Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab

With a large number of available addiction treatment options, individuals struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse are sometimes in doubt about which option is the right one for them. Generally, patients can choose between two main categories of treatment: inpatient and outpatient treatment.

When comparing inpatient vs. outpatient substance abuse treatment, one needs to take several factors into account. These factors may include the type of addiction, assessment of individual needs, medical condition, level of support that the person has in their environment, availability of treatment, and insurance coverage.

What’s the Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Rehab? 

What is Inpatient Rehab? 

Inpatient rehab is often referred to as residential treatment. It provides 24-hour care, whereby an individual does not leave the treatment facility.

Long-term residential treatment provides around-the-clock care typically in a non-hospital setting, although there is medical support provided on-site. These programs can vary in length, but the best-known model is the therapeutic community (TC), which can last between 6 and 12 months. This model places emphasis on resocializing the individual through various activities that use the community of other residents and staff as a resource. The ultimate goal is to help the person achieve personal accountability and be able to lead a productive life.1

Short-term residential treatment tends to last shorter than three months, but the treatment does not end when the patient leaves the treatment center. The treatment is expected to continue through an outpatient program. These are offered both by specialized residential treatment facilities and hospitals.1

What is Outpatient Rehab? 

Outpatient treatment programs offer similar services as inpatient programs, but the person does not stay at the facility all the time. The person lives at home and visits the facility for structured treatment sessions, typically a few hours per day, a few days per week.

inpatient vs. outpatient substance abuse treatment

Which Is Better: Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment?

When it comes to the effectiveness of inpatient vs. outpatient treatment, it is not possible to state that one type of treatment is more effective than the other one in all situations. 

While it is clear that long-term substance abuse treatment generally results in a reduction in substance use and abstinence, there seem to be no significant differences in recovery rates between inpatient vs outpatient treatment settings. The positive outcomes of treatment are rather connected to the intensity and duration of treatment rather than a specific setting or patient population.2

Therefore it is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both inpatient vs outpatient treatment and make a decision depending on individual treatment needs.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab: Advantages & Disadvantages 

Advantages of Inpatient Treatment

There are more than a few important advantages that inpatient treatment brings when compared to outpatient treatment:

  • 24-Hour care, which is important for patients who are intoxicated or are experiencing withdrawal. In some cases, these conditions can be quite severe and it is necessary that the patient is medically stabilized and supervised.
  • The residential setting, which allows people to both physically and mentally move from an environment and the factors that triggered them to abuse substances. In an environment where there are no disruptions and opportunities for substance abuse, people can focus more on overcoming addiction.
  • A supportive community of members that a person connects to and does not feel isolated when struggling with addiction.

Disadvantages of Inpatient Treatment

Some individuals may find the following factors as disadvantages of inpatient treatment:

  • Leaving work/school/family for a period of time. As patients do not leave the treatment center, they have to be ready to be absent from their job or school. For some patients, being away from their family and not seeing them as often as they would like may be very stressful.
  • In some cases, inpatient care may relieve patients of personal responsibilities and encourage unnecessary dependence on hospital staff.3
  • Higher costs of treatment when compared to outpatient treatment.

Advantages of Outpatient Treatment

When it comes to outpatient treatment, individuals may receive the following benefits:

  • Ability to carry on with daily life during treatment. People are able to keep going to work or school and take care of their children.
  • Patients do not have to leave their home environment, which is an important benefit if this environment is supportive in fighting addiction.
  • Ability to apply the newly acquired skills immediately in their everyday life and relationships.
  • Lower treatment costs and a higher likelihood that insurance plans will cover for them.

Disadvantages of Outpatient Treatment

When comparing inpatient vs outpatient rehab treatment options, one may see the following as drawbacks to outpatient programs:

  • Risk of substance abuse. Alcohol and drugs are still available and the person may use them.
  • Not safe for some patients. Outpatient treatment is not appropriate for patients with potentially life-threatening complications of withdrawal as well as for suicidal or homicidal patients.4
  • Treatment facilities may not be easily accessible to everyone. Some people live in remote areas or are not able to travel on a daily basis due to family or job commitments. If accessing treatment is too demanding, there is a high risk that they will quit.

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.



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