Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment

treatmentThere are two common formats for addiction treatment: inpatient and outpatient. Often, interventionists and mental health therapists help families to make a decision about what setting is best for the person who needs care, and they take into account the person’s history of addiction and current living situation when making a recommendation. It’s up to the family, however, to make a final decision about the treatment format. That’s why it’s vital for them to learn more about who tends to thrive in each setting and what each setting is designed to do.

Outpatient Treatment: Low to Moderate Intensity

In an outpatient setting, the addicted person continues to live at home while the addiction is addressed through treatment. These programs come with a great deal of variability. In some cases, people obtain care in a series of appointments, which might be infrequent enough to allow them to continue to work, care for children and otherwise continue with their responsibilities as usual. In other programs, there’s a significant time commitment involved, meaning that people might need to attend some kind of therapeutic intervention each day for the majority of the day.

At one point, it was assumed that these programs wouldn’t be appropriate for people who have severe cases of addiction. Now, research suggests that this might not be the case. For example, a study in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that people who have substance abuse disorders conjoined with mental illnesses can be successful in outpatient programs, as long as they have a reliable connection to care. Studies like this highlight the fact that people who are in outpatient programs tend to lean on their families and connections while they’re in care, and they might be tempted to drop out. But as long as they have a good support system at home and a willingness to improve, they can participate in outpatient programs, no matter how ill they might be.

Inpatient Treatment: Increased Intensity

Some people in recovery don’t have strong family connections they can lean on, and they might have other factors that complicate their recovery, including:

People like this might need the around-the-clock supervision that an inpatient program can provide. They won’t be required to live at home and stick to an appointment schedule, and their ability to relapse will be severely limited by an inpatient program’s rules and regulations.

Some studies suggest that inpatient programs are associated with smaller dropout rates. For example, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 75 percent of inpatient program participators completed care, while only 18 percent of outpatient participators did the same. However, studies like this can be misleading, particularly if different drugs of abuse are compared, and some studies have found no such association at all. In general, it’s best to use the lowest level of restriction that will still be helpful to the person, and often, that means outpatient care. But there are many people who will benefit from the help they’ll only get in an inpatient program.

If you’d like to know more about how treatment works and how you can get the person you love to participate, please call us. Our admissions coordinators can put you in touch with a trained family mediator who can help you to approach the person you love in a loving, careful manner.

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