If you or someone you love is considering getting treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, one of the first things that should be addressed is whether you'll be utilizing an inpatient vs. outpatient treatment rehab facility.

An inpatient program means that a patient stays in a treatment facility for the entirety of their treatment. This can be a residential rehab program, which is usually at least six months long, or a shorter program. Either way, the patient is not allowed to leave the facility during treatment. Many treatment programs will allow for visitors at specific stages of treatment.

An outpatient drug rehab treatment means the patient is allowed to leave the facility. They usually travel to the center for meetings, therapy, and activities during the day. However, they live and sleep at home.

There are inpatient and outpatient options for all types of addictions, including alcoholism and drug addiction. However, one of the biggest factors when it comes to “falling off the wagon” is the fact that many addicts live in an unhealthy environment. They might be living with fellow addicts and are likely being constantly tempted with their vices if they choose outpatient programs.

The primary benefit of an outpatient facility is that it is usually much more affordable. However, keep in mind that most insurance plans will cover all or part of treatments.

Pros and Cons of Inpatient vs. Outpatient

Inpatient Facility


  • You are part of a community of fellow addicts overcoming their addictions.
  • 24/7 support and care by trained professionals and therapists.
  • You do not need to worry about temptations or triggers.
  • You do not have distractions of daily life to bother you.
  • Lowest relapse rates.


  • More costlier than outpatient as most insurances only cover outpatient.
  • Patients cannot work, go to school, or continue any other normal activities of daily living until therapy is completed.
  • Family cannot always visit.
  • Patients cannot come and go from the facility as they please.

Outpatient Facility


  • More structured so, daily activities (i.e., work and school) can be continued.
  • More affordable than inpatient care.
  • Therapy sessions can be offered during the weekends or at night.
  • Most facilities provide family sessions to help families understand the challenges you face.


  • You might still have access to drugs and alcohol.
  • Higher chance of relapse.
  • Activities of daily life could distract you and keep you from focusing fully on recovery and therapy.
  • Access to therapist or counselor is limited compared to inpatient facility.
  • Outpatient doesn't really provide a sense of community since you aren't interacting with others in treatment as much.

Outpatient Addiction Treatment and Rehab

There are two main reasons people choose outpatient programs over inpatient. Cost is the biggest factor, but some patients with milder addictions also want to resume some aspects of their daily lives. If a person can keep a job, for example, they may want or need to do so. This is not always an option with inpatient treatment. With inpatient treatment programs, the person’s employer must be willing to give them time off so they can begin their stay and treatment at the facility.

Outpatient programs vary greatly. They can range in intensity, types of rehabilitation offered, and time commitment. Compared to inpatient programs, there is a lot of freedom. This is rarely a good thing for addicts. The best candidates for outpatient programs are those who:

  • Have mild to moderate addictions
  • Have been able to maintain somewhat of a normal life (i.e. keeping a job)
  • Are fully committed to recovery
  • Are likely facing their first rehab treatment
  • Seek help early in their addiction

Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Drug Rehab Programs (IOP)

If you or your loved one simply can’t abide by the demands of an inpatient program, there may be an alternative. An IOP, or an intensive outpatient drug rehab program, can help bridge the gap between inpatient and outpatient.

An IOP is a type of treatment recommended to some patients who do not need a medically-supervised program. It can follow up detox and is tackled on a part-time basis. An IOP is still convenient enough to work around a patient's busy schedule, but is more intensive than a standard outpatient program.

IOPs can offer a wide range of treatment options, and group therapy is central in many IOPs. Patients are usually partnered with a therapist that works with them individually. Most groups in IOPs are small to maximize effect and safety.

Some of the common things addressed in an IOP include:

  • 12-step program introduction
  • Addressing co-occurring issues
  • Family education
  • Handling PAWS (post-acute withdrawal symptoms)
  • Teaching and providing lessons on how the addiction chemistry works in the brain
  • Skill building to prevent relapse
  • Spirituality components
  • Tools for managing cravings
  • Understanding the disease aspect of addiction

A lot of IOPs adopt a type of “declining” approach. This means that when a person first starts, they will have a lot more work than they will at the end. More structure in the beginning can help ensure a smooth transition to recovery. Over time, work and sessions will decline.

