Choosing Between Inpatient and Outpatient Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one are dealing with a substance addiction, you might feel overwhelmed by the choices available for treatment. Should you choose an inpatient or an outpatient treatment plan? Your addiction specialist and your doctor are two people you should consult when making the decision. If you are not sure, however, it can help to read various viewpoints. Check out these considerations to keep in mind as you decide between inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment for yourself, your child, or your loved one.


Inpatient vs Outpatient: What’s the Difference?

Inpatient addiction treatment entails a stay at an inpatient facility. For many patients, the stay begins with detoxification, which means that they are weaned off of the substance they are addicted to, often with the help of medications to make the process, which can be difficult, less uncomfortable. After that process is done, they are in an immersive environment that allows them to avoid distractions and concentrate on the hard work of recovery. The entire inpatient phase of the program is generally from one to three months but can last longer. Inpatient treatment is well-suited to those who have severe addictions and/or severe withdrawal symptoms that require medical monitoring and intervention

Outpatient addiction treatment is less immersive. The detoxification process is done on an outpatient basis, which means that the individual goes to a facility or a hospital for detox services and medication. Counseling and therapy are also done on an outpatient basis. Depending on the program, it could be several hours per day or spread out during the week. Patients who go through the inpatient addiction treatment often continue to have outpatient treatment for some period of time. This is more well-suited for those with mild or moderate addictions and less severe withdrawal symptoms that don’t require constant medical monitoring.


What Constitutes Severe or Mild Addiction?

While it is not an exact science, one recommendation is often that those with mild to moderate addictions can go to outpatient treatment, while those with moderate to severe addictions are better served in an inpatient facility. How can you tell whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe addiction?

There are some criteria that are often used to determine the extent of someone’s addiction. You might not be able to tell on your own whether you or your loved one has a mild, moderate, or severe addiction, but your addiction specialist will be able to make a recommendation for you. Some of the criteria to consider include whether you have a sense of control over whether you can quit using, how much time and energy you spend trying to get the substance, what your cravings are like, whether you are having problems in your relationships, and whether you need to use more of the substance than you used to in order to achieve the same feelings or high.


Who Is Outpatient Care Best For?

Outpatient care is best for those who have mild addictions and who have not experienced severe effects from their substance use. For example, someone with a mild addiction might have a job or classes that they would like to continue going to during the treatment process. While there is often daily therapy, it can be arranged to take place before and after the working or school hours in many cases.

Those with good social support are also candidates for outpatient care. Support is vital to the recovery process, so it’s important that the individual has family members, friends, and a support group to depend on. Those without these supports would probably do better in inpatient care.

People who have gone through inpatient treatment already often transition to outpatient treatment. So if you or your loved one has already done an inpatient program, an outpatient program might be the next step.

Finally, outpatient care is less expensive than inpatient care, so if finances are a consideration, outpatient care might be the right answer.


Who Is Inpatient Care Best For?

Those with severe addictions and withdrawal symptoms often do better with inpatient care. It is a more intensive and immersive experience and more effective for those with moderate to severe addictions. There is 24-hour-per-day emotional, mental, and medical support available, so the treatment makes relapses during the program rare.

There are no distractions and intensive therapy is involved, so for those who are struggling with other mental health issues or problems with their family or home life, inpatient care can be a good way to allow them to focus on the issues at hand.

For someone who has gone through treatment before and has relapsed, inpatient care can give them the boost they need to succeed in their recovery.

Inpatient care is more expensive than outpatient care, so it is important to have a financial plan in place to reduce stress later.


Making the Final Decision

The final decision of whether to choose inpatient or outpatient care lies with the patient, his or her parents (if the patient is a minor), and his or her doctors and counselors. Many people believe that inpatient care is too inconvenient or not possible due to work or school obligations, but it is important that individuals with an addiction put their own health first. Since inpatient care is more successful, particularly for those with severe addictions, many professionals will recommend it.

Even if your first inclination is to say no because you don’t think you can make it work with your current obligations, realize that it is often possible to complete an inpatient treatment program. Your loved ones will want to see you get better and might be willing to help with family obligations and some of your other responsibilities. Your boss might be required to hold your job for you in some cases, and in others, they might decide to hold it for you because they’d like to see you get better and succeed. Even if you have to get a new job after treatment is over, you will be much healthier, both mentally and physically.

If you are concerned about your addiction or the addiction of a loved one, contact your (or their) primary care physician for an addiction screening and to be referred to an addiction specialist. They can help you decide whether inpatient or outpatient care is more appropriate for your specific circumstances.



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