Inpatient vs Outpatient Rehab

For patients needing drug and alcohol treatment, outpatient rehab and inpatient rehab can provide an essential level of care to achieve long-term recovery. But how do you know which type of program you or a loved one would best benefit from? Both types of treatment have distinctions which make them more or less appropriate for a patient’s needs, depending on the patient’s level and length of addiction.

What is Inpatient Rehab?

inpatient-rehab-houseInpatient treatment lasts a minimum of 28 days. You voluntarily enter a safe, secure facility in which intensive drug and alcohol treatment is the cornerstone of your daily activities. Often, people who have attempted outpatient treatment but have ultimately relapsed back into drug and alcohol use, or have found outpatient treatment difficult to complete, achieve success in an inpatient program.

People who require detoxification services due to concerns about withdrawal also benefit from inpatient rehab, as detox services can be included as a part of inpatient treatment. After detox (if necessary), patients undergo an intensive, daily drug or alcohol treatment regimen to learn about the disease of addiction in a supportive, immersive environment.

Inpatient rehab programs are safe, structured environments in which you are removed from stressful circumstances that promote or fuel the urge to use. Because negatively influencing factors are removed from your daily experience, participation in inpatient treatment can begin to work on building life skills that had been interfered with due to addiction. Because of this intensive level of care, inpatient rehab is ideal for people who have unsuccessfully attempted to overcome addiction in outpatient rehab programs, or for people who have identified that they need drug or alcohol treatment and want to “do it right” the first time. As previously stated, the level of care necessary for you should be determined by an in-person assessment with a qualified medical or counseling professional. Most often, people who have attempted outpatient treatment without success do require inpatient care, but some people who have not yet undergone outpatient treatment may not require this high level of care.

Some people are wary about voluntarily beginning an inpatient drug or alcohol treatment program because of the intensity, but inpatient programs are highly emotionally supportive and focus on helping the whole body and mind through treatment. For this reason, many inpatient treatment centers encourage family participation, including family education programs and weekend programs. In addition to immediate family, people benefit from having a “therapeutic community” in inpatient – a community of patients who support one another through treatment by encouraging others to stay on task. In addition to the other differentiators of long-term inpatient care, it is this camaraderie gained through empathy and shared experience that often helps you overcome addiction while completing drug or alcohol treatment.

What is Outpatient Rehab?

Outpatient Rehab provides you with more freedom. Outpatient drug and alcohol treatment programs share many similarities with inpatient, but in a differently structured environment. Outpatient rehab provides you with more freedom of movement which allows you to maintain a regular commitment to family, work, and educational responsibilities. Because of the ability to go home after a daily or evening program, you are able to have a greater level of privacy and anonymity. You do not need to explain a prolonged absence to friends, coworkers, or family members.

Unlike inpatient rehab, you are not provided with the safe, secure environment that isolates you from negatively influencing factors. You return to your own environments after outpatient drug or alcohol treatment, and must voluntarily abstain from drug or alcohol use, which requires a greater amount of diligence. However, the benefit of this is that outpatient rehab (like inpatient rehab) provide a support network for patients in the form of official support groups, individual counseling, and family counseling so that you are never alone in your recovery. You are provided with a strong support network of non-using peers and sponsors. Outpatient drug and alcohol treatment requires a component of group therapy and support groups like NA and AA, which provide a new, positive element of social change in your life and facilitates long-term recovery.

Like inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab also focuses on family support and involvement, and an immediately positive element of outpatient rehab is that you can automatically apply the lessons learned from outpatient treatment programs to your daily experiences.

Advantages of Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab requires a 28 day stay. The actual length of a typical stay depends on your diagnosis, needs, situation and insurance coverage.

5 Pros & Cons of Inpatient Rehab


  • You receive 24-hour supervision by trained staff and therapists; you are never alone while battling your addiction.
  • You are part of a community – other residents in the facility are also overcoming their addictions.
  • You are in a program that provides an intense level of care – individuals who have tried to battle addiction previously may a more intense setting.
  • Being in a residential setting, more time each day is focused on recovery, through group and individual counseling settings, as well as other treatment exercises.
  • You do not have the distractions of daily life activities/worries while in treatment.


  • You are not free to come and go and you please
  • You are in a structured environment that dictates when you get up in the morning, when you eat, when you have counseling sessions and when you have free-time. For many, though this seems like a “con” it is actually one of the best components of residential/inpatient treatment.
  • Arrangements for child care will need to be made while you are in treatment.
  • Often, you will need to take a leave from your job to participate in residential treatment.
  • Many insurers will only cover outpatient rehab.

