine and medical expertise to lessen cravings and withdrawals.

The brain reacts differently to different addictive substances over time and frequent use. Withdrawal symptoms aren’t pleasant for any drug, but some drugs should never be quit without medical supervision. Some withdrawals can be fatal. Lethal withdrawals are linked to drugs like synthetic opiates, benzodiazepines, alcohol and heroin.

During inpatient rehab patients have access to 24-hour medical attention. This attention can mean the difference between relapse and recovery.

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    Outpatient Rehab and Treatment

    Outpatient drug rehab is less restrictive than inpatient programs. Outpatient recovery programs usually require 10 to 12 hours a week spent visiting a local treatment center.

    These sessions focus on drug abuse education, individual and group counseling, and teaching addicted people how to cope without their drug. Outpatient drug rehab can be a good standalone option for someone with a mild addiction, or it can be part of a long-term treatment program.

    Outpatient drug rehab can last three to six months — something similar to inpatient treatment — or over a year.

    Outpatient Detox Programs

    Patients with mild-to-moderate drug withdrawal symptoms might find outpatient detoxification a fitting alternative to residential detox. Outpatient detox is safe, effective and takes less time to complete than inpatient detox.

    The average outpatient detox period lasts 6.5 days.

    - Motoi Hayashida, M.D., Sc.D. 1998

    Patients must visit a hospital or other treatment facility for physical and mental check-ups during outpatient detox. Clinicians or doctors might administer medications on-site to soothe withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression and increased heart rate.

    Social Support During Outpatient Rehab

    Outpatient drug rehab allows recovering addicts to remain at home during treatment. Those undergoing outpatient drug rehab can continue working and remain close to family and friends. Outpatient treatment centers usually conduct meetings at night or in the early morning, helping those in the program maintain their normal schedules.

    Twelve step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) may be used as part of outpatient treatment.

    Studies show that participating in recovery groups like AA and NA helps recovering addicts stay sober.

    Many recovering addicts also turn to outpatient treatment after completing an inpatient program as part of their continued recovery.

    Inpatient treatment programs typically cost more than outpatient drug rehab. The on-hand medical care and psychotherapy available to residential rehab patients increases treatment costs. The price difference should not encourage or discourage someone from choosing the best treatment route for them.

    Whatever the Decision, Recovery is Around the Corner

    No matter which treatment option is right for you or a loved one, rehab can change your life.

    2.4 million addicted people seek treatment through specialized rehab centers every year

    - Substance Abuse and Medical Health Service Administration

    Addiction is a chronic illness, and recovery is a lifelong process. Medical professionals, mental health counselors and community groups like AA can teach the necessary skills to avoid relapse. Take the first step today.

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