The Difference between Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment Facilities

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 23.5 million people, ages 12 and older, in the US required treatment for an alcohol or drug abuse problem in 2009, which is equivalent to 9.3 percent of the population. Of these individuals, only 11.2 percent, or 2.6 million, received the treatment they required.

When people need treatment for a substance use disorder, they have various options to choose from. The most basic types of care are divided into inpatient and outpatient treatment options.

What Is Inpatient Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation?

Inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation consists of the client residing in the treatment facility throughout the entire treatment process. An inpatient program is a 24-hour care program that is provided in a licensed residential facility. It offers the client intensive care, medication attention, safety, and support.

What Is Inpatient Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation?

Detox is only the first step in recovery. If comprehensive treatment, including intensive therapy, doesn’t follow, relapse is likely.

In an inpatient setting, clients are in the same residential setting, allowing supportive friendships to form. Depending on the facility, rooms may be private or shared, but common areas are generally shared.

Due to the residential setting, clients often get more opportunities to participate in complementary therapies together, such as yoga or meditation classes, art therapy, or movement-based therapy. This is in addition to group therapy sessions which are standard in most facilities. There is also free time where clients can socialize with their peers.

The average day at an inpatient facility is highly structured. All meals are served at the same time each, and specific activities take place at designated times. This structure helps clients to develop a sense of responsibility, time management, and accountability.

In an inpatient setting, there is obviously less risk for relapse since substances of abuse are simply not accessible. In addition, 24-hour support from peers and staff members also protects against relapse and bolsters recovery.

What Is Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Treatment?

Outpatient treatment programs often include many of the same therapies offered in inpatient treatment, but clients reside at home. They come to the treatment center for a set number of hours per day or week and return home each night to sleep. If medical detox is required, this may occur on an inpatient basis initially and the person may then transition to outpatient treatment once withdrawal is complete.

What Is Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Treatment?

With outpatient treatment, clients are often able to maintain a job and familial responsibilities while seeking addiction treatment. Sessions can often be scheduled around other life obligations, giving those who aren’t able to put everything else on hold the ability to seek comprehensive care.

When Is Outpatient Treatment Better?

Since the risk of relapse is higher in outpatient treatment, it’s recommended that clients have a safe, supportive living environment at home. If the person doesn’t have this in place, inpatient care may be preferred for more effective results.

Basically, an outpatient treatment program might work better for anyone who has responsibilities that must be addressed during recovery. This includes those with fulltime jobs they can’t take a leave of absence from and those who care for children or elderly family members.

Again due to the increased risk of relapse, outpatient treatment is better for those with less severe addictions. Those who have long-term addictions, or who have attempted rehab in the past and subsequently relapsed, are better served with inpatient treatment.

The benefits of outpatient treatment include:

  • Continuing to live at home
  • Maintaining responsibilities outside of treatment
  • Less of a time commitment
  • Staying in close contact with friends and family

When Is Inpatient Treatment Better?

Inpatient treatment is the more comprehensive approach to addiction recovery. It keeps these individuals in a protected environment until they are mentally strong enough to resist negative influences.

Inpatient treatment is ideal for those who have serious addictions or co-occurring mental health issues, per the National institute on Drug Abuse. In addition, inpatient treatment is preferable for those who don’t have a safe or supportive home environment. Inpatient treatment can be critical in helping clients to structure life in the early days of recovery.

The benefits of inpatient treatment include:

  • Lack of opportunities to relapse
  • An immersive treatment experience
  • Fewer distractions
  • Continual support

Making the Choice

Ultimately, either type of treatment – inpatient or outpatient – can be effective. The choice between the two comes down to the individual’s situation, and the decision should be made in conjunction with treatment providers.