Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment: What are the Differences?


You did it! You took the first step in recovery! Now, how do you know if you need inpatient or outpatient treatment? For many people, the difference between inpatient and outpatient can also mean the difference between recovery and relapse. Understanding the difference between inpatient vs. outpatient treatment can help you understand which would be best for you. 

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment Programs

Treatment programs for substance use and mental health disorders fall under one of two categories – inpatient or outpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment is the most intense program and often the next step after detox. 

Outpatient programs, however, may vary treatment around your schedule, allowing you to handle your responsibilities. Knowing the difference between outpatient vs. inpatient treatment can help you and your family make the right choice in treatment.

What is Inpatient Treatment?

Inpatient or residential treatment programs require you to live in the facility full time. Inpatient facilities provide a safe and controlled environment with 24-hour medical and mental support. If you are struggling with a severe substance use disorder, inpatient treatment may offer the best chance at lifelong recovery.

Features of Inpatient Treatment

While every inpatient treatment facility is different, they typically include:

  • 30,60, and 90-day programs
  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) if necessary
  • Treatment of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Recreational therapy
  • Participation in 12-step programs

Pros and Cons of Inpatient Treatment

Some benefits of inpatient treatment include:

  • 24-hour supervision and support
  • Comprehensive treatment plans including mental health disorders
  • Removing the outside triggers that can lead to relapse

There are a few cons in inpatient treatment which include:

  • The inability to work during treatment
  • Costs more than outpatient treatment
  • Some insurance companies may not entirely cover the cost

How Do You Prepare for Inpatient Treatment?

Entering inpatient treatment takes a little time and planning. However, this time may only be a few hours or a few days. Since you will be living in the facility, you need to take care of your personal responsibilities beforehand. 

Depending on your responsibilities, you may need to:

  • Talk to your boss
  • Find living arrangements and care for your children
  • Arrange a ride to and from treatment
  • Pack only allowed personal items

Can Family Visit in Inpatient Treatment?

Family support is critical in recovery. This support can keep a member in treatment and encourage lasting recovery. And while treatment centers understand the importance of family, they all have policies on when members can communicate with family. 

What is a Day in Inpatient Treatment Like?

One significant benefit to inpatient vs. outpatient treatment is the ability to focus solely on yourself and your substance use disorder. Inpatient treatment takes away all the outside distractions that prevent you from healing.

Every minute of your day is planned out and accounted for. You generally meet with therapists, psychiatrists, or psychologists in individual and group settings. Additionally, most inpatient facilities offer holistic therapies such as yoga and meditation to encourage “whole person” wellness.

What is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment is less restrictive, allowing you to work, go to school, or care for your family while attending treatment. You typically attend treatment 10 to 12 hours a week. However, this depends on the type of outpatient program you choose.  

Outpatient treatment programs include:

  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
  • General Outpatient Program 

There isn’t a difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment when talking about the types of programs offered. Both programs provide individual, group, and family therapy to encourage lifelong recovery. 

Those with a “mild” substance use disorder may find outpatient treatment enough to stay free of drugs or alcohol. However, for others, outpatient programs may be a step-down in a continuum-of-care treatment plan.

Outpatient Treatment Features

Just like inpatient programs, outpatient programs may vary from one facility to another. However, they all typically offer the following features:

  • The typical program lasts three months
  • Individual, group, and family therapies
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment when necessary
  • 12-step meetings
  • Recreational therapy

Pros and Cons of Outpatient Treatment

Choosing between outpatient vs. inpatient treatment takes careful thought. While there are many positives to outpatient vs. inpatient treatment, there are also many negatives. 

Pros of outpatient treatment include:

  • Flexibility in the treatment schedule
  • Ability to work or attend school
  • Access to support from family and friends
  • More affordable

Some cons of outpatient treatment include:

  • Greater access to drugs or alcohol
  • Coping with daily triggers and cravings
  • Less medical support
  • May miss underlying co-occurring mental health disorders

Recurrence of Use Rates in Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment

Success rates in substance use disorder treatment are defined as an individual remaining free of drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time following treatment. Because substance use disorder is a chronic disease, 40 to 60 percent of individuals have a recurrence of use after treatment. 