5 Pros & Cons of Outpatient Rehab


  • Outpatient rehab is structured so you can continue many of your daily activities such as work, caring for children etc.
  • Counseling sessions are often offered in the evenings and sometimes even on weekends.
  • You can apply what you learn in treatment to your real life setting and start making changes immediately.
  • Many outpatient rehab programs includes family sessions, to help your support network better understand the challenges you face.
  • Outpatient rehab is considered a more affordable treatment option and is generally covered by insurance.


  • You risk being exposed to the same influences, risks and triggers in your life that pushed you towards drug or alcohol.
  • You may still have access to drugs/alcohol.
  • Daily life distractions could keep you from focusing on recovery.
  • Access to your counselor is more limited than in a residential/inpatient facility.
  • Many residential clients develop bonds with other people in treatment that later become part of their sober support network. In outpatient rehab, you do not spend as much time with others in treatment, which makes building the foundation of this support network more challenging.

There are many pros and cons to rehab facilities. The right facility for you depends on many factors. It is possible to make changes before you become dependent on drugs and/or alcohol. Many people change their relationship with drugs and/or alcohol before it is too late.

A variety of health and treatment professionals can help you to stop using drugs / alcohol. Treatment professionals help you evaluate your problems with drugs or alcohol and gain an understanding of where you are in the disease. What are the symptoms you are experiencing? How has drugs and alcohol use affected your life? Then they help you make choices about the goals you want to accomplish in terms of quitting and remaining sober. Armed with a treatment plan, you are much better able to choose among the options.

People who want to stop using choose among the available treatment options to find an approach that is right for them. The right approach will give you the knowledge and support you need to meet your goals and to set new goals during recovery. Treatment will help you and your family and loved ones recover from a disease that has damaged their daily lives and their hopes for the future. The right approach will restore the hope you may have lost to the disease of drugs and/or alcoholism.

Health professionals who treat any type of disease—cancer, AIDS, arthritis, diabetes— will attest to the importance of hope in the recovery process. When a person’s hope is restored, so is the motivation to act, to make ongoing choices to fight the disease and to do what is necessary to recover.

Recovery is an Ongoing Process

Recovery from addiction is an ongoing process because there is no cure. The treatments and support that you choose now may later be too much or too little. The goal is to find what works now, and to educate yourself about all the options available, so that if you need more help in the future, or less help, you can find the treatments and supports that are right for you.

break-free-from-addictionTo think that you have to recover from addiction on your own with no help represents the distorted thinking that is a well-known symptom of addiction. In recovery from addiction, support comes in many forms. Family physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists, counselors, self-help groups and other organizations are just a few of the supports available that will help educate you about addiction and provide the level of support you need.

You and your medical or counseling professional are best equipped to know which type of treatment is ideal for your situation. Be honest with yourself about how independently dedicated you can be in an outpatient rehab program. Do you feel like the temptations to use based on daily stresses, friends and acquaintances, or lack of social support would be an issue in successfully completing outpatient rehab? Have you tried and been unsuccessful time and time again at stopping your drug or alcohol use by yourself or in outpatient rehab? Are you physically addicted to drugs or alcohol and absolutely require a medical detox prior to receiving treatment services? When you speak with a specialist about voluntarily entering drug and alcohol treatment, talk about your personal circumstances in order to figure out which aspects of inpatient or outpatient rehab programs would best suit you. Outpatient and residential drug and alcohol treatment programs both have life-changing benefits, and understanding which program will best help you achieve long-term recovery is one of the first steps toward becoming sober.

An addiction can strike a person when they least expect it, as they’re trying to handle an increase in their workload, childcare or child-rearing, mental health issues, family issues, or for no reason whatsoever. It often begins innocently — trying to relieve the stress of everyday life, or just to try something new. Before the person knows it, they’re turning to the drug or alcohol as a way of coping with any negative feelings or stress in their lives. They may find they need more and more of the drug or drink in order to gain the same benefits from it. Efforts to scale back or to stop altogether are difficult or next-to-impossible.

Drug addiction and alcohol addiction is usually not easily overcome on one’s own. Most people who face an addiction to a substance or alcohol need additional help. At the onset of your treatment, you’ll have to figure out what path works best for you and your needs.