How to Choose Between Residential & Outpatient Addiction Treatment Facilities

Jul 1, 2016

Deciding to get help for addiction is a big step, but before you can start your journey to a sober, happy life you have some decisions to make. Perhaps the first, and one of the most important, is whether you are going to do a residential or an outpatient treatment program. There are some pretty substantial differences between the two, so it’s critical that you review the pros and cons of each before deciding on the right one for your healing journey.

Understanding Inpatient Treatment

Residential abuse recovery treatment, sometimes called inpatient treatment, is a place where a person checks in, then lives and spends all his or her time there for the duration of the program. Residential programs can range from about 30 to 90 days, and usually they will stipulate that the patient will not see friends or family members during that time. Inpatient facilities often combine a medical detoxification period at the beginning with therapy, counseling, group support, and classes afterward. Inpatient treatment tends to be a little more intense, so it’s ideally suited for someone whose addiction has taken significant control over his or her life.

Understanding Outpatient Treatment

Others who seek addiction treatment might find that either they cannot leave their home and their life for an extended period of time to check in to a rehab facility, or they prefer to be able to live at their own home. In these cases, patients will check in regularly with counselors and addiction treatment professionals at the rehabilitation center, but will return to their homes once it’s done.

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.

Which One is Better?

It’s important to note that neither outpatient nor inpatient is considered to be “better” treatment, and choosing the best one often means examining your own circumstances, your addiction and behaviors, and your living situation. The primary goal of any drug or alcohol addiction treatment facility is to help you focus on recovery and remove the distractions in your daily life that have prevented you from having success. If that means you need to live at the facility, an inpatient treatment option might be better. If you have significant barriers that would make checking into a facility impossible, don’t put off your recovery because of that—instead, choose an outpatient facility.

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.

Be Realistic About Your Needs

If you require more specialized services, or you know that staying at home where environmental factors might cause you to relapse, perhaps an inpatient facility is a better option. These facilities also offer many alternative therapies that can aid in your recovery, such as yoga, acupuncture, meal preparation, and religious services, free from the temptation of drugs or alcohol (which are restricted here). This round-the-clock care might also be necessary for someone who is overcoming a long-term addiction and needs medical professionals to supervise their detox and recovery.

However, outpatient programs often cost less and it’s easier to maintain a normal life with a job, children, and other obligations. Family members and friends might also be a much-needed support system during what is sure to be a difficult time.

Before you commit to any program, take some time to examine your options and understand the benefits and drawbacks of each.