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Comparing Inpatient and Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment

Inpatient or Outpatient? When you begin searching for an alcohol or drug rehab treatment facility for yourself or someone you care about, you are to be congratulated. This means that you have already taken the first – and most important – step on the road to recovery: Admitting that there is a problem beyond your control.

Trying to get help for an addictive disorder can be confusing. How do you know what type of treatment program is right for you? Most people opt to begin their sober journey through either a residential/inpatient setting or on an outpatient basis.

What Is Inpatient Drug Rehab?

Inpatient drug treatment (also called residential rehab) is when you are admitted to a full-time live-in addiction recovery facility. As an incoming patient, you check in and are expected to live at the facility for the entire length of your prescribed treatment plan.

Residential programs are staffed around-the-clock by medical personnel, mental health professionals, and support staff specially trained in addiction treatment. Your physical and mental health and safety is closely monitored by medical doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, counselors, and aides. Your practical needs are taken care of by the professional support staff.

Residential rehab facilities are usually in remote location that is private enough to provide the peace and quiet that is best suited for recovery. Every effort is made to promote welcome, comfort, and serenity.

Your Recovery from Addiction Is the Goal

As a patient in an inpatient facility, you are removed from the stress and distraction of your “normal life”, allowing you to completely focus on your own well-being.

And, because you are in a safe, controlled environment, you won’t be around alcohol or other drugs of abuse

Inpatient drug rehabilitation is intensive, and each day’s activities are scheduled:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Twelve Step meetings
  • Prescribed medications
  • Meals prepared by a certified nutritionist
  • Healthy recreation
  • Exercise
  • Planned outings
  • Personal time

Virtually every waking hour is filled with a positive activity directly related to recovery. This gives you the structure you were lacking while you were actively addicted.

Inpatient addiction treatment is the best first choice for you if:

  • You have tried unsuccessfully to quit on your own multiple times.
  • You dropped out of another rehab program before successful completion.
  • You are currently relapsing.
  • You have long personal history of heavy drinking or drug use.
  • Your long-term drug of choice is alcohol, heroin, prescription opioids, or benzodiazepines.
How Long Is Residential Rehab?

How long you need to stay in residential rehab depends upon several issues – your drug of choice, your personal history of addiction, your progress during recovery, and your ability to pay/insurance coverage. Each of these issues are discussed during your intake interview.

Your best chance of successful, long-term-lasting recovery is with a program that lasts 90 days or more, but that can be adjusted, depending upon your needs. If your personal circumstances and history require a different approach, there are shorter programs of 30 or 60 days.

What is Outpatient Addiction Treatment?

With an outpatient drug or alcohol rehab program, you can attend treatment while still meeting your other obligations – your job, school, family activities, etc. Typically, you have the option of attending treatment around the demands of your life, by going to sessions held in either the morning or evening.

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offer the same sort of classes, counseling, and treatment strategies – individual/group/family therapy, education, communication, relapse prevention, 12-Step philosophies, and so on.

But outpatient treatment programs, while differing in terms of immersive intensity, can last for far longer than most residential rehab programs – many outpatient treatment offerings last up to 6 months.

Recovery on YOUR terms

The flexibility offered by outpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs benefits you in several ways. You can:

  • Live at home with your family.
  • Keep your job.
  • Attend school.
  • Apply what you learn in your daily life.
  • Enjoy support from your loved ones.
How Much Does Addiction Recovery Cost?

There is a considerable difference in the monthly costs of different residential rehabilitation centers:

  • Basic options: $7000-$8000
  • Mid-range facilities: $10000-$30000
  • Luxury Rehabs: over $100,000

Don’t let the price tag attached to inpatient drug rehab keep you away. Keep a few things in mind:

First, insurance companies are required by federal law to cover substance abuse rehabilitation. If you have the proper coverage, rehab is much more affordable.

Second, your continued addiction also imposes an enormous financial burden – the cost of the alcohol/drugs, absenteeism at work, criminal/civil fines, lawyer’s fees, and medical expenses

Comparatively, outpatient drug treatment is much less expensive. A 10-week intensive outpatient treatment program can be as low as $7000, about $135 per day. Outpatient services are also covered by most insurance plans.

Which is Better – Inpatient or Outpatient Addiction Treatment?


Depending on YOUR needs as an individual, either may give you the help you need.

If you can leave your family in good hands, can put job/school on hold, and if it is within your budget, then an inpatient facility is always your best option. Remember; the longer you stay in the intensive immersive environment of a residential rehab facility, the better your chances of a successful return to sobriety become.

On the other hand, if your family, school, and work obligations make it impossible for you to step away for several weeks or months at a time, or if finances are your biggest barrier, then outpatient treatment can help you recover at your own speed.

If you choose a program that addresses your needs as an individual, you can start making immediate progress toward your ultimate goal – SOBRIETY. The route that you take matters less than your eventual safe arrival.

by Albert Fontenot


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