Inpatient Vs. Outpatient Treatment

There are two categories of treatment settings: outpatient and inpatient. An inpatient setting provides all services in the facility, and clients stay there overnight. Outpatient settings provide some rehab services, and clients do not live at the facility. Often, outpatient is the most convenient option for people with jobs or families because their schedules are more flexible than inpatient. Likewise, 4 out of 5 rehab facilities in the United States are outpatient.

As noted by Jeremy Barnett, Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor, “Outpatient treatment is a great option for people who are able to continue functioning in their social environment on a daily basis while simultaneously engaging in treatment. Outpatient treatment provides the opportunity to learn skills and connect with others in a safe, controlled environment for a number of hours per week and then put those skills into practice in a less safe, more realistic environment, such as the home, the workplace, or social gatherings.”

Both inpatient and outpatient facilities treat almost all drug addictions, and they both use similar therapy techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Contingency Management. If you want more information about residential inpatient treatment, read our guide to inpatient rehab.

Overview of Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment Programs
Inpatient Outpatient
Duration Usually 30-90 days, longer for long-term treatment Usually 3-4 months, longer for support groups
Time Commitment 24 hours, 7 days per week 1-9 hours per week
Level of Addiction Moderate to Severe Mild to Moderate
Cost $5,000-$20,000 per month Free to $3,000 per month
Insurance Insurance covers treatment but usually not room or board Insurance covers most services
Medication Available At most facilities At some facilities

Rehab Basics

The Rehab Process

Regardless of the location, setting, or drug being treated, complete rehabilitation includes the following four stages – stopping after just one or two puts you at a much higher risk for relapse.

Description of the Four Steps of the Rehab Process

Some outpatient programs do not provide each stage at one location

Some outpatient programs offer each of the four stages at one facility, while others only include one or two stages. For example, support groups provide aftercare but no other services. You can either mix and match different outpatient programs or choose one that has services for each stage.

To learn more, read our guide on “The Rehabilitation Process

Rehab Statistics

Each year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration surveys rehab programs to provide a comprehensive picture of what services are being provided and for whom. The 2016 version of the N-SSATS had a 91% response rate from treatment centers in the U.S., including over 14,500 facilities. Of the more than one million individuals in rehab, 90.6% of them are in outpatient treatment. Likewise, the vast majority (82.2%) of all treatment facilities are outpatient. Out of all the outpatient facilities surveyed:

  • 99% provided assessment and pre-treatment services
  • 93% offered regular outpatient or counseling services
  • 89% provided drug testing services
  • 57% provided at least one pharmacotherapy or medication for treatment
  • 55.3% offered intensive outpatient services
  • 15.9% offered day treatment with medication

Most rehabs will not accept every form of insurance

Out of 14,500 facilities (inpatient and outpatient):

  • 89% accepted cash or self-payment
  • 68% accepted private health insurance
  • 62% accepted Medicaid
  • 46% accepted state-financed health insurance
  • 34% accepted Medicare
  • 33% accepted federal military insurance (TRICARE)

Types of Outpatient Programs

On average, outpatient programs have 40 clients in each facility, and those programs vary in the level of care and services they provide. Some only cover one or two stages of the rehab process while others have all the services needed for rehab. With the exception of support groups, outpatient programs all provide assessment and therapy services. However, the availability of different types of behavioral therapy is dependent on the facility and their therapists’ certifications.

Most outpatient facilities don’t provide medication-assisted detox

One of the biggest differences between outpatient programs is their provision of medical services. The availability of medications is entirely dependent on the facility. The most recent data from 2016 shows that only 11.5% of outpatient facilities offered medication-assisted detox (compared to 30% of inpatient facilities that offer detox medications). While some institutions may offer medication to help with withdrawal symptoms but no medication for detox, relatively few outpatient facilities directly provide any type of medical aid.

Intensive Outpatient

Intensive outpatient treatment programs (IOTs) are the most intensive outpatient option, providing each stage of the rehab process. Each IOT program includes the following three stages or goals. These work together with the general rehabilitation process outlined above – the first two stages happen during therapy (step three of the rehabilitation process) and the third stage below typically happens during aftercare (step four of the rehabilitation process).

