Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are used to treat substance use and mental health disorders on a part-time basis. Typically, IOP provides many of the same services as a residential program, but program participants continue to reside in their private residences or sober living homes.

What Is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

Intensive outpatient programs are usually conducted in an outpatient setting, meaning that participants do not reside at the treatment facility.

Unlike traditional outpatient programs, IOPs require a significantly larger portion of time spent each week receiving services. These intensive outpatient programs incorporate many types of treatment, including medication management, individual and group therapies, among others.

Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Treatment

There are benefits of intensive outpatient treatment. Intensive outpatient drug and alcohol treatment has been shown to be as effective as residential treatment for most people seeking care. Intensive outpatient programs for substance abuse allow participants to maintain relative stability when upholding other responsibilities, including working and spending time with their families.

For individuals who do not require medical detoxification services, IOP may be a good alternative to residential programs. However, individuals who would benefit from medical detoxification or time away from triggers can benefit from stepping down to IOP after completing a residential program.

Types of Treatment in IOP

By definition, IOPs include at least nine hours of services each week through at least three sessions, each lasting three hours. However, some programs may provide more than this minimum level of service, and others may distribute services out over more sessions.

Intensive outpatient program for substance abuse involves many types of services, including:

  • Medication Management: Clients are evaluated by a medical professional for potential medication needs. Continued reevaluations take place to assess the effectiveness of current regimens and adjust them as needed.
  • Individual Therapy: Provides the opportunity for a person to work on their personal issues more deeply. This treatment modality may be particularly beneficial for program participants who don’t feel comfortable sharing certain concerns in a group setting.
  • Group Therapy: Participants receive a number of therapeutic services, including skill-building, psychoeducation, relapse prevention planning and refusal skills groups. Due to the group setting, participants are also able to work on their communication skills and receive support from other people in similar situations.
  • Family Therapy: Focuses on how a person and their family can be mutually supportive without enabling a loved one in recovery. Families often are provided education on substance use disorders and how substance use affects relationships.
  • Addiction Support Groups: Typically, participants are encouraged to attend recovery support meetings to build a support network outside of the hours in which they receive IOP services. The extent to which this is expected or required depends largely on the program.
  • Addiction Aftercare Plans: Case managers work with clients to find local community supports, such as recovery support groups, clinicians and physicians.

IOP vs. Residential Rehab

IOP substance abuse programs are similar to residential rehabilitation programs in many ways. However, there are also some notable differences. Whether a person ultimately chooses an IOP or residential program depends on their unique circumstances and needs.


In a residential rehabilitation program, participants live at the treatment facility. To go to treatment, a person will often have to travel to get to the nearest facility. In some cases, this further separation from the person’s normal environment is desirable. While in a residential program, there are significantly more rules and daily life is highly structured.

In an IOP program, clients can maintain many of their daily routines and activities while they receive treatment on a part-time basis. Often, treatment times can be adjusted so they work with a person’s work schedule and other obligations. While a residential program may mean being away from work for weeks at a time, it is possible to continue working while participating in an IOP program. However, this might not be possible for everyone, especially those who continue to live on-site during IOP treatment.

Pros and Cons

While similar in many ways, there are certainly some cases when it is advantageous to choose a residential program over IOP. If a person requires 24-hour supervision or medical care, a residential program may be a better fit for their needs. Some people may have attempted to stop using drugs or alcohol several times in the past and returned to use after each initial period of abstinence. These people may benefit more from a residential program due to the increased accountability and complete removal from environmental triggers.

However, in many cases, a person may not be able to miss long periods of work or may not require ongoing medical care. People who fit this category may be better served by an IOP program. There is evidence showing the benefits of IOP. This approach can also be considered for a person leaving residential treatment who is in need of ongoing clinical support.

Who Benefits Most From IOP

IOP substance abuse treatment can be beneficial for many people seeking treatment. This service is the best fit for someone who:

  • Does not need acute medical care for withdrawal management
  • Do not have a high risk for medical complications from withdrawal
  • Does not require acute hospitalization for co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Has been unable to avoid returning to use despite interventions at lower levels of care
  • Has a high risk of returning to use without a structured treatment program

What to Expect in Intensive Outpatient Treatment

While every program is different, there are some elements that can be expected from nearly every intensive outpatient treatment program. Some of these basic features include:

  • Group therapy at least three days per week
  • Encouragement to participate in 12-step meetings
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Access to crisis services
  • Urine drug testing

Just as these are all services are commonly included in IOP, many of the same general topics are covered in most IOPs including:

  • Relapse prevention
  • Coping skills for managing cravings and triggers
  • Understanding the underlying causes of substance use disorders
  • The role of spirituality in recovery
  • Stages of change
  • Co-occurring mental health concerns
  • Health and wellness
  • Goal setting

How Long Is an IOP Program?

People considering seeking treatment often want to know exactly how long IOP programs are. While some other programs, such as residential treatment, may have a more clearly defined length, there is more variability in how long IOP treatment lasts. While some people may participate in an intensive outpatient program for months, others may only partake in a few weeks of treatment. Consulting with a treatment provider directly can give individuals a better estimate of their length of treatment based on the severity of their addiction and their unique treatment goals.

Can Family Members Participate?

Most intensive outpatient program guidelines not only allow family participation but encourage it. While family members are not able to attend groups with their loved one in most cases, substance abuse intensive outpatient program guidelines usually include family therapy. Providing education to family members can help strengthen the support network of individuals early in the recovery process, address familial dynamics that might be playing a role in addiction and set the stage for long-term recovery.

What Does It Cost?

On average, IOP can cost between $250 to $350 per day. However, it’s important to keep in mind that IOP program costs fluctuate based on insurance, credentials of the staff, group size and many other factors. One of the biggest determinants of the cost of intensive outpatient treatment is insurance. Some policies will cover IOP in full, while others may only cover it partially. In other cases, the number of sessions is limited by insurance. In many places, it is possible to get funding to cover intensive outpatient program costs through grants and scholarships.

The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health Intensive Outpatient Program

At The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health, a behavioral health intensive outpatient program is usually undergone as part of a continuum of care, starting with medical detox and progressing to inpatient or partial hospitalization treatment. Many of the groups and therapeutic activities included in residential treatment are continued once a person steps down to lower levels of care, including IOP. This step-down approach allows patients to practice and refine the skills they need to recover while still having support in place. While some clients continue to live on-site at The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health during IOP treatment, others transition to sober living homes or other supportive, off-site living environments.

Related Topic: Halfway Houses vs. Sober Homes

Key Points: Understanding Intensive Outpatient Programs & Your Recovery

Intensive outpatient programs provide intensive treatment while allowing clients to continue many aspects of their day-to-day lives. Some important things to remember about IOP programs include:

  • Unlike residential rehabilitation programs, IOP participants typically do not reside at a treatment facility
  • IOP is as effective as a residential treatment in many cases
  • Group therapy is at the heart of IOP
  • IOP includes many therapeutic interventions in addition to group therapy

If you are seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help. Our programs provide the care necessary to recover from substance use and co-occurring disorders. Speak to a representative today to begin the process of finding your way forward.