Inpatient vs Outpatient Treatment: What's the Difference? | Valley Cares
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August 17, 2020 By Julie Rael, LCSW, CCO Valley Behavioral Health

A woman talking to a therapist about inpatient vs outpatient treatment.While nearly 21 million people in the United States suffer from at least one addiction, only around 10 percent get the treatment they need. Sadly, this results in thousands of deaths each year. Whether you or your loved one require professional treatment, it’s important to understand your options.

While researching potential options, you have likely come across inpatient vs outpatient treatment programs. Each of these treatment programs offer their own unique benefits, and one isn’t necessarily superior over the other. When selecting the best option, it’s more about what option is right for you and your current circumstances.

The end goal within each program is the same — get clean to live a healthier, more fulfilling life.

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Outpatient And Inpatient Treatment Defined

While focusing on substance abuse treatment programs, you generally have two core options — inpatient and outpatient rehab. While each of these programs equally focus on the rehabilitation process, they each offer unique features and benefits.

Inpatient rehabs are intensive, residential treatment programs. These programs are intended to treat serious addictions. In comparison, outpatient rehabs are part-time programs that allow individuals to recover outside of a traditional rehab facility, allowing them to still go to work or school. 

The Key Difference Between Outpatient And Inpatient Treatment

When looking at a side-by-side comparison, inpatient and outpatient significantly differ in terms of their approach. However, as discussed, the end goal remains the same. What’s best for each individual will depend on a range of variables, including the severity of the addiction, the level of support available outside of treatment, whether there are any serious co-occurring mental health issues, etc.

When enrolled in an inpatient treatment program, residents are able to focus solely on their recovery, avoiding the distractions of everyday life. While each individual is provided with their own personalized treatment plan, a typical day for someone during inpatient treatment involves scheduled therapy and structured activities.

In comparison, during an outpatient treatment program, you will be able to participate in daytime, evening, or weekend therapy sessions while living at home. This will allow you to continue going to work or school. It’s also an ideal option for someone who needs to take care of a family. However, this option isn’t ideal for everyone.

When making the decision between outpatient and inpatient treatment, some of the questions you need to ask yourself include:

  • Are there triggers at home or within my community that may sabotage my sobriety? For example, are there triggers at home or friends that will likely interfere with your ability to remain sober?
  • Will my social ties and “support system” interfere with my sobriety or encourage me?
  • Am I able to handle everyday stressors?
  • Do I live with a mental health condition that often leads me to self-medicate? In turn, am I physically addicted to my substance of choice?
  • Based on past experiences or current circumstances, do I require a structured environment?

How Long Is Outpatient Treatment?

While the length of outpatient programs differ, the average length is around 10 weeks. In most cases, treatment is much more intensive to begin, and then depending on your progress, treatment will then taper off. Of course, this is highly dependent on each individual case.

The type of outpatient program you participate in will also impact the overall length. For example, there are partial inpatient treatment programs that do not require you to stay in a facility. However, they do require you to visit a treatment facility, typically for several hours daily. In this case, treatment may last weeks or months. When participating in an intensive outpatient program, addictions are generally mild to moderate to begin with. This option generally lasts anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks.

How long you remain in treatment will depend on your initial assessment, your progress in response to psychological and behavioral treatment, followed by your success during aftercare.

How Long Is Inpatient Treatment?

Inpatient treatment is typically no less than 28 days in length. During this time, clients live in a highly structured, closed treatment environment. Providing a safe and secure space, this option will allow you to undergo more intensive treatment compared to outpatient rehab.

How To Prepare For Outpatient Treatment

Depending on the substance of choice and the severity of your addiction, you’ll need to prepare for the detoxification process. For mild-to-moderate symptoms, outpatient detox is a safe and effective option. However, this is something that should be discussed in greater detail with your care team, as some withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous.

In terms of preparation, your support team will be an important part of your treatment plan. In many cases, close friends and family members play a key role. In other cases, recovering addicts rely on the support of their therapists, as well as other individuals they meet during group therapy.

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How To Prepare For Inpatient Treatment

There are often more considerations when opting for inpatient treatment. This is because you’ll be living away from home within a treatment facility. The goal here is to set a starting date for rehab. By that date, you will need to get all of your affairs in order. In that sense, you’ll need to take a proactive approach when it comes to:

  • Employment — Talk to your employer about your current situation
  • Family — If you care for children or other family members, alternative living arrangements will need to be made
  • Transportation — Plan how you’ll get to rehab
  • Packing — Talk to the treatment facility to better understand what it is you’re allowed to bring in terms of personal items

Which Option Is Right For You?

Regardless of which option you choose, it’s important to remember that the recovery process is just that, a process. Your journey will be unique. That is why you must select the path that best suits you and your personal needs. Working alongside professionals can help you better understand what those needs are. For example, do you require treatment for multiple conditions? Would you benefit from 24-hour, highly structured support? These are the types of things you can discuss with your care team.

For those in the Salt Lake City area, Valley Behavioral Health has been a leading provider of drug rehabilitation, treatment, and substance abuse treatment programs for over 25 years. If you or a loved one are struggling, we’re here to help you achieve the type of life you deserve. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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