Most of us are at least passingly familiar with inpatient rehab. Leaving your life for a month or more to spend your days and nights at a rehab center is a common concept. What you might not be as familiar with are your intensive outpatient treatment options.
Essentially, intensive outpatient treatment is a type of program that lands somewhere between traditional outpatient and inpatient alcohol treatment programs. Clients don’t spend the night at the facility, but they also are required to be in treatment for more time than is typical for regular outpatient treatment.
There are lots of different alcohol treatment programs out there. Intensive outpatient treatment is the right decision for some folks, but it’s not the only way to treat alcohol abuse. You need to do some serious research before you enter a program. We’re here to provide you a jumping off point and to get people who’ve never heard of intensive outpatient treatment familiar enough with the concept to see if they’re interested in learning more. Sound good? Okay, let’s get into it.
What does intensive outpatient treatment entail?
Lots of different alcohol treatment programs fit under the outpatient umbrella, but few of them are considered intensive. Experts reserve that label for programs with certain time commitments. Intensive outpatient treatment typically involves spending long stretches at a rehab center (for example, three hours or more). You won’t spend the night at the center, though. That’s what sets inpatient alcohol treatment programs apart.
What kinds of therapies do intensive outpatient programs use?
In terms of actual treatments, though, intensive outpatient options are going to have a lot of the same therapies as any other alcohol treatment programs. That typically means a mix of individual and group counseling sessions as well as education about addiction. Most programs will want to get your family involved, too, so you might have family therapy as well.
An intensive outpatient program will also strive to treat any co-occurring mental health concerns. They want to address you as a complete individual, which means looking at all of your problems, not just your substance abuse. So, your treatment might differ depending on what other things you have going on.
The types of treatment will also vary depending on what the center specializes in. For example, some facilities have strong experiential treatment programs, like music therapy, while others don’t.
An intensive outpatient program can follow one of several different modes of treatment. Let’s break down some of the more common ones.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This model of therapy is based on teaching clients new ways to react to situations that might otherwise make them relapse. Intensive outpatient treatment is especially well suited to a CBT approach because of the opportunities to interact with triggers at home. Since you’re not spending the night at the treatment facility, you’ll encounter a lot more “real world” scenarios where you can practice the techniques you’re learning in treatment.
With roots in the late 1940s, this is one of the older models of care employed by many intensive outpatient programs. They’ve stuck around this long because they work, and they can also mesh with other forms of treatment like the CBT approach we mentioned earlier. Basically, the goal here is to help clients understand the principles of an appropriate 12-Step group and get them started on that journey.
This approach is all about assuring that the client can recognize the rewards of staying sober. Since drugs and alcohol feel good in the moment, it can often be hard to see how destructive their long-term effects are. Motivational approaches work to make that clear. In programs that utilize this model, counselors work with clients on finding that motivation to change. They do this by looking at the gap between their life goals and the consequences of their substance abuse and learning to take responsibility for their behavior.
Originally called neurobehavioral treatment, this model mixes the other ones we’ve listed so far into one methodology. It’s not the only kind that combines various approaches, but it’s one of the more popular and comprehensive ones. In the Matrix model, you’ll do much of what the other modes would have you do — learn about the effects of addiction and how to structure a healthy lifestyle, practice coping techniques, get your family involved, and be encouraged to join support groups.
This sort of treatment is typically seen in residential alcohol treatment programs, but there’s an outpatient variety, too. The basic idea here is that the whole community at the treatment center is the therapeutic agent, and that a substance use disorder needs to be treated with the whole person in mind. Therapeutic communities often treat those who have a history of criminal behavior, and it can help them learn good citizenship.
Community Reinforcement and Contingency Management
Sometimes the benefits of maintaining sobriety are not clear or are not instantly rewarding enough. This model seeks to provide other rewards, like vouchers, to reinforce making those big life changes.
What can’t you find in one of these programs?
What you should note here, perhaps most of all, are the kinds of treatments that are not offered in intensive outpatient programs. They don’t do 24/7 monitoring or the detox process. If those are services you need, then you need to seek a higher level of treatment, like inpatient care.
How long does intensive outpatient treatment last?
The length of treatment will vary by treatment center and by the needs of the client. At Harris House, intensive outpatient programs last between four and twelve weeks, unless you need it to go longer. That flexibility should be true of any center you’re considering. Your treatment team should be prepared and able to offer you the treatment you need for as long as you need it.
The other time element to this type of treatment is how many hours a day and how often you’ll be getting care. This is another big variable. Many programs will run for three or more hours at a time either a few times a week or every day. Intensive outpatient programs can run on a vast array of schedules, so definitely clarify the actual time commitment with the care provider you’re considering. They’ll have more specifics for you.
