Outpatient Program

Outpatient Treatment

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment

Drug and alcohol treatment programs generally fall into one of two categories—inpatient (residential) or outpatient treatment.  While equally focused on rehabilitation, each type has unique attributes and benefits. Inpatient programs are intensive residential treatment programs designed to treat serious addictions. Outpatient programs are part-time programs that allow the recovering user to keep going to work or school.  It’s important for both the addict and family to determine together which treatment program will be the right one.

While inpatient programs (rehab) are often found in popular media, research studies suggest they are no more effective than structured, intensive outpatient programs for addiction treatment.  All addiction treatment is focused on the use of individual and group psychotherapy sessions to help a person understand how their life is negatively impacted by the addiction and to learn how to cope without the substance.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient programs allow patients more freedom of movement.  This allows them to maintain regular commitments to family, work and education. Because they can go home after day or evening program, patients are able to have a greater level of privacy. They don’t need to explain a prolonged absence to coworkers, family or friends.

  • Patient stays home and goes to treatment during the day
  • More affordable
  • 3 months to an over 1-year program
  • Good for treating a mild addiction
  • 10 to 12 hours a week

Of course, it is up to you and your medical or counseling professional which program is best for you. For people who do not need intensive care, have not tried outpatient care and can maintain stability during drug and alcohol treatment, outpatient treatment is an excellent option.

Family involvement

Like residential programs, outpatient programs also focus on family support and involvement. For family and friends of drug or alcohol-addicted individuals, addressing the addiction is one of the most difficult aspects of helping the loved one seek treatment. 

Involvement in an outpatient addiction therapy program means that patients are not separated from their families. They are able to attend classes in a facility close to home and can continue substance abuse treatment for an extended period of time. In an inpatient program, patients travel to a facility where they undergo an intensive 28- to 30-day detoxification and recovery program.

Family diseases

Alcohol and drug addiction are both considered “family diseases.” Often, over time, daily family involvement has only managed to enable the addict.  Frequently, family members don’t know how to bring up the issue of addiction and decide to ignore the problem, or at least not discuss it with the addict. Family and friends can be concerned about pushing their loved one away during a confrontation.

Families should understand that approaching their loved one should be a gentle and supportive process.  They need to understand that most patients seek substance abuse treatment because of positive family reinforcement. However, each family is different and the best way to approach family involvement with addiction therapy will differ with every person. 

Family Counseling

It may be necessary to find a counselor in your area that is trained to work with drug and alcohol-addicted patients and their families. Or your family may decide to have a private, non-confrontational discussion with the addicted family member. Insisting that a person seek help exactly as dictated by others is rarely going to bring about a positive change.  Instead, family members and friends should reach out to the person and let them know of the options that are available.

Ultimately, it must be up to the person who is struggling with addiction to seek out and get help.  Friends and family members can offer emotional support for the decision and ensure that the person has access to the resources necessary.   

Personal involvement with people combating drug and alcohol addiction requires continual attentiveness to understand the disease and learn how to support someone they care about. Ongoing counseling sessions will also assist family and friends with their own emotional support during what is usually an extremely stressful time. 

Duration of Outpatient Programs

An outpatient program for drug or alcohol addiction can be successful, especially when the person is highly motivated to change.  Unlike inpatient programs, outpatient programs do not require participants to reside in a treatment facility for several weeks or months. Instead, participants travel to addiction rehab facilities to attend treatment sessions.  

An average stay in an outpatient rehab program is about 10 weeks.  So, depending on the individual, the number of times necessary to travel to the treatment facility, and the duration of each session will vary.  Outpatient programs usually offer a step-down approach to attendance with more intensive treatment occurring in the first weeks.

If you are considering an outpatient program, you should understand that the length of time spent in the program will vary based on a number of factors. The worse an addiction is, the longer a person will spend in treatment.  Duration will also depend on the type of program.  

Short- term vs. long-term

The length of time spent in an outpatient program varies from person to person.  The long-term vs. short-term decision will be based on several factors including:

  • Cross addiction diagnosis
  • Dual diagnosis cases
  • Individual motivation to change
  • Intensity and number of life responsibilities
  • Personal need for psychological  support

An addiction specialist can help determine which type of outpatient program is right for you.

Common Outpatient Programs:

  1. Partial inpatient program—do not require patients to reside in a treatment facility, but do require them to attend daily treatment sessions that last several hours each day.  The duration for these types of programs is usually several months or weeks.
  2. Intensive outpatient program–Individuals diagnosed with more severe cases of addiction usually attend a program several days each week and stay for several hours each day.  Those with a mild diagnosis of addiction may only be required to travel to a facility a couple of times each week for an hour or two each visit. These programs typically last three to four months.
  3. Aftercare outpatient program—When a person completes an inpatient or outpatient program, they will typically continue to attend outpatient therapy sessions for several months or up to a year afterward.


