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Providing the appropriate level of care for people struggling with substance abuse or addiction is important to give individuals the services most likely to help them achieve and maintain recovery.
For this reason, consistent guidance on matching an individual with the treatment level that meets that person’s needs – including readiness to change, degree of relapse risk, and other factors – can be a vital contribution to that individual’s motivation and ability to follow through on treatment.
Outpatient treatment may be the right level of care in many cases.
You may be asking yourself, how do outpatient programs work? And what’s different about outpatient? While many of the same therapies may be employed in both inpatient and outpatient programs, the main difference is the level of intensity of services and the fact that outpatient clients live at home.
Outpatient treatment is the lowest-intensity form of addiction treatment. Because it allows the patient to live at home, it is the most appropriate for someone who has a job and/or a lot of social supports at home. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, standard outpatient treatment may “offer little more than drug education.”
Low-intensity outpatient treatment often serves as a step-down level of care from a more intensive program. For example, someone leaving a residential program, may feel ready to enter a standard outpatient program where they have minimal services, such as therapy once or twice per week.
People who have completed a more intensive program and have stepped down to an outpatient program may have gained the knowledge and skills they need to avoid relapse and the confidence to apply those tools as they return to their normal lives. Outpatient treatment affords them a regular but minimal check-in with a treatment provider to discuss any issues on their minds and get support as they continue their recovery journey.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Continuum, outpatient services – designated as Level I services – involve motivational and recovery enhancement therapies and services provided at fewer than 9 hours per week (or fewer than 6 hours for adolescents). These types of therapies can include practices such as motivational interviewing enhance the person’s desire to make positive changes. Outpatient services may be delivered in many types of settings.
Group counseling is a common component of outpatient treatment. People in outpatient programs may also be encouraged to regularly attend recovery group meetings, such as a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, where they can share their trials and successes with others on the same journey, seek support, and practice the skills they need to stay sober. There is no time limit on participation in groups like these, which highly beneficial for the lifelong maintenance of substance use disorders, chronic conditions that always have the potential for relapse if left unmanaged.
For those who need a greater deal of support in their recovery, low-intensity outpatient is not the only option. There are several forms of outpatient care available for people with different needs.
An intensive outpatient treatment program still allows patients to live at home and attend to their personal business, but it provides a higher level of support with more than 9 hours of treatment per work for adults (more than 6 hours for adolescents).
A higher level of treatment, an IOP is more appropriate than a standard outpatient program for patients with complex needs including those with co-occurring disorders (addiction + another mental health condition).
Services may be delivered on the weekends, during the day, in the evenings, or at other times that are convenient to the patient.
An even more intensive treatment, partial hospitalization programs, often casually referred to as “day treatment,” involve a significant commitment to treatment but still allow the patient to live at home. In a day program, the patient will likely attend more than 20 hours of treatment per week. According to ASAM, this level of care is best for people with multidimensional needs that don’t require 24-7 care.
When you’re choosing an outpatient treatment program, you want to make sure you do some research so you find a quality program that meets your needs.
Here are some thinks to ask or think about:
You don’t have to stick to the list. Think of any personal questions or concerns and add them to this list as you call around to programs.
We cannot tell you whether outpatient or inpatient treatment is the right choice for you. A doctor or addiction treatment professional will be able to help you make this decision. Generally, outpatient treatment can work very well for patients who are stable enough and have the necessary support at home to live on their own.
For those who don’t quite need the round-the-clock supervision on a residential or inpatient program, but who still need a great deal of support for complex issues, higher-intensity outpatient programs like a PHP or IOP can be good options.
Talk to a professional to determine what type of treatment is right for you. While many people go to outpatient programs first because they are lower-cost than most inpatient programs, if you really need the intensive care of an inpatient environment, the extra cost may be worth it.
Outpatient therapy tends to be significantly cheaper than a residential program, but for many people who have depleted their resources in active addiction paying for outpatient treatment can be a hardship. Fortunately, there are many options for people who need to get treatment. These include:
When you call up a potential program to ask questions, don’t be afraid to inquire about your payment options and whether they offer any ways to make treatment more affordable.
Because standard outpatient treatment is the lowest level of care for confirmed substance abuse on the ASAM criteria, the only step down is to completion of treatment. However, an individual who finds himself in need of additional support in recovery can always step up to a higher level of outpatient treatment or even inpatient rehab. A person’s journey in recovery often has many bumps in the road and there is no shame in seeking additional help in difficult times.