Substance Abuse Outpatient Treatment: What Is It & How Does It Work?

Substance abuse is the use of a substance in quantities or ways that are dangerous to the user or others. In certain situations, criminal or anti-social behaviors may happen while the individual is under the influence of a substance. There may even be long-term behavioral changes in individuals. The use of such substances can also lead to criminal penalties, in addition to potential physical, social, and psychological damage, although these differ widely depending on the local jurisdiction.1

Alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methaqualone, cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, and opioids are some of the substances most frequently associated with this term. The exact cause of substance abuse is not clear, but the two main hypotheses are:1

  • Either a genetic disposition that is learned from others.
  • A habit that manifests itself as a lifelong debilitating disease if addiction occurs.

People with substance use and behavioral addictions may be conscious of their problem, but they might not be able to stop, even if they want and try to do so. Addiction can lead to physical and psychological issues as well as problems in relationships, either at work or with family members and friends. Alcohol and drug use is one of the main causes of preventable diseases and premature death nationwide.2

The first step toward recovery is acknowledging your or your loved one’s substance dependence. The next step is finding a suitable treatment program that can help overcome addiction and restore health. Outpatient treatment for substance abuse is one of the numerous treatment options.

what is outpatient treatment for substance abuse

What Is Outpatient Treatment for Substance Abuse?

Outpatient treatment allows a person to live outside the facility, at their home, as their life continues as usual. Mild addiction is usually treated in an outpatient rehab program. Also, outpatient rehabilitation serves individuals with severe substance abuse who have completed inpatient treatment and need more support on their path to recovery. Outpatient treatment is a vital stage of support after a stay in inpatient rehab care, as it helps people commit to and reach recovery goals while transitioning back to home and work life.3

In terms of intensity, outpatient treatment programs come in many forms and they differ in intensity. Treatment facilities should provide users with:3

  • Group therapy.
  • Education.
  • Individual counseling.
  • Structured skill-development.
  • Guidance on building a stable, supportive network with others in recovery at all stages of outpatient care.

Many outpatient facilities for addiction treatment are licensed to offer treatment for co-occurring mental health problems. Having a dual focus helps them address the needs of patients in care efficiently. It is important for therapists to recognize that substance abuse, mental health disorders, and stressful events can affect each other, making it worse and harder to overcome and handle individual problems. Outpatient treatment should also be designed to assess and meet all of the patients’ needs.3

What Outpatient Treatment for Substance Abuse Looks Like

There are various available treatment options for substance use disorders. Recognition of the issue is the first step. When a person lacks knowledge of problematic substance use, the rehabilitation process may be delayed. While professional interventions may prompt treatment, self-referrals are often welcome and encouraged.2

To determine whether a substance use disorder is present, a medical professional should perform a formal assessment of symptoms. Treatment helps all patients, regardless of whether the condition is mild, moderate, or severe. Unfortunately, many people who meet the criteria for a substance use disorder could benefit from treatment, but they often do not get it.2

Since substance use disorders affect many aspects of the life of an individual, various forms of treatment are often necessary. For most, the most effective is a combination of medication and individual or group therapy. In order to lead to successful rehabilitation, treatment approaches should address the particular situation of a person and any co-occurring medical, psychiatric, and social issues.2

Medications are used to control the cravings, alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and avoid relapses. Psychotherapy can help people with substance abuse issues understand their actions and motivations better, gain greater self-esteem, handle stress, and tackle other psychiatric issues.2

The recovery plan of an individual is specific to their particular needs and can include strategies outside of formal treatment. These may involve:2

  • Hospitalization for withdrawal management (detoxification).
  • Intensive outpatient programs.
  • Outpatient medication management.
  • Psychotherapy.
  • Mutual-aid groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, etc.
  • Self-help groups that involve members of a patient’s family, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Family Groups.

Unsure where to start? Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor.

Why Is Outpatient Care Important?

There are several reasons why someone may prefer outpatient rehab over inpatient treatment and rehabilitation for substance abuse. There are numerous advantages of outpatient treatment and some of them are the following:

  • Individuals have the opportunity to continue working while receiving care.
  • It is more cost-effective than many inpatient services.
  • It is less disruptive to everyday life.
  • It allows patients to receive family support during the recovery process.