Although studies show little difference in inpatient vs. outpatient treatment success rates, many factors can encourage lasting recovery. For example, a person struggling with a severe substance use disorder may relapse after outpatient treatment. However, after inpatient treatment, they maintained their recovery. 

The Cost Difference Between Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment

A significant factor in choosing inpatient vs. outpatient treatment is the cost. Because of the intense level of care and supervision, inpatient treatment generally costs more than outpatient treatment. For instance, inpatient programs can run upwards of $27,000 or more for a 30-day stay. 

Insurance plans may not always cover the cost of inpatient treatment. For this reason, it’s essential to know your out-of-pocket expenses. However, because outpatient programs typically cost less, insurance companies may cover all treatment costs. That’s not to say that your insurance provider won’t cover the costs of inpatient treatment. 

Seek Help in Choosing Outpatient vs. Inpatient Treatment

Choosing which treatment is best for you, inpatient vs. outpatient, can be overwhelming. And while researching the differences between inpatient and outpatient is helpful, it can be beneficial to consult a professional. Your doctor or therapist can help you decide while finding you a facility to meet your needs. 

Main Differences Between Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment

The key difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment is members in inpatient treatment live in the facility, while members in outpatient live at home or in supportive recovery housing

There are other differences between inpatient vs. outpatient treatment, including:

  • Inpatient treatment provides better support during withdrawals and intense cravings
  • Outpatient treatment works around your schedule and responsibilities
  • Inpatient treatment provides 24-hour supervision
  • Outpatient treatment is more affordable

Knowing the Basic Principles of Substance Use Disorder Can Help in Choosing Outpatient vs. Inpatient

Often, people try to choose between inpatient and outpatient treatment, but they don’t really understand what part of addressing addiction needs is. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lays out the fundamentals of recovery. Effective substance use disorder treatment includes but is not limited to the following.

Physical Wellbeing

Many people struggling with substance use disorder enter treatment with extreme health issues. Treatment centers must work to reverse the damage done by drugs and alcohol while also easing sometimes painful withdrawal symptoms. 

Mental Health 

According to NIDA, 7.7 million Americans struggle with substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorders. Sometimes mental health disorders can lead to substance use disorder, and other times, substance use disorder may lead to mental health struggles. 

Social Skills

Many people who misuse drugs or alcohol often do so in social situations. Subsequently, these substances can become a crutch for those with social anxiety. As a result, substance use disorder treatment should include building healthy social skills.

Environmental Triggers

People who misuse drugs or alcohol have environmental triggers. For instance, work is extremely stressful, so they have a drink or two or three on the way home. Some people may not realize something is a trigger until treatment.

Meeting just these few needs, treatment centers can increase lasting recovery in their members. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is the rest of your life, and you want to pick the best treatment program you can.

How Do You Determine Which is Best For You? Outpatient vs. Inpatient Treatment

Deciding which treatment option is best for you, whether that’s outpatient vs. inpatient, is a personal decision. While an addiction therapist can help you determine what is best, it is ultimately up to you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help you decide.

  1. How long can you be away from your family?
  2. Do you have child care?
  3. Will your employer be supportive?
  4. Can you afford to be away from work?
  5. Do you have reliable transportation?
  6. Do you have insurance, and will it cover treatment?
  7. How severe is your substance use disorder?
  8. Have you been to treatment and had a recurrence of use?
  9. Are you in danger of having severe withdrawal symptoms?
  10. Do you have a co-occurring mental health disorder?

The hardest part of recovery is resisting the cravings and temptations to use drugs or alcohol. In outpatient treatment, you will still be exposed to the daily stressors and triggers that led to your substance use disorder. So, if you cannot avoid being around drugs or alcohol and fear you may use again, inpatient treatment  is the better choice for you. 

Let Sana Lake BWC Help You Decide Between Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment

Are you or someone you love misusing drugs or alcohol? At Sana Lake BWC, we will answer your questions and help you decide the right treatment option for you. Contact us today and start your journey to lasting recovery.