Looking for treatment for a substance use disorder (SUD) can be overwhelming, long, and difficult. People searching for treatment options will likely come across two different forms of treatment: inpatient and outpatient. To begin, a person should know if they need treatment.

When Is Treatment Needed?

can benefit people suffering from mild to severe alcohol or drug addiction. An SUD occurs when the use of a substance interferes with responsibilities at home, work, or school, and also impairs judgment, causes health problems, or leads to risky behavior.

To determine if a person has an SUD, consider the following checklist:

  • take more of a substance for longer than intended
  • try to stop, but can’t
  • lots of time spent getting, using, or recovering from the substance
  • constantly craving the substance
  • continual use of the substance, despite neglecting responsibilities (home, work, school)
  • continue substance use despite damage to relationships
  • substance use causes a lack of interest in favorite activities
  • substance use repeatedly occurs in dangerous situations
  • continue substance use despite worsening mental or physical health conditions
  • feel less and less of the substance’s effect after prolonged use (tolerance)
  • experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping use

Whether a person wants to get clean or not is not required for treatment to work effectively. Addiction treatment professionals are trained to motivate people to continue treatment and achieve recovery, even when the person isn’t ready to give up a substance.

A person does not need to suffer the worst of addiction before getting help. The earlier a person receives treatment, the better the results. Whether a person needs inpatient or outpatient treatment depends on individual needs and the severity and substance of abuse.

Inpatient Rehab and Outpatient Rehab

There is one major difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment: where a person lives during treatment. Inpatient treatment takes place at a residential rehab facility, whereas outpatient treatment may occur at a variety of locations, and the person will continue to live at home.

Whether a person should pursue inpatient or outpatient drug rehab treatment depends on a variety of factors. What is their level of addiction? Does their SUD put themselves or others at risk? Do they have a stable home environment? What substance are they addicted to?

Both outpatient and inpatient drug rehab treatments will likely feature a combination of medications and behavioral therapy, but the intensiveness of treatment may differ. Consider the specifics of both outpatient and inpatient treatment to determine the best course of action.

What Is Outpatient Rehab and Treatment?

Outpatient treatment includes a wide variety of programs, treatments, and therapies. Treatment is likely to take place in a medical or professional office, mental health clinic, or drug addiction treatment clinic. Treatment may be intensive or less intensive.

A person receiving less intensive outpatient treatment will likely spend fewer than 9 hours in treatment, often traveling for appointments. Treatment will likely occur once or twice a week, as the person likely won’t need daily medications or intensive therapies to manage their SUD.



Less intensive outpatient treatment is best for people who do not have a serious health condition, do not put themselves or others at risk with their substance abuse, and have a stable home environment to return to each evening. A person receiving this type of outpatient treatment will likely have a mild SUD.

Intensive outpatient treatment is offered more frequently, and a person may travel daily for appointments and therapy. People may have a mental or physical health problem and may require more medication and services.

Treatment will likely be over 9 hours a week, and a person may receive more intensive therapies. Because outpatient treatment requires a person to travel to therapy, they will still able to live at home, and may continue with work or school.

A person should expect outpatient treatment to likely incorporate a variety of behavioral therapies.

Outpatient Treatment – What To Expect

A person in outpatient treatment will likely visit a behavioral therapist or counselor. This will occur on a regular schedule, and they may engage in individual counseling, group counseling, or both.

Individual counseling may focus on stopping drug use, following a treatment plan, building skills to remain drug-free, and creating goals to be productive in their family and at work or school. Group counseling may be offered so the person can benefit from peer support, while also reinforcing what they’ve learned in individual counseling.

Behavioral therapies included in outpatient treatment may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational incentives
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Multidimensional family therapy

All of these therapies aim to change a person’s thinking and attitudes towards drugs. One of the benefits of outpatient treatment is how therapy can be molded to fit the specific needs of the individual. For example, young people have different needs than adults, and outpatient treatment may provide family therapies or interventions tailored to the individual.

Outpatient treatment can be risky for some, especially if they do not have a stable home life. If they return to an environment that may tempt them to use drugs or alcohol, then they may spoil any progress and fall back into a cycle of addiction.

For many, and perhaps more effective, a stay at an inpatient treatment center provides the best chances for recovery.

What Is Inpatient Rehab?

Inpatient treatment offers addiction services in a residential setting. A person at an inpatient drug rehab treatment center will likely receive around the clock, 24-hour care, access to medications, and a stable and supportive environment conducive to healing and recovery.

Inpatient treatment is likely best for people suffering from addiction who are at risk of harming themselves or others. It may also better serve those with physical or mental illness, an unstable home environment, or people needing a strict structure to remain sober.

The person will live away from home and be cared for by medical professionals and other staff. Staff is likely to closely monitor their progress, provide support, and treat other mental health issues.

Inpatient treatment can be long-term or short-term, depending on the severity of abuse and addiction. Short-term residential treatment usually lasts around 30 days, is more common, and will likely aim to provide the tools and skills needed to return to the community.

Long-term treatment can be as long as 6-12 months and is considered the best form of treatment available. The program is likely highly structured and provides several options for behavioral therapy, peer support, and medication.

There is usually a standard of treatment a person can expect at an inpatient treatment center.

Inpatient Treatment – What To Expect

Inpatient treatment settings are likely to offer medically supervised detoxification, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and behavioral therapy. It is the combination of these three treatments that create the best chances for recovery.

Medically supervised detox allows a person to enter drug rehab and get through the worst of withdrawal symptoms with the help of staff and a supportive environment. Inpatient treatment allows staff to administer medications during withdrawal, allowing for maximum safety and comfort during the often painful process of detoxification, or detox.

Detox is likely followed by the use of medication-assisted therapy, or MAT, when necessary. An opioid addiction, for example, is best served by medications to combat intense drug cravings. Inpatient treatment will likely offer medications in combination with behavioral therapy.


Behavioral therapy is an essential component of drug addiction treatment. The specifics of therapy will likely depend on the particular rehab center and the needs of the individual, but people can expect to receive therapies that may include 12-step programs and peer support, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and other more intensive therapies to treat a co-occurring disorder.

Inpatient drug rehab treatment may be the most effective because it offers everything a person needs for recovery under one roof: withdrawal support and detox, addiction medication, treatment for other mental/physical health conditions, group programs, and peer support.

Contact us today for more information on inpatient or outpatient drug rehab treatment.


Center on Addiction—Guide to Finding Quality Addiction Treatment

National Institute on Drug Abuse—Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—Treatment for Substance Use Disorders