Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment

In general, drug and alcohol treatment programs fall into two categories: inpatient and outpatient treatment. While both are focused on a solid program of addiction recovery each option has unique benefits and offerings. Inpatient treatment is 24/7, highly structured, and highly supervised, while outpatient treatment is structured but generally less time-intensive, allowing for more flexibility in work, family, and life commitments. 


It’s important that someone seeking treatment–or someone seeking treatment for a loved one–understands the difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment options before choosing a program, to make sure it is the right fit and will meet the needs of the individual as they begin their path to recovery. 


Inpatient Treatment  

  1. Client lives in treatment facility
  2. Around-the-clock care and supervision
  3. More expensive
  4. Generally 28 days to 90 days 
  5. Disruptive to daily life routines




Outpatient Treatment*  

  1. Client lives at home or in a sober living house
  2. Part-time attendance 
  3. More affordable 
  4. Generally 3 months to a year with ongoing options 
  5. Client is able to maintain daily life routines 


*This excludes Substance Abuse Comprehensive Outpatient Treatment (SACOT), which is categorized as “outpatient” but functions full-time in a highly structured and supervised environment. 


Inpatient Rehab and Treatment

Inpatient treatment, also referred to as residential treatment, requires an individual to reside in a controlled environment while working through their addiction. Clients are medically-supervised with round-the-clock access to clinical and emotional support. 


Preparing for Inpatient Treatment

Some things to take care of before entering inpatient treatment include: 

  • Make arrangements for family and home responsibilities 
  • Notify employer 
  • Arrange transportation to and from treatment center
  • Find out what personal items are permitted or required


Family Support in Inpatient Treatment 

Generally, family is permitted to contact loved ones while they are in an inpatient treatment program. When it comes to when and how often, each treatment center’s policy is different. Some programs also allow family visitation and family counseling sessions. 


Day-to-Day Life in Inpatient Treatment 

In inpatient treatment, daily schedules are structured and planned for the individual. The specific offerings will depend on the treatment center, but generally all treatment programs incorporate individual and group therapy sessions. 


Outpatient Rehab and Treatment 

Outpatient treatment is often less restrictive and more flexible than inpatient treatment. There are several levels of outpatient treatment options, and many people begin in the most intensive, then slowly make their way to more flexibility and individual freedom as their recovery progresses. 


Substance Abuse Comprehensive Outpatient Therapy (SACOT)  functions similarly to some inpatient programs in structure and supervision. SACOT clients live in fully-supervised housing and have a daily schedule of recovery programming, including individual and group sessions. SACOT is a full-time commitment to recovery, which generally lasts 30 days or longer. 


Intensive Outpatient (IOP) can range anywhere from 5-30 hours per week, depending on the program. In IOP, an individual will visit a local recovery center several times a week for sessions. These sessions may include individual and group counseling, substance abuse education, relapse prevention strategies, and more. 


Outpatient (OP) is a continuing care option often offered to clients as a way to stay connected and grounded in ongoing recovery once typical “treatment” is complete. OP generally ranges from 1-5 hours a week. 


An Addiction Treatment Option for Everyone

With so many program options and varying levels of treatment care, there is help for everyone. No matter which option an individual chooses, treatment programs can have a profound impact on an individual’s entire life as it sets them on a solid path to recovery from addiction, and opens the doors to a life of greater freedom, connection,  and possibility.