You might hear this referred to as the “step down” approach. Simultaneously, patients may be referred to alternative or complementary programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Not every person is a good fit for an IOP. Assessing the best place for you or your loved one often begins with detox. Choosing a medically-supervised detox is the safest and most comfortable way to begin the recovery process. Just because a person goes through such a detox doesn’t mean they “have” to go to an inpatient facility. Medically-supervised detoxes can be suitable for any level or type of addiction.

Remember that unless the addict is a minor or has been required to undergo a certain treatment by a judge, there are no “musts” for treatment. They are optional and should be selected based on how well they serve the patient.

If you’re considering an IOP, these are the common steps taken:

  • During detox, a clinical assessment is made and patients are given an overview of options.
  • Further assessments take place during the admissions process of inpatient or outpatient programs. It’s important that patients attend the best program for their needs.
  • If it’s found that an IOP is right for you, the program may work with your insurance (if applicable) to cover some or all of the costs.
  • A customized plan is put into place.
  • Patients are provided with copies of their plan and begin the process.
  • Most IOPs last for about eight weeks, but this can vary and can change during the program. Patients are provided with an estimated timeframe when they start their program, but this is subject to change.

Outpatient programs, including IOPs, have been shown to be most effective when a person’s loved ones are involved. Creating a support system that will last beyond treatment is critical for a lifetime of sobriety.

Benefits of Inpatient Addiction Treatment and Rehab

By the time most addicts realize they need treatment, their school or work life is already suffering. In some cases, they have lost their job and cannot be trusted at the moment to take care of children. While this is unfortunate, it also puts these patients in an ideal circumstance to choose an inpatient program. They do not have other responsibilities to uphold and can focus exclusively on recovery.

Some additional benefits to inpatient treatment include:

  • No distractions from daily life.
  • No bad habits that are complementary to addiction are allowed (such as staying in bed all day after the initial detox).
  • A complete change in environment, which can prep the body and mind for other changes.

Inpatient treatment is the gold standard for those who are capable of undertaking such a treatment. It is a big endeavor, but overcoming addiction takes a lot of work. If you want to set yourself up for success, it is always best to try to undergo inpatient treatment.

Types of Substance Abuse Rehab Programs

Rehab programs are designed mostly for all kinds of drug use, or targeted for specific drugs. Some of the substance abuse that can be treated in rehab programs include:

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Opioids
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Other narcotics
  • Other prescription drugs

There are some rehab programs that treat drugs such as marijuana and caffeine, however, these “milder” and often legal drugs are much less common targets for rehab programs. If you are interested in a program for less common drugs treated in rehab programs, you may be referred to a general mental health expert who specializes in behavior therapy or other complementary type of therapy.

Utilizing Sober Housing While Attending Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab can be a great choice for some, and in some instances it is the only option. However, if you are considering outpatient rehab, it is vital that you also live in sober housing during—and ideally after—treatment.

Living in a house where drugs and/or alcohol is being used is setting yourself up for failure. Fortunately, there are many sober housing options available and your rehab treatment team will have all of the local information available. There are housing options for virtually any need or budget.

Sober living homes, just like treatment programs, can be short-term or long-term. Some are designed as temporary housing for just a few weeks to coincide with your treatment, while others can be a semi-permanent solution.

Some sober living homes are largely unstructured. Other sober living homes are similar to dorm-living, complete with a “residential assistant” to help uphold the rules, keep order, and ensure that the house stays sober.

Whether you need long-term residential treatment, short-term residential treatment, or you’re interested in sober housing, there are multiple ways to design a recovery process that’s right for you. No two recovery stories are the same, and making sure you have a customized plan gives you the best foundation for success.

The facility you choose to begin and continue your treatment can mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful recovery. Put you or your loved one in the best position to begin a happy, healthy life.