group of men gathered in addiction support group

Inpatient, Outpatient, or IOP?

Written By: Gentle Path

By Bobby Shriver

Most psychiatrists and behavioral health professionals agree that addiction is a complex disorder caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors. It can also vary in intensity; the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) defines addiction as a spectrum disorder that can be categorized as “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe.” Many other mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety, can be described in much the same way. Because there can be so much variation in the causes and severity of a disorder, treatment facilities can vary in levels of care, depending on each patient’s differing needs.

Because there can be so much variation in the causes and severity of a disorder, treatment facilities can vary in levels of care, depending on each patient’s differing needs.

Generally speaking, behavioral health services and addiction recovery treatment programs can be described as inpatient, outpatient, or intensive outpatient (IOP). The biggest differences among each of the three are in the complexity and severity of the conditions they treat, the length of the programs, and the patients’ living arrangements.

If you’re considering mental healthcare or substance abuse treatment, it’s critical to find the treatment facilities that work best for your specific needs. Because every person’s situation and recovery journey is different, the last thing you want is to choose something that doesn’t fit you well. As you begin seeking treatment, start by doing your research and exploring your therapy options first. 

What Level of Treatment Do I Need?

Before you decide on treatment, it’s important that you are fully assessed by a qualified professional, whether that’s a therapist, addiction recovery counselor, psychiatrist, or maybe even one of our intake specialists. They can give you feedback and help you decide what might be best for you. It is crucial that you make your decision based on what you truly need to be able to reach and maintain recovery. Entering a treatment program that does not match the level of severity you’re experiencing in your illness can put you at a greater risk for relapse and a greater risk of serious harm. Addiction and mental illnesses can be deadly diseases.

What Is Inpatient Treatment?

Inpatient treatment programs, also called residential treatment programs or residential rehab, aim to treat the most severe and complex addictions and disorders. They are full-time programs that usually consist of stays lasting 28 days to 6 months. They provide you with a controlled environment in which you can begin untangling the web of physical, emotional, and interpersonal havoc that your out-of-control conditions have wrought.

In inpatient treatment facilities, you have no access to drugs or alcohol, so the chance of relapse during treatment is extremely low. You live at the center so it may require you to travel for treatment, away from work, friends, and family. This is so you can focus exclusively on working through your emotional trauma and behavioral addictions while developing new coping skills to help you succeed in your recovery.

A good inpatient treatment center will also offer 24-hour access to medical care. (The Meadows’ programs, for example, are certified by the Joint Commission due to their commitment to excellence in providing medical services.) It will also have well-qualified, experienced, and credentialed psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists available to assess and develop an individualized treatment program for you, as well as meet with you individually and in group settings.

It is also ideal for residential rehab programs to have a family component to extend the healing process throughout your family, and help you learn how to build a stronger support system for one another. The Meadows’ Family Week, for example, is when family members are invited to join the patient on campus to work through group and individual counseling sessions together.

What Is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment programs are part-time programs usually requiring four to 10 hours per week of meetings including individual and group therapy that focus on the development of real-world coping skills for maintaining sobriety. Outpatient programs typically last for three to six months.

If you are in an outpatient program, you can continue to work, attend school, and even live at home, though sometimes staying in transitional, sober-living housing is recommended. There, you can get additional support from recovery peers while being removed from any undue influences that might enable your addiction. Meetings and counseling sessions at an outpatient center are typically held at night or in the early morning so that you can continue with a regular, daily schedule.

Outpatient treatment is not the right choice for everyone. Addiction recovery professionals typically do not recommend outpatient treatment to those who face a high level of danger from their particular disorders. Outpatient treatment can, however, be a good option for someone with a mild addiction, or for someone “stepping down” from inpatient treatment. Many people in recovery programs choose to transition from inpatient rehab to an intensive outpatient or outpatient program. This allows them to practice applying skills learned from inpatient treatment to the real world while still getting the extra support and guidance they need.

Many people in recovery programs choose to transition from inpatient rehab to an intensive outpatient or outpatient program. This allows them to practice applying skills learned from inpatient treatment to the real world while still getting the extra support and guidance they need.

What Is an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program)?