  • Treatment Engagement: During this stage, the therapist builds a relationship with the patient and encourages them to stay in and commit to treatment.
  • Early Recovery: This stage includes most of the counseling and activities. The goal is to provide the client with tools to handle their cravings and deal with the residual effects of addiction. This stage also helps prepare patients for discharge from the program.
  • Maintenance: Sometimes maintenance happens at a lesser level of care, like in support groups. The primary goal is to help the patient solidify abstinence and continue living a sober lifestyle with healthy relationships.

IOT offers the most therapies and extensive services of all outpatient options

Core services commonly include:

  • Full range of group counseling and therapy
  • Individual counseling, particularly in the beginning of program
  • Case management to provide social services like planning, monitoring, assessment, and advocacy
  • Some include services to help clients struggling with other mental disorders as well

Some IOT programs offer medication-assisted detox and therapy

The availability of medication at IOT programs depends on the size of the facility and if they have medical professionals in the building. Some IOTs are certified as opioid treatment programs that have medication-assisted therapy to help with opiate abuse.

Likewise, some programs offer medication-assisted detox services, but more often than not, they have ambulatory detox services. Ambulatory detox means the program has a plan for people who could be in danger from detox and need more extensive services from entities such as hospitals that have the requisite services.

Occasionally, IOTs have a standalone detox option that solely provides detoxification services and monitoring without the added steps of the rehab process. Read more in our Alcohol and Drug Detox guide.

Clients are typically encouraged to remain in an IOT program for at least 90 days

The duration of each client’s stay varies. A client could be in treatment for anywhere from 30 days to years, but the minimum recommended length is 90 days. Likewise, IOT recommends around 9 hours per week, but it can range from 6 to 30 hours per week depending on each client’s needs.

IOT costs less than residential treatment, but more than other outpatient options

Because of the extensiveness of services and the greater time commitment from therapists, IOT is more expensive than other outpatient programs. For a 90 day treatment, IOT can cost $3,000 – $10,000 dollars for the entire experience.

Find out more about the Cost of Rehab in our guide on the subject. 


Counseling provides clients with therapy and other services

Counseling, also referred to as regular outpatient, often occurs in an office building that also provides other social services. The therapists on staff are certified to assess clients, teach clients about drug addiction, and provide individual and group therapy during detox and throughout treatment. The type of therapy used is based on the individual therapist’s training and background. Clients should make sure that their counselor has a history of serving clients struggling with substance abuse.

People with intense addictions often go to regular outpatient for aftercare once they complete a more intensive inpatient or intensive outpatient program.

Counseling provides programs that help clients handle difficult life situations

Many regular outpatient programs provide ancillary services to help clients with other difficulties as well, including:

  • Setting up medical appointments
  • Family therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Employment counseling
  • Case management to receive additional social services

These facilities do not provide medications unless they have a doctor on staff

Regular outpatient programs rarely provide medications of any kind. However, their offices often have agreements with medical providers if the client needs medical support.

Regular outpatient can cover each stage of the rehab process

Counseling sometimes provides the majority of treatment, but other times it just used for aftercare. Only those with mild addictions typically use regular outpatient for their entire rehab experience.

Most clients attend counseling for 45-60 days, but others continue for years

The therapy frequency and program duration depend on an individual’s level of addiction and needs. For example, therapy could be one hour every other week for a few months or three sessions per week of group and individual therapy.

The average duration is one to two sessions of therapy per week for 45-60 days. At that point, the program may become less-intensive by reducing the frequency of therapy or moving to group therapy and support groups for aftercare services.

Counseling is one of the most affordable rehab options

Without insurance, therapy usually costs $50-$240 per session. However, insurance will usually cover most of the counseling cost as it is part of many individuals’ treatment plans.

Find out more about the Cost of Rehab in our guide to the subject

Support Groups

Support groups provide ongoing aftercare support

Also known as mutual help or self-help groups, support groups provide aftercare to people who are trying to overcome drug addictions. During group meetings, members share their experiences and struggles, offering encouragement to one another. Many 12-step programs are spiritual, but there are also alternative, secular options available.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that anywhere from 40-60% of people who enter rehab will relapse, but those numbers rise for those who don’t continue with aftercare after their stint in a rehab program. Support groups are an affordable way to reduce the chance of relapse.

Mutual help groups do not provide traditional therapy, but they are therapeutic

Many support groups are led by previous addicts who are providing supportive accountability and an open space to talk. Support groups are not considered “group therapy” because they aren’t typically led by a certified therapist. While these groups are not technically therapy and give no medical assistance, they do provide valuable insight, encouragement, and understanding that previous and current addicts may struggle to find elsewhere.