Does intensive outpatient treatment really work?
In short, yes. It’s definitely not the right fit for everyone, but it has a proven track record of success for those who are well-suited to its offerings. One literature review found that in 12 studies of the efficacy of intensive outpatient treatment against other alcohol treatment programs, the intensive outpatient programs were a successful alternative. They found few differences between inpatient programs and the intensive outpatient ones studied, and they saw reduced substance use across the board. The authors of that review advocated for more intensive outpatient treatment rather than inpatient care going forward.
There were limitations to those studies, of course, but the point stands: For the right people, intensive outpatient treatment really does work. The more severe cases received inpatient care in most of those studies, so that is definitely a caveat to keep in mind. However, there was real success among those surveyed after they’d completed an intensive outpatient program.
Who should choose intensive outpatient treatment?
One main demographic especially suited to intensive outpatient treatment are people who need to keep working while they’re in treatment. If you need more intense care than what regular outpatient therapy or a support group could provide, but you can’t afford to leave your life for a month and enter one of the many inpatient alcohol treatment programs out there, intensive outpatient treatment could suit you perfectly. Intensive outpatient treatment can still take up a big chunk of your time. However, if you’re able to schedule your work around your treatment, it can be an effective way to balance your different commitments.
Intensive outpatient treatment can also be great for people who have already gone through inpatient alcohol treatment programs. You’ll need a lot of support and aftercare once you’ve completed one of those programs. An intensive outpatient program could be just what you need. Talk to your treatment team about what the best option would be for your specific needs.
The other key group that benefits from intensive outpatient programs are those who have a strong support system at home. The caveat here is that they also need to have a less severe addiction. Since they have people encouraging their recovery journey at home, they can benefit from spending time there rather than at an inpatient facility. That’s absolutely not to say that everyone with a loving family doesn’t need to enter inpatient rehab, but it’s definitely a factor to consider. The most intense addictions are likely to need more care than any outpatient treatment can provide. However, more moderate cases with good support have done well with intensive outpatient programs.
What are the drawbacks of intensive outpatient treatment?
The answer to this question is also highly subjective. What you consider a drawback will depend on your situation. One person’s con can often be another person’s pro.
Some people would prefer to travel far away for alcohol treatment programs. If that’s you, an out-of-state inpatient program is probably a better bet. Intensive outpatient treatment is likely to happen where you already live, which means you might see people you know there. We want to be clear that there’s nothing shameful or embarrassing about seeking treatment, full stop. Even so, some people would just rather keep their medical decisions to themselves. If that privacy is one of your main concerns and you want to leave your whole life behind to enter alcohol treatment programs, then intensive outpatient treatment probably shouldn’t be your first choice.
To be a good fit for intensive outpatient treatment, your medical needs cannot surpass the capabilities of the program. That means that if you need a medically-assisted detox or another more intense forms of treatment, you should consider inpatient alcohol treatment programs.
So what type of treatment should I choose?
Unfortunately, no one can make that recommendation for you without knowing your circumstances. You’ll need to talk to medical professionals before you make a decision, and you should explore any options your doctor thinks might work. The alcohol treatment programs you speak with can also make a determination on whether you’d be a good candidate for their services.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a one-time decision. You need to be pretty constantly reevaluating what the best alcohol treatment programs for you would be. Many people continue going to support group meetings for decades.
It’s also not a decision you should take lightly or make without enough information. Definitely consult with your doctor if you can, and contact the different programs you’re interested in to see how well they think you’d fit their offerings.
Intensive outpatient programs can be highly effective.
By now, you should be well aware of the main benefits of an intensive outpatient program. You have access to your home and family environments while also receiving intensive and high quality care. However, the questions we’ve answered here really only scratch the surface when it comes to knowing everything there is to know about these types of alcohol treatment programs. You’ll need to do some more research and get some professional opinions before deciding on the right program for you.
Something we come back to again and again here is that each individual has different needs and different appropriate treatments. It’s simply incorrect to say the most intense treatments are the best because that’s not true for everyone. Not all people struggling with a substance dependency would benefit from spending a month or more removed from their lives in a rehab center. That’s why outpatient programs exist.
Whether you’ve already spent some time in an inpatient program and you’re looking for another kind of care, or you just need a less restrictive form of treatment, intensive outpatient programs can be a great fit. Studies have proven that intensive outpatient treatment works well for many people.
If you’re interested in learning more about the intensive outpatient treatment offered at Harris House, don’t hesitate to contact us.