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What’s the Difference Between Inpatient vs Outpatient Treatment

How Do I Know If I Need Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment?

male patient sitting down with male doctor during an inpatient rehab therapy session

When you’re ready to seek help for a substance abuse problem, you’ll need to decide whether an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation (rehab) program is best for you. Each type of program has advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to consider all facets of the recovery process as well as your own personal needs when choosing the right kind of treatment to overcome addiction.

What Is Inpatient Addiction Rehab?

Many people looking to find recovery from addiction seek care in an inpatient rehab program. A defining characteristic of inpatient addiction rehab is that the person resides at the facility for the duration of treatment. Most residential treatment programs last from 28 to 90 days depending on the specific needs and preferences of the participant.

At the outset of the recovery process, many will undergo a period of inpatient detoxification (detox) prior to the commencement of the addiction treatment period. In some cases, the detox program will occur in a setting that differs from that of the eventual treatment location, such as at a standalone detox center.

Many inpatient and residential programs incorporate a structured detox program into their treatment protocol. In either type of detox setting, medications will be frequently be used to assist with the withdrawal process, especially in cases of severe dependency or addiction to more than one substance.

However, medication isn’t used in all instances of detox. Speak to program staff if you have any questions about the detox process. After detox is complete, treatment must continue. The focus moves from allowing substances to clear from the body and stabilizing the person throughout the withdrawal process to developing the skills to stay sober long term through counseling, therapy, and education about addiction and recovery.

What Is Outpatient Addiction Rehab?

outpatient rehab therapy sessionIn contrast to inpatient programs, outpatient treatment allows participants live at home outside of treatment hours, allowing them to continue engaging with work or school and the ability to fulfill other personal responsibilities. Recovering individuals will attend group and individual therapy sessions each week, and if needed they can meet regularly with a psychiatrist for medication to manage withdrawal, cravings, and any existing mental health issues. The treatment provided in an outpatient facility is similar to that provided in an inpatient treatment center but is somewhat less intensive.

Outpatient rehab programs might utilize one or more of the following types of therapy:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy—helps participants become aware of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and provides strategies to change them to healthier ones.
  • Contingency management—provides specific incentives or rewards to help people develop regular behaviors such as attending therapy or maintaining sobriety.
  • Motivational interviewing—works to identify and modify any feelings that might be barriers to treatment.
  • Matrix Model—allows therapists to act as both teachers and coaches, with the focus of treatment being on empowering the addicted individual through positive self-image and confidence. Matrix therapy is a treatment intervention developed specifically for stimulant use disorders.
  • Multidimensional family therapy—works to help families function better, especially in cases involving adolescents with drug or alcohol problems.

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Pros and Cons of Inpatient Rehab

No single type of treatment fits everyone’s unique needs. When considering whether to attend an inpatient (also called residential) substance abuse program, consider the pros and cons.


Benefits of inpatient rehab for drug or alcohol addiction include:

  • A stable, sober environment.
  • Medical and psychiatric monitoring during withdrawal and recovery, which is especially important for people who have long-standing or severe substance use disorders or co-occurring mental or physical health disorders. Co-occurring disorders are best treated in a rehab facility that focuses on dual diagnosis.
  • Reduced risk of relapse due to the substance-free environment and vigilant supervision.
  • Intensive group and individual therapy sessions.
  • Intense support from staff to reach and maintain sobriety.
  • Reduced exposure to stressors and triggers.
  • Specialized treatment services, such as acupuncture, yoga, exercise, meditation, and animal-assisted therapy (depending on the facility).
  • The option to choose a luxury facility that offers upscale amenities or accommodations for the needs of business executives if necessary.
  • A higher likelihood of success in recovery when treatment is longer and more intense.


Some potential drawbacks to consider before selecting an inpatient addiction treatment program include:

  • Limited access to the outside world and potentially limited visiting time from supports like family and other loved ones.
  • The need to take time off from work, school, and home responsibilities.
  • Increased cost of treatment because room and board are provided.

Pros and Cons of Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab programs have their own unique set of benefits and drawbacks.


Some of the pros of outpatient addiction rehab can include:

  • Reduced cost due to not having to pay for room and board.
  • The ability to attend work or school while receiving care.
  • Increased access to support from friends and family members.
  • The ability to practice relapse prevention techniques in the real world during the treatment process.


Cons of attending outpatient substance abuse treatment may include:

  • Lack of 24-hour care.
  • Easier access to substances.
  • Potentially heightened relapse risk if the home environment is unstable or stressful.
  • Depending on the substance being abused, an outpatient detox protocol may not be able to adequately account for and/or manage the dangerous or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms or other complications.

What is the Cost Difference?