Before entering an outpatient program, you will first need to undergo an initial assessment. You will have to have gone through detox and withdrawal so that no drugs or alcohol are in your system at the time of entrance into an outpatient program.

The majority of time spent in an outpatient program is spent in psychotherapy.  Recovering addicts in outpatient programs will spend several hours each week in individual therapy and group therapy. Depending on your needs, this can last several weeks or several months.

After completing an outpatient program, recovering addicts will usually spend several weeks in an addiction aftercare program.  This requires recovering addicts to attend weekly therapy sessions in order to cope with everyday stressors and maintain their sobriety.

What is the Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment?

Often, patients who have attempted outpatient treatment programs but have relapsed back into drug and alcohol use, or have found outpatient programs difficult to complete, find success with a residential treatment option. Patients who have not yet undergone outpatient treatment may not require this level of care. It is up to you and your medical or counseling professional to decide which program is best for you.  

Inpatient Treatment

  • Patient stays in the facility
  • More expensive
  • Disruptive to daily life
  • 24-hour medical support
  • 28 days to 6-month program
  • Designed to treat serious addictions
  • No distractions of everyday life

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.

Inpatient substance abuse treatment has the obvious benefit of removing the addict from the toxic atmosphere that was enabling their addiction.  The same benefit is transferred to the patient’s friends and family, who are then able to gain a new perspective about their loved one’s addiction and their own behaviors.

During inpatient rehab, patients are able to completely focus on getting well and sober without the distractions of everyday life. Days are carefully scheduled and accounted for.  As in outpatient treatment, psychologists counselors and psychiatrists meet with patients individually and in group settings to guide recovery. A typical inpatient program runs anywhere from 28 days to 6 months.

The First Steps

Because inpatient treatment is designed to treat serious addictions, the first step in inpatient treatment is medically assisted detox.  Physicians and addiction specialists monitor vital signs while the drugs exit the system. Cravings are common during detox and can be difficult to overcome. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps guard against relapse.  Physicians can provide the necessary medicine and expertise to help lessen the cravings and withdrawals.

After detox, patients learn about the disease of addiction in a supportive, immersive environment.  Residential programs are safe, structured environments. Patients are removed from stressful situations that promote the urge to use.  Because the influencing factors are removed, patients can begin to work on building life skills


Inpatient treatment is more expensive, but better for those with severe addictions.  This is especially true if you have relapsed after attending outpatient treatment in the past or if you are living with people who are abusing alcohol and drugs

  • An inpatient program can range from $2,000 to $25,000 for a 30 day program.
  • Additional “comfort features” can add to the cost. A luxury facility could cost up to $100,000 a month
  • Detox can range from $300 to $800 a day
  • Outpatient treatment can range from free to $10,000. 

No matter what you choose, bear in mind that the cost of treatment pales in comparison to the cost of addiction in the long run. In many cases, your insurance provider can help you sort out the costs. 

Major savings to the individual stem from fewer interpersonal conflicts, greater workplace productivity, and fewer drug-related accidents.

According to several conservative estimates, every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft.  Drug addiction treatment has been shown to reduce associated health and social costs by far more than the cost of the treatment itself.  

Before entering Inpatient Rehab

It’s important to prepare properly for rehab.  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 During Inpatient Rehab

Successful clinics know family involvement is crucial to recovery.  Each facility’s policy regarding how and how often residents can communicate with their loved ones is different.  Some rehab centers also provide counseling for the addicted person’s family. This, of course, depends on the proximity of the treatment center to the recovering person’s home. 

In addition, patients benefit from having a “therapeutic community”.  A community of patients who support one another through treatment by encouraging each other to stay on task of recovery.  It is often this camaraderie through empathy and shared experience that often helps patients overcome addiction while completing drug or alcohol treatment.

Which Program is Best for You?

You and your medical or counseling professional are best suited to know which type of treatment is ideal for your situation. Be honest with yourself and your counselor about how independently dedicated you can be in an outpatient program.

When you talk to an addiction treatment professional about voluntarily entering drug and alcohol treatment, talk about your personal circumstances in order to figure out which aspects of outpatient or residential treatment would be best for you.  Both programs have life-changing benefits. Understanding which program will best help you achieve long-term recovery is one of the first steps to becoming sober. 

Most likely, you have tried to do it on your own in the past.  This time do it right. Call us at Granite Mountain. Call to speak to one of our qualified specialists by dialing (877)338-6287. We are here for you every step of the way. You can also reach out to our team here




Article Reviewed by Gregory Struve

Gregory StruveGreg received a Master’s in Counseling from the Adler Graduate School in 2006. He trained at one of the top trauma and anxiety treatment centers in the world until 2008 when he became a faculty member at Grand Canyon University. From 2011 to 2016 he directed a program that leads the field in terms of innovative treatment of anxiety and trauma. During that time he even made several appearances on A&E’s intervention.