Drug Rehab

How Does Outpatient Drug Rehab Work?

Are you or a loved one considering drug rehab? If so, do you know about outpatient treatment?

When most people think about drug rehab, they envision inpatient treatment. During inpatient treatment, a person lives on the premises of the rehab center with no access to the outside world the majority of the time. This is widely considered the best form of treatment for substance use disorders. However, it is not the only type of rehab.

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) or outpatient drug rehab is, in many ways, similar to inpatient rehab. But, rather than living on the premises, the individual continues living at home and comes into the center on a daily basis to participate in the program.

Let’s take a look at how outpatient drug rehab works, before discussing why someone may choose outpatient treatment over inpatient treatment.

What does outpatient treatment entail?

Choosing an intensive outpatient program is not an easy way out. It is not ‘rehab lite.’ On the contrary, it can be a lot more difficult than inpatient rehab. Whereas inpatient rehab takes care of all your needs and gives you space to practice your new skills, with outpatient rehab you need to take care of yourself.

Most IOPs provide the same treatments as the equivalent inpatient program would. You do a core program which helps you build coping mechanisms and skills to manage your emotions. You see an individual therapist and take part in groups. You are given ‘homework’ to do in between sessions.

There are some outpatient programs which are a lot less intensive than inpatient programs, but outpatient programs are primarily an alternative that provides similar treatment. So, what are the benefits of outpatient treatment?

The benefits of outpatient treatment

The benefits of outpatient treatment are varied and tend to be specific to each individual. Here are some of the most commonly cited benefits.

Retain Employment

Many people are concerned that they will get fired if they take time off for rehab. The good news is that there are laws in place to prevent this. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives employees the right to 12 weeks unpaid leave for legitimate medical reasons. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives you the recourse to take legal action if they fire you anyway.

However, the FMLA specifically protects full-time employees who have worked at a company for twelve months or more. If you work on a part-time or contract basis, and if you are new to your company, you may not have a job to return to after rehab. Furthermore, many people cannot afford to take unpaid leave from work, even in the knowledge that they have a job to return to.

Outpatient treatment is difficult to fit into a full-time work schedule, but there are some programs which accommodate work. You may also find a way to complete work tasks outside of normal work hours if your employers or clients don’t mind.


Another common reason people choose outpatient drug rehab is affordability. Rehab is expensive and your insurance may not pay for everything. If you are uninsured, paying for rehab is particularly tough. However, there is a major price difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment.

Since with an inpatient program you are paying for accommodation and meals in addition to the treatment, the expenses are much higher. By staying at home and coming in each day to complete the program, you can save a lot of money.

Family Support

Most people with substance use disorders have complicated family situations. Addiction is often called a family disease, as the entire family system is affected. Relationships become codependent and conflict becomes the constant state of one’s home life. However, this is not true for everyone.

Some people entering rehab actually get a lot of support from their families and cannot imagine going through the process without coming home to them. For these individuals, outpatient treatment may be the favored choice.

What outpatient treatment is not?

Those are the main benefits of outpatient treatment. For some people, inpatient treatment is simply not possible or not beneficial. However, there are some things outpatient certainly is not.

Outpatient treatment is not a way to do rehab without disrupting your ‘normal’ life. If you can afford to take the time off from work to commit to treatment that is what you should do. Outpatient treatment should not be used as a way to pursue treatment with no sacrifice.

Outpatient treatment is also not a way to circumvent the rules of rehab. For example, you should not use it as a way to continue recreational drinking or marijuana use while you recover from addiction to another substance. While there are rehab programs which are not premised on total abstinence, you need to be clear-headed during the treatment process. Rehab rules exist for a reason, and they apply to outpatient rehab as well.

With the above in mind, you may consider outpatient rehab as an alternative to inpatient treatment. Remember, it is not a compromise, but rather a way of pursuing treatment that is better suited to some individuals.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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