Inpatient treatment tends to be more expensive than outpatient, because the program offers room and board for the duration of the program. Outpatient allows you to live at home, so this keeps the cost of the program down. Some examples of prices based on research include:3

  • 30-Day Inpatient: Between $400 and $900 per day, or $14,000 to $27,000 total.
  • 60-Day Inpatient: Between $300 and $800 per day, or $24,000 to $45,000 total.
  • 90-Day Inpatient: Between $200 and $700 per day, or $33,000 to $58,000 total.
  • Intensive Outpatient: Between $100 and $500 per treatment session.

The total price of an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) changes depending on duration of the program and frequency of treatment meetings. It is generally cheaper if the patient chooses a longer program.3 Standard outpatient programs that involve a commitment of 1-2 days per week for 1-2 hour per session are likely to be cheaper than IOPs or Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs), which are even more intense than IOPs.

Determining the Best Rehab Option for You

inpatient group therapy sessionGetting help for addiction is one of the most important choices you can make for yourself or someone you care about. Picking a program can feel overwhelming, and it’s not a decision you should make hastily.

It’s important to keep several factors in mind before you choose an inpatient or outpatient addiction rehab program. Understanding these factors and how they might affect your treatment can help you make the best choice. Ask yourself these questions before committing to a rehab program:

  • Are you exposed to drugs or alcohol in your environment?
  • Is your living environment stable and supportive of sobriety?
  • Do you have family members who drink or use drugs around you?
  • Do you have a strong support network that will help motivate you to stay sober?
  • Can you leave your job, school, or home duties for a specified period of time?
  • Do you have any other medical or mental health issues that require specialized treatment for co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis)?
  • Can you commute from your home to the facility several times a week?
  • Do you need specialized services, such as handicap-assisted or gender-specific rehab?

You may not have looked at these program aspects, but you should.

data showing changes in importance of addiction treatment factors overtimeIn 2016, Recovery Brands collected data that asked individuals leaving an addiction recovery program what facility features they saw as the most vital things to take into account when considering treatment. The top-rated priority was the clinic’s financial options, such as financial support, payment options, and insurance accepted. They also valued clinic offerings (quality of housing, food quality, recreation, etc.) significantly more after experiencing treatment. People looking for treatment may want to consider a program’s financial practices as well as program offerings to aid in their final treatment choice. Read More

If you are struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, go over these questions with a treatment professional or someone you trust. A professional can provide feedback that can help you make the best decision regarding your treatment. Identifying your specific needs is a good first step to determine if inpatient or outpatient treatment is best for you or someone you care about.

Also consider these tips when choosing an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program:

  • The rehab program should treat both the physical and psychological aspects of substance use disorders. You’re more likely to overcome addiction if you receive treatment that addresses both your physical dependence and the psychological issues contributing to your substance use. Look for facilities that offer complete treatment.
  • The addiction specialists who will be treating you should have an education in the field and be licensed or certified. These qualifications increase the chances that you’ll receive high-quality care that’s specialized for substance use. The facility itself should also be licensed, particularly if it’s offering medical care. Ask the rehab facility for its licensing information and verify the data with the department of licensing in its state. To confirm what licenses and certifications your state requires, see the National Review of State Alcohol and Drug Treatment Programs provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

How Long Does Addiction Rehab Last?

relapse rates by treatment length

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment outcomes improve with longer periods of care. Treatment should ideally last at least 90 days to increase the likelihood of long-term sobriety. The recommended 3-month treatment duration doesn’t necessarily need to be completed while enrolled in an inpatient program. Structured outpatient addiction treatment efforts can also be effective components, if not the primary therapeutic outlet, for this recommended treatment timeframe.

A longer period of initial treatment is sometimes needed before a person is ready to transition to aftercare. Most programs will develop a plan to manage relapse if it occurs, and they’ll offer additional support and assistance.

A variety of addiction treatment program lengths are available depending on how severe the addiction is and if there are other mental or physical health issues to be treated at the same time. Rehab options include:

Improved sobriety outcomes can come from more time spent in treatment, and treatment for 90 days or more has shown to be most successful, according to research conducted by Recovery Brands. An effective substance abuse treatment plan often involves a combination of inpatient and outpatient rehab, follow-up counseling, and solid aftercare.

Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process, and inpatient or outpatient treatment is just the beginning of the recovery journey. Because addiction is a chronic disease, some people may need extended treatment as well as the ongoing monitoring and support made available through aftercare programs.

Getting Help for Substance Abuse

Deciding to participate in inpatient or outpatient treatment for drug or alcohol addiction can be stressful, but help is available. Admissions consultants are available to answer your questions about treatment and help get you started on the road to recovery and a healthier, substance-free life.


  1. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third edition).
  3. American Addiction Centers. (2017).

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