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When you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, often the only thing on your mind is how you can help them overcome the addiction and get better. The problem is that there are a lot of different treatment options available, so it can seem difficult to know which one is going to be the best for your (or their) situation. In general, substance abuse therapy and rehabilitation programs help people understand the reasons behind their drug use and learn to cope in other ways besides using these harmful substances. One of the key differences, though, is whether the program offers an inpatient or outpatient approach.


The Differences Between Inpatient and Outpatient


The most obvious distinction between an inpatient and an outpatient program is where the treatment takes place. Inpatient programs require participants to live at a treatment center, often without any opportunity to go home through the duration of the program. Clients in these programs will sleep at the facility, then attending therapy sessions, individually and in a group, and educational sessions to learn more about their addiction and how to effectively overcome it.


Outpatient programs offer many of the same treatments and therapies—group sessions, individual counseling, the 12-step program, and other activities—but they are done for a short period of time, or just for the day, then patients return to their own homes at night. In both cases patient are expected to remain sober and may be required to attend a certain amount of sessions and activities to remain in the program.


The Duration


Inpatient programs are often a short duration, since it can be difficult to leave your home and family for a really extended period. These might last anywhere from 30 days to three or four months, although some more intensive treatments could last up to a year. With outpatient programs, it’s often open-ended and left up to the individual how long they want to attend. Since the person is already living at home, there is often less urgency to finish so a person can get back to their “normal” life. Even if a person begins in a more intensive outpatient program that involves daily activities, they could still continue to participate as time goes on, but may choose to do so less frequently, only attending once or twice a week, for example.


Benefits of Outpatient Therapies


While inpatient programs have some benefits, especially for those who believe they might have a hard time overcoming addiction while remaining in their existing living situation, outpatient programs also have many benefits, including:


  • Minimal disruption to your daily life
  • The ability to attend to family duties and commitments in the evenings
  • Sleeping in the comfort of your own home
  • Less disruptive to work and home life
  • A feeling of more control and more freedom during recovery
  • The ability to learn about how to cope in your daily life and avoid relapse


There is no right program for everyone, so before you decide where to do your substance abuse rehab, learn more about both outpatient and inpatient programs to find the one that best fits your lifestyle and your needs.