An IOP (intensive outpatient program) is considered a step up from traditional outpatient therapy in its level of care, says It typically involves visiting a therapist a few times a week. Many IOPs require at least 12 or more hours of multiple individual and group therapy sessions per week. The Meadows Outpatient Center (IOP), for example, requires three hours of group therapy per day, four days per week, including an individual therapy session and a one-hour psychiatry session each week.

Ideally suited to serve people who are either at risk for hospitalization or coming out of residential rehab, IOPs provide a structured path to continue progressing towards long-term recovery. Participants also have greater flexibility, allowing them to maintain their personal responsibilities while in treatment. Yet IOPs aren’t for everyone, as patients don’t have as much supervision or access to resources to keep them from falling back into their addictions. 

What Is the Difference Between Outpatient and Intensive Outpatient?

An IOP falls somewhere between inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment. The main difference between an outpatient program and an intensive outpatient program is the amount of time spent in treatment and related activities each week. 

IOPs are great when you need a higher level of care than a non-intensive outpatient program can provide, but your conditions aren’t quite severe enough to require inpatient treatment. They are also great if you are transitioning from an inpatient program into full, independent living.

Both inpatient and outpatient programs offer services such as individual counseling sessions, therapeutic groups, 12-Step meetings, and family therapy options. A good IOP will also offer a number of additional support services like weekly individual meetings with psychiatrists, small groups led by experienced and well-trained therapists, expressive arts, yoga, and more.

While general outpatient programs may continue indefinitely until treatment is no longer needed, IOPs occur for a fixed amount of time (usually about 30 to 90 days) with a structured treatment plan and defined goals. That means you can expect IOPs to have a higher level of treatment intensity than general outpatient programs. At the same time, IOP participants are usually dealing with more acute symptoms than those engaging in general outpatient treatment. 

IOPs will also offer you more comprehensive services and even access to other social services in the community, shares the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Some of these services include alcohol and drug monitoring, case management support, and 24-hour crisis intervention programs. On the other hand, general outpatient programs provide more conventional therapy options that can help you avoid a relapse and cope with triggers. Because they require less of a time commitment than IOPs, general outpatient treatment offers even more flexibility for personal and work commitments. 

Get the Help You Need

Addiction, depression, anxiety, and other behavioral health disorders are often described as chronic illnesses; recovery from them is a continual process. If you are on the severe end of the spectrum, it is not unusual for you to need both an inpatient and an outpatient program. It is also not unusual to only need an outpatient program if you are on the mild to moderate scale.

The most important part is to be honest with yourself about what your needs are. It can be difficult to leave your friends, family, or job behind for a month or more to enter inpatient treatment or move into sober-living housing. But as hard as that change may be, living with an addiction or disorder is often harder — on both you and on the people you love. You want to be sure you get the kind of treatment you need and deserve.

Making an Informed Behavioral Health Services Decision

When it comes to selecting the ideal behavioral health services treatment option for you, you need to make an informed decision that factors in your own personal circumstances as well as the comprehensive assessment of a qualified health professional. And if your therapist or counselor has concluded that you have co-occurring disorders, then it’s important to find a dual diagnosis facility that provides holistic addiction treatment. This will ensure you have the best opportunity for long-term recovery. 

While this process involves knowing what you need to look for, making an informed decision also means understanding common misconceptions related to inpatient and outpatient treatment. The view that IOPs are only for highly severe cases or people without jobs and personal responsibilities simply isn’t true, while those seeking residential treatment shouldn’t believe that they’ll have zero freedom during their stay. Knowing the facts can ensure you’re not held back by treatment myths, allowing you to get the treatment experience you want.  

Contact Us for Mental Healthcare and Addiction Recovery

The Meadows has multiple inpatient programs in Wickenburg, Arizona, to help those struggling to overcome drug and alcohol addiction, sex addiction, eating disorders, and many other mood and personality disorders. We also have multiple in-person and virtual IOP programs throughout the country, perfect for those transitioning from inpatient treatment or entering recovery programs for the first time.

If you need help but aren’t sure where to start, reach out to one of our intake coordinators here at Gentle Path at The Meadows. We can help determine which program may be best for you so you can get started on your journey to healing today.

February 28th, 2024

Categories: addiction treatment mental health treatment sex addiction treatment

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