Inpatient vs. Outpatient Addiction Rehab: What’s the Best Rehab for Me?
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Last Updated - 12/29/2022View our editorial policy
Experts explore many characteristics and qualities to determine whether outpatient or inpatient substance abuse treatment is best for the individual in need.
The most effective substance abuse programs recognize that not all treatments are appropriate for all people. Drug rehab is not a “one-size-fits-all” situation, so treatments, therapies, and levels of care should be tailored to the individual’s unique needs and goals.
One area where these differences emerge is when deciding between inpatient vs. outpatient drug rehab. Each level of care offers benefits and drawbacks, but which is best for you?
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Addressing the Stigma Around Asking for Help with Addiction
Deciding to seek professional mental health or substance abuse care can be challenging because of the strong perceptions and opinions some people have about these kinds of treatment. Even now, stigma exists around addiction and those who use or misuse alcohol and drugs.
Common stigmas related to addiction treatment include:
- A person should be able to quit using substances on their own
- Addiction is just a lack of willpower
- Addiction is a moral failing
- People with addiction are liars, cheaters and thieves
- If someone becomes addicted, it is all their fault
Stigmas are inaccurate, hurtful and unproductive. As a community, we should do what we can to break the stigma and recognize that stigma makes it harder for those who need help to feel comfortable enough to ask for it. Anyone facing addiction or physical dependence should be encouraged to seek the help they need.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment
Substance abuse treatment typically falls into one of two categories — inpatient or outpatient. Although they both focus on finding ways to rid the influence of alcohol and other drugs from your life, they are very different.
Inpatient treatments, sometimes referred to as residential rehabs, require the person to live and sleep at the treatment center for the duration of their care. Inpatient treatments are typically reserved for people with more intense symptoms of addiction.
Inpatient treatment offers 24-hour care from a team of professionals who care for their needs, including meals. Inpatient treatment centers provide individual and group therapies during the day to address the root of a patient’s addiction. Inpatient care provides more structure, restrictions and rules for their patients.
At the beginning of inpatient treatment, a patient may be asked to give up their cell phone and have limited contact with loved ones. By avoiding external triggers, the person can devote their full time and attention to recovery.
Outpatient treatment is very different, though, as the person will typically live in their own home while attending some level of treatment. Outpatient allows the person to enter the treatment center, have their appointment and then return to their life.
Outpatient treatments range in intensity as the patient will complete anywhere from one hour to 30 hours of therapy each week. This flexibility is a great way to meet the needs of many people.
In standard outpatient care, a person could have weekly individual or group sessions with a therapist and monthly appointments with a prescriber to receive medications aimed at improving addiction or mental health concerns.
Inpatient and outpatient treatments differ because:
- Inpatient treatments are much more intense than outpatient.
- Outpatient treatments are much longer in duration than inpatient.
- Inpatient treatments typically cost more per day than outpatient.
Inpatient and outpatient treatments are similar because:
- They may provide psychiatric care in the form of medications prescribed by a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner.
- They work to assess and treat all aspects fueling addiction.
- They work to identify co-occurring mental health conditions.
- They can provide detoxification services if needed.
Long-Term Benefits of Residential Treatment
In the long-term, both treatment options offer valuable care and support to those dealing with addiction. Because residential care is a more intensive experience, it is linked to longer periods of recovery. However, people should always engage in the form of treatment that matches their symptoms, needs and goals. Engaging in treatment that is too restrictive or too long in duration can diminish the benefit.
People who worry about picking the appropriate treatment level should remain calm and get a full assessment from an addiction or mental health specialist. This evaluation can help pinpoint the best level of care based on each person’s:
- Substance of abuse
- Dose, frequency and duration of use
- Risk of dangerous detox
- Available supports and stressors
- Previous experiences in recovery
Personality Characteristics & Rehab
People often look at the rehab choices and how they will respond to each. Will you do well in outpatient, or can you be more successful in inpatient? Naturally, your personality characteristics enter the debate.
