Outpatient alcohol rehab is one of several treatment types available to help people recover from alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD).1 Depending on the severity of your addiction and your addiction-related needs, you may benefit from different levels of outpatient care, as they vary in intensity and duration.
Outpatient treatment programs provide many of the same therapeutic offerings as their inpatient and residential treatment counterparts. Treatment lengths may vary according to individual patient needs and recovery progress.
For example, intensive outpatient programs may range from a few weeks to several months.2 Research suggests that longer treatment times (e.g., 90 days or more) may be associated with the best treatment outcomes in terms of helping people reduce or stop drinking or using other substances, and the various levels of outpatient programming can be utilized to meet these durations.3
The different types of outpatient alcohol rehab include:1
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs): These programs are the most intensive form of outpatient care. They are commonly sought as a step-down from inpatient treatment or as a form of treatment for people who require a high level of care but are not able to commit to an inpatient stay. People participating in a PHP can expect to spend 6 hours or more in treatment each weekday; though the precise time requirements may can vary depending on the program and your needs.
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs): People may also step-down to IOP treatment after completion of an inpatient/residential program or PHP, however others may initiate their treatment at this level should they benefit from a less time-intensive program than a PHP but more structure than standard outpatient visits. Treatment typically involves attending sessions for at least 9 hours, spread across 3 to 5 days per week.
- Outpatient: Outpatient care can be utilized outside of the structure of a PHP or IOP. Standard outpatient care offers the least structured and intensive form of care, and may require attending treatment sessions once or twice per week. In some cases, this form of treatment may consist only of educational group sessions, but in others, it can include individual counseling or other office visits.
Who is a Good Candidate for Outpatient Treatment?
For many people, outpatient treatment functions as a step-down for those who have either completed an inpatient program or do not require the intense level of monitoring and care offered by inpatient treatment. Prior to the start of any new treatment program, you may meet with an intake counselor, admissions advisor, and other members of the treatment team who will ask you questions about your drug use, mental and medical health histories, and conduct other lines of screening and assessment to determine the appropriate level of care for your needs.5
Some of the factors that may influence the decision regarding the appropriate level of care include:5
- Whether you have a risk of acute withdrawal (i.e., experiencing uncomfortable and potentially severe symptoms when you stop drinking). Withdrawal can lead to dangerous complications for some people with significant alcohol dependence, so you may need to enter medical detox or inpatient treatment first to safely manage the withdrawal period at the start of treatment.
- The presence of any chronic medical conditions or complications. This does not preclude you from attending outpatient treatment; as long as your condition is stable and your problems will not interfere with treatment, you may be eligible for outpatient rehab.
- Whether you struggle with co-occurring emotional, behavioral, or cognitive issues, in addition to alcohol use disorder. You can still be treated in an outpatient setting, but the facility must be geared toward the treatment of dual diagnosis patients (i.e. people with both a substance use disorder and a mental health condition).
- Your willingness to change and engage with your treatment. If you’re not ready, you may need a more motivating and supportive form of treatment.
- Whether you have experienced a relapse or if your problems are worsening with less intensive levels of care. In these cases, you may require a relatively more intensive form of outpatient care or possibly an inpatient stay.
- Your support networks. People who have less support at home or have limited contact with people who do not abuse substances may benefit from more intensive supervision at an IOP or an inpatient stay.
Is Alcoholism Detox the Same as Outpatient?
Detox is no substitute for comprehensive rehabilitation; rather, it is an intervention designed to help you quit drinking as safely and comfortably as possible. The goal of medical detox is to provide supervision and support, safely manage unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and address any complications that may arise. It is not geared toward addressing longer-term issues such as the biopsychosocial components that contributed to the addiction in the first place.6
Acute alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and even potentially fatal if not managed adequately due to potential complications such as grand mal seizures. This is why supervised medical detox is commonly recommended for people seeking to recover from longstanding alcohol addictions.
For people with significant alcohol dependence, the first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can arrive within 6 to 24 hours of the last drink.6 Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:6
- Sleep disturbances (e.g., insomnia, nightmares).