Support groups only help with aftercare

Because support groups are not led by therapists and are therefore not considered “therapy,” they only complete the final stage of the rehab process: aftercare.

Support groups last as long as the individual wants

Many support groups meet once or twice per week, and the meetings often last one or more hours depending on the size of the group. Previous and current addicts can freely choose how frequently they attend and how long they want to continue going. However, maintaining regular attendance in support groups is directly correlated with a lower relapse rate.

Support groups are completely free

While donations of any amount are accepted, you won’t be charged any type of fee, which makes them an affordable way to stay accountable to your sobriety goals.

Overview of Outpatient Programs
Description Time Commitment Duration
Intensive Outpatient Patients receive the extensive services of an inpatient program but return home after. After completion, patients often transition to less intensive counseling. Therapies offered are extensive. Medical treatment is available to those who qualify. Hours per Day: 2-4 3-4 months
Days per Week: 3
Counseling / Regular Outpatient Both individual counseling and group counseling focus on short-term behavioral goals to develop coping strategies. Therapies offered are moderate. Medical treatment is not available. Hours per Day: 1-2 As long as desired
Days per Week: 1-3
Support Groups Self-help groups are recommended to help maintain abstinence after another form of treatment. Hours per Day: 1-2 As long as desired
 Days per Week: 1

Benefits and Drawbacks of Outpatient Programs

Intensive Outpatient Programs

The best outpatient program is based on many personal factors, such as your level of addiction and your time and financial constraints. For a full look at all of the considerations, read our guide on “Choosing the Right Rehab.”

The benefits of Intensive Outpatient Programs are:

  • Provides more structure than other outpatient program types
  • Offers additional services like case management, connections to doctors, and group therapy
  • Includes more hours of direct substance abuse therapy than other outpatient options
  • Proven to work, sometimes as frequently as residential treatment

The drawbacks of Intensive Outpatient Programs are:

  • A longer-term commitment is often required – a 90 day treatment plan is recommended for the best treatment outcomes
  • Costs more than other outpatient options, ranging from $300-$900 per day without insurance

Counseling / Regular Outpatient

The benefits of counseling programs are:

  • Provides additional services like case management, arranging doctor visits, and employment preparation
  • Costs less than intensive outpatient
  • Covered by insurance for most therapy and assessment costs

The drawbacks of counseling programs are:

  • Less intensive programs make counseling inappropriate for intense addictions
  • Often lack certification as an opioid treatment center and medication services

Support Groups

The benefits of support groups are:

  • Provides accountability by becoming part of a community
  • Build relationships with others who are working towards sober lifestyles
  • Long-term participation is directly related to higher rates of abstinence

The drawbacks of support groups are:

  • Led by previous addicts, not certified therapists, so groups are not appropriate as the only approach to rehab for moderate to severe addictions
  • Groups vary in approach – some individuals may not be comfortable with the culture of specific groups
Outpatient Program Comparison
Support Groups Counseling / Regular Outpatient Intensive Outpatient
Slight addiction
Moderate addiction
Severe addiction
Substances with severe physical withdrawal symptoms
Patients with potential medical complications
Patients with limited budget
Flexible schedule
Stage 1: Assessment
Stage 2: Detox Services
Stage 3: Therapy
Stage 4: Aftercare

Finding Outpatient Programs

After determining what type of outpatient program is appropriate, you can use our directory to locate rehab programs and facilities around the U.S.

Our directory of rehab programs includes a comprehensive list of available treatment centers and programs as provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In the directory, you will find tools to filter the programs by setting, price, and location.

Take Action

While the large number of outpatient treatment programs means there’s usually a large selection to choose from, it also means that it can be hard to find the program that may be best for you.If you are looking for a rehab center, read our guide for Choosing the Right Rehab or learn more about what happens during rehab in our guide to the addiction rehabilitation process.

If you aren’t sure that inpatient rehabilitation is right for you, read our guide to inpatient rehabilitation programs to learn more about your other options.

Disclaimer: The information contained on is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any medical or diagnostic purpose. The information on should not be used for the treatment of any condition or symptom. None of the material or information provided on is not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation, diagnosis, and/or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.