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Inpatient, Outpatient, or IOP?
Most psychiatrists and behavioral health professionals agree that
addiction is a complex disorder caused by a combination of genetic,
environmental, and behavioral factors. It can also vary in intensity;
The DSM-5 defines addiction as a spectrum disorder that can be
categorized as “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe.” Many other mental
health disorders, like depression and anxiety, can be described in
much the same way. Because there can be so much variation in the
causes and severity of an individual’s disorder, there are varying levels of treatment to meet
patients’ differing needs.
Generally speaking, behavioral health and addiction treatment programs can be described as
inpatient, outpatient, or intensive outpatient (IOP). The biggest differences among each of the three
are in the complexity and severity of the conditions they treat, the length of the programs, and the
patients’ living arrangements.
What Level of Treatment Do I Need?
Before you make a decision about treatment, it’s important that you are fully assessed by a qualified
professional—a therapist, addiction counselor, psychiatrist, or maybe even one of our Intake
specialists. They can give you feedback and help you decide what might be best for you. It is crucial
that you make your decision based on what you truly need to be able to reach and maintain
recovery. Entering a treatment program that does not match the level of severity you’re
experiencing in your illness can put you at a greater risk for relapse and a greater risk of serious
harm. Addiction and mental illnesses can be deadly diseases.
What is Inpatient Treatment?
Inpatient treatment programs, also sometimes called residential treatment programs, aim to treat the
most severe and complex addictions and disorders. They are full-time programs that are usually
anywhere from 28 days to 6 months long. They provide patients with a controlled environment in
which they can begin untangling the web of physical, emotional, and interpersonal havoc that their
out-of-control conditions have wrought.
In an inpatient treatment facility, patients have no access to drugs or alcohol; so, the chances of
them relapsing while they are in treatment are extremely low. They live at the treatment center—
away from work, friends, and family— so that they can focus exclusively on working through their
emotional trauma and behavioral and on developing new coping skills to help them succeed in their
A good inpatient treatment center will also offer 24-hour access to medical care. (The Meadows’
programs, for example, are certified by the Joint Commission, due to their commitment to
excellence in providing medical services.) They also will have experienced well-qualified and
credentialed psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists available to assess patients, develop
individualized treatment programs for them, and meet with patients individually and in group
It is also ideal for inpatient programs to have a family component, to extend the healing process to
throughout the patient’s family and help them learn how to build a stronger support system for one
another. The Meadows has a Family Week, for example, where family members are invited to join
the patient on campus and work with them through group and individual counseling sessions.
What is Outpatient Treatment?
Outpatient treatment programs are part-time programs usually requiring 4 – 10 hours per week of
meetings including individual and group therapy that focus on the development of real-world
coping skills for maintaining sobriety. Outpatient programs typically last for three to six months.
Patients who are in an outpatient program can continue to work, attend school, and even live at
home; though, sometimes it is recommended that patients stay in transitional, sober living housing
where they can get additional support from their peers in recovery and get away from any undue
influences enabling their addictions. Meetings and counseling sessions at an outpatient center are
typically held at night or in the early morning so that people can continue on with regular daily
Outpatient treatment is not the right choice for everyone. Addiction professionals typically do not
recommend outpatient treatment to those who face a high level of danger from their particular
disorders. Outpatient treatment can, however, be a good option for someone with a mild addiction,
or for someone “stepping down” from inpatient treatment. Many people in recovery choose to
transition from inpatient rehab to an intensive outpatient or outpatient program so that they can
practice applying the skills they learned in inpatient treatment to the real-world while still getting
the extra support and guidance they need.