- Inability to concentrate, poor memory, or impaired judgment.
- Increased sensitivity to light, sound, or touch stimuli.
- Increased body temperature.
- Increased heart rate or blood pressure.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Loss of appetite.
- Grand mal seizures (experiencing loss of consciousness and muscle convulsions).
- Delusions (believing something that isn’t true, such as feeling that people are out to get you).
- Hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or feeling something that isn’t there).
How Are Rehab Programs Typically Structured?
Many structured outpatient treatment programs will offer a set of services with an emphasis on group counseling. You may participate in a variety of groups, including:7
- Psychoeducational groups: These involve discussions of and learning about different elements of addiction and relapse prevention.
- Skills development groups: You will learn coping skills and techniques such as stress management, ways to refuse alcohol and drugs, relapse prevention, and assertiveness training.
- Support groups: By participating in a group with others who are in the same level of recovery, you learn to resolve conflict, develop ways of changing negative or dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors, and learn new ways of relating.
- Interpersonal process groups: These groups might focus on specific areas such as gender issues, sexual orientation, past trauma, or criminal offense. Substance abuse education groups may also be offered to partners, family members, and others who play a significant role in the lives of the recovering individual.
Benefits of Outpatient Treatment
Outpatient treatment can offer a number of benefits, providing that you are ready and willing to participate in the recovery process. These benefits include:8
- Recovering from your addiction and taking back control of your mental and physical health.
- Being able to live at home and go to work (depending on your circumstances) while attending treatment.
- Being able to keep your weekends free for activities, hobbies, and time spent with friends or family.
- If you are attending treatment during the day, you can have time with your children or other family members and spend evenings together. If you are attending an evening program, you can take care of your responsibilities during the day.
- Potentially less financial burden. The cost of outpatient treatment is often less than inpatient care.
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What to Ask When Choosing a Treatment Program
It’s important to thoroughly research treatment facilities to ensure that you will receive the best care possible and that the program will be able to meet your specific needs. It could be helpful to write down your questions before calling and think about practical considerations such as cost, location, and duration of treatment. Some additional questions you may wish to ask include:9
- Does your program use evidence-based treatments? This means that the treatments have research evidence that supports their effectiveness and continued use for addiction treatment. Some commonly used evidence-based treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing.
- Does your program take specific individual needs into account? Treatment programs should be individually tailored with a combination of therapies that are best suited for your situation, such as whether you have a co-occurring mental health condition. You may also ask if family therapy, medical services, vocational counseling, or other services are available.
- Does the program adapt to a person’s needs as they progress through treatment? As you go through treatment, you may take steps forward and backward (such as relapsing). Treatment should take your changing needs into account.
- Is the length of treatment adequate for my needs? As previously stated, longer treatment duration (e.g., 3 months or more) is associated with improved treatment outcomes.
- Are 12-step or other recovery groups incorporated into the program? Most rehabs encourage participation in these groups, and many host meetings onsite.
Get Help Today
If you’re ready to seek treatment for alcoholism but are unsure of your next steps or which type of outpatient setting is best for you, American Addiction Centers’ (AAC) admissions navigators are available to chat 24/7.
Alcohol.org is a subsidiary of AAC which offers addiction treatment facilities across the U.S. Call our hotline today to learn more about your treatment options; all calls are 100% confidential.
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. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): Types of treatment programs.
. McCarty, D., Braude, L., Lyman, D. R., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S…& Delphin-Rittmon, M. E. (2014). Substance abuse intensive outpatient programs: assessing the evidence. Psychiatric Services, 65(6), 718–726.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): Principles of effective treatment.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) series 47.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Chapter 5. Treatment Entry and Engagement. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 47.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. Treatment improvement protocol (TIP) series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Chapter 4. Services in Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 47.
. Richard K. Ries, David A. Fiellin, Shannon C. Miller, Richard Saitz. (2014). The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Seeking drug abuse treatment: Know what to ask.