Factors to Consider Between Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care - AmbrosiaTC Ambrosia Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center
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Inpatient vs. Outpatient What's the Difference?

You didn’t plan to develop a drug addiction. It started with one little hit, and it seemed harmless enough. But before you knew it, that one little hit became a critical part of every day in your life. Now, you cannot imagine your life without it.

Sound familiar?

When an addiction takes root, you need help. And you’re not alone. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 8 percent of the population needs help for an addiction.

You may know where to get help for a cold or a sore back. You may know just what to do when you stub your finger or cut your toe. But where should you go to get an addiction addressed?

Typically, you have two types of options: inpatient and outpatient.

What Does Treatment Look Like?

Before we dive into the specifics of treatment types, it’s crucial to explain what treatment is and how it works. No matter where you get care, you’ll probably get some combination of these elements. Knowing what they are can help you to prepare.

Addiction treatment typically involves:

    • Detox. Just as your addiction didn’t develop overnight, your sobriety won’t either. Brain cells often need a transitional period between deep intoxication and true sobriety. Detox helps your body make that shift. You’ll use medications and therapy during this process.
    • Counseling. During the course of your addiction, you probably talked about drugs a lot. But did you ever explore why you started taking drugs? Did you ever talk about what makes you crave drugs even more? You’ll cover those issues in one-on-one discussions with a therapist.
    • Group counseling. A lot of us hated group work in school, but we often learned more when we had to complete a project with other people. The same theory applies in addiction care. Your group work will help you explore addiction in a more meaningful way.
    • Support groups. How do people in recovery make it work? What do they struggle with? You’ll find out in casual, open discussions in some support groups, and you’ll explore it formally with the help of homework in others.
    • Alternative therapy. To support your sobriety, you’ll need to change your lifestyle. Your treatment team might teach you yoga. You might hone your golf skills. You might learn to knit or sew. These aren’t silly pastimes. They can be crucial activities when you’re feeling the urge to use once more. You’ll have a different task to try.

You can get these care elements in inpatient and outpatient programs. Which is best for you? Let’s dive into the specifics.

man in rehab treatment

Inpatient Care: Who Needs It?

Enroll in an inpatient rehab program, and you’ll move out of your home for addiction treatment. You’ll spend every moment of every day working on getting better. You’ll have no breaks for work, childcare, or recreation.

This is an intense form of care, and not surprisingly, it’s best for people with hard-to-treat addictions. You might need it if you:

  • Have tried outpatient care before. If you’ve tried less intense treatment types and they didn’t work, it’s reasonable to use something different this time.
  • Don’t have a safe space for recovery. Roommates who use drugs, family members who yell, and homelessness can all spark the urge to relapse. If you can’t stay sober at home, moving out for a while might be wise.
  • Have other mental health conditions. It’s not unusual to have depression or anxiety symptoms that complicate your recovery. But if those issues are severe, you’re at a higher risk of relapse. Added structure could be just what you need to get better.

Some insurance plans require you to try outpatient care before you leap into inpatient work. And some plans have deep restrictions on how long you can stay in a facility like this.

Payment issues can be tricky, and they could keep you from choosing