Addiction Treatment Doesn't Always Require a Suitcase

When it comes to treating an addiction problem, many people automatically assume that treatment means staying for weeks at a rehab. Fear or resistance to that kind of commitment keeps some people from trying to get help at all. There are addiction treatment options that involve little or no time away – and outpatient programs, intensive or not, allow people to begin  or continue their recovery journey without making a physical journey.

In this article, we will tell you why substance use or abuse treatment is important, explain the concept of IOP and outpatient treatment, outline the benefits and drawbacks of an outpatient program, and explain how you can find the treatment that’s best for you.

Why You Need Substance Abuse Treatment If You Are Addicted

Many people stay in active addiction because they are convinced that under the right circumstances, they will be able to overcome their addiction with willpower. We wish it were that easy.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.”  We all wish addiction could be addressed by prayer, or wishing, or “just getting our act together.” But it takes more than that. The journey to recovery usually begins with some type of treatment. When a client is able to stay home, meet their ordinary responsibilities and get the treatment they need – that seems like the best of all worlds. Of course there are times when a residential program is optimal. But intensive outpatient programs are proving increasingly effective.  

What is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

According to NIDA, “addiction treatment must help the individual stop using drugs, maintain a drug-free lifestyle, and achieve productive functioning in the family, at work, and in society.”An IOP takes on these goals in the course of everyday living – not removing a person with substance abuse disorder from their environment.

Rather than taking recovery on as a full-time job, an Intensive Outpatient Program offers quality care in a more limited form – a few hours at a time, several evenings a week. Some people do go through an inpatient detox before beginning IOP; the need for this kind of service is generally determined during intake.

Many people find that intensive outpatient is ideal because it allows them to continue to go to work, maintain family commitments, and keep up with their personal responsibilities. Not all people with addiction have the same story; some people lose everything before they get help, but for others the ability to maintain these elements of a “normal life” are vitally important.

What is the Difference between an Intensive Outpatient Program and Outpatient?

To be clear, there are two types of outpatient treatment – intensive outpatient and “regular” outpatient. The only difference between the two is the amount of time allotted. The less intensive outpatient programs are often offered as “aftercare” when someone comes home from residential treatment or if someone needs additional support after an Intensive Outpatient Program.

Outpatient treatment usually involves four to ten hours a week in a clinical setting. An Intensive Outpatient Program generally takes place over the course of twelve hours or more per week. Usually outpatient services involve a mixture of group peer-focused therapy and individual counseling.  

Generally, the duration of most outpatient programs is about twelve weeks. Many take place in the evening to accommodate work and school schedules. Depending on the program, you will meet two to five times per week for two to four hours per group session and undergo one to three hours of individual counseling every week.

Most Outpatient Programs Do Not Offer Detoxification Services

Depending on what kind of drugs you have been using, you may be required to complete a professional medical detoxification or undergo medication-assisted treatment (MAT) before you can begin outpatient services. Withdrawal from certain drugs – like alcohol, heroin, or prescription opioids, for example – can be dangerous or even fatal. To safely withdraw from these substances, your recovery journey may begin with a trip to detox before you can start IOP or outpatient.

If you need that service in the beginning, a good outpatient treatment facility will refer you to a safe, reputable, and affordable detox center that can get you stabilized before you begin your outpatient program. It is a good idea to contact the treatment center and set up a consult to determine if detox services are needed. Once you decide on an outpatient facility, you will be assigned a case manager who will create, execute, and monitor a treatment plan specifically designed to meet your individual needs.

What You Can Expect from Outpatient Treatment

Here are some of the things you can expect from IOP or outpatient treatment:

  • You will learn about personal triggers that cause you to want to drink or use drugs and learn strategies to overcome them.
  • You will be taught relapse prevention skills.
  • You will be introduced to healthy coping mechanisms.
  • You will receive evidence-based care that drives results.
  • You will undergo behavior modification therapy to encourage the development of positive new behaviors.
  • You will be provided continued support to encourage continued recovery and abstinence.
  • Your family may receive ongoing support services to empower them to support your recovery.
  • Depending on the program, you may be introduced to the Twelve Steps and encouraged to attend meetings.
  • Abstinence is expected – you may receive random drug tests.
The Benefits and Drawbacks to IOP and Outpatient Services

Outpatient treatment has pros and cons. It’s a great answer for some people, but it’s not for everyone.  

Benefits to Outpatient Services:

  • You can return to the comfort of your home every night while attending IOP or outpatient.
  • Outpatient services are more affordable than inpatient treatment and is more likely to be covered by insurance.
  • Flexible hours allow you to continue working or going to school and maintain personal responsibilities.
  • Evidence-based treatment will empower you with proven strategies to embrace a life in recovery.
  • You will engage with other recovering people who can help support your recovery.
  • You will be equipped with the tools you need to maintain abstinence.
Drawbacks to Outpatient Services:
  • You will not stay at the facility; many people need round-the-clock care to stay abstinent in the early days of recovery, or live in unsafe conditions.
  • You will still have easy access to drugs and alcohol outside the program.
  • You will most likely have to undergo detox at a separate facility before you enter outpatient (if detox is needed).
  • Inpatient gives you the opportunity to focus solely on recovery. With outpatient, you will have to manage life stressors such as work, school, and family duties while attending treatment.
  • Outpatient does not give you 24-7 access to counseling services.


Only you can decide if you have enough safety and support in your daily life to be free from drugs and alcohol while attending IOP or outpatient. Many people try outpatient treatment first,  with the understanding that residential treatment is an option if it doesn’t work.

How to Find an Intensive Outpatient Program or Outpatient Services Near You

If you are considering outpatient treatment for your addiction to drugs or alcohol, there is a program near you that is ready to help you with your problem. Admitting you have an addiction is the first step in treating the disease. The second step is finding help.

At GET HELP, we have made finding the help you deserve fast, easy, and free. You can use our free search tool  or download our free app to begin your search for an IOP or outpatient program near you. You can also call us at (323) GET-HELP.