Introversion & Residential Rehab
Introverts may not be shy, but they will enjoy more time alone or in small groups of trusted supports. Too much social interaction can prove to be draining.
The risk of mental and physical stress from socialization can result in introverts viewing inpatient treatment more negatively. They may resist or downright refuse the higher level of care.
When entering the treatment process, people must be willing to put themselves in uncomfortable situations as needed. The idea of living with strangers and sharing intimate details in group therapy may seem challenging, but if it helps accomplish the goal of sobriety, the discomfort will be worthwhile.
Outpatient Treatment as an Extrovert
Just as inpatient care will be uncomfortable for introverts, outpatient or telehealth treatment for extroverts could be equally frustrating. Extroverts are people who feel energized and engaged when in groups, so the solitude of one-on-one therapy could zap their liveliness.
Telehealth, and other forms of distanced treatment, could feel estranged, so extroverts should find ways to explore compromise between their treatment needs and their personality. These people could enjoy the interaction of group therapy sessions or the sense of community found in support groups, including AA and SMART Recovery.
Lifestyle Determinants When Choosing Addiction Treatment
Choosing and committing to addiction treatment is always an anxiety-inducing proposition because people do not exist in a vacuum. They live and interact with other people who depend on them for money, housing, financial security, love and care.
Determining factors to consider when choosing addiction treatment include:
- The impact of missed time on work or school
- Childcare needs or care for older family members
- Financial concerns of limited or no income
- The influence of being away on romantic relationships
With so many compounding variables, a person can quickly lose track of the vital question — “What level of treatment do I really need?” Addiction treatment will impact work, money, housing and childcare, but the lasting and irreversible damage of active addiction will always create a larger, negative influence. Regardless of the level of care you end up choosing, taking some time off to undergo a medically-supervised detox beforehand is always recommended to start your recovery safely.
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Who Should Consider Outpatient Drug Rehab?
Outpatient drug rehab is a great option for someone who has:
- A less severe addiction
- No co-occurring physical health or mental health concerns
- Limited risk of severe withdrawal symptoms
- Many responsibilities and dependents
- Previously done well with outpatient care
- A supportive and caring support system
Who Should Consider Inpatient Drug Rehab?
Inpatient care will be the best option for people who:
- Have intense addiction and physical dependence issues
- Have multiple physical or mental health complications
- Are at-risk for dangerous withdrawal symptoms
- Have done poorly with lower levels of care in the past
- Live in negative or triggering environments
Detoxification services will be available in outpatient and inpatient settings, but inpatient settings can better manage and regulate the distressing withdrawal symptoms that frequently occur. For these reasons, anyone addicted to opioids, alcohol or sedative medications like Xanax, benzodiazepines or certain sleep medications should seek inpatient care.
Choosing the Right Substance Abuse Treatment for You
Some people may search near and far for a treatment program that fits their values and beliefs. This process is valuable, but in reality, a person may succeed in a variety of treatment centers as long as they are flexible and willing to commit to the treatment plan.
Fortunately, no one ever has to choose a treatment level or location alone. Recruiting friends, family members and treatment professionals to guide the treatment will be essential, especially since active addiction regularly clouds judgment and results in poor decision-making.
When you trust your loved ones, dedicate yourself to treatment, and trust in the process, recovery can be yours.
South Florida Substance Abuse Treatment
People looking for a treatment center offering a range of effective and evidence-based options should consider The Recovery Village at Baptist Health for their recovery. Offering many levels of care, our addiction specialists can guide people through treatment from detox and inpatient to outpatient and aftercare. Contact us today to discuss treatment options that can meet your needs and answer any questions you have about treatment.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction: DrugFacts.” January 17. 2019. Accessed October 30, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” January 2018. Accessed October 30, 2020.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.” October 2015. Accessed October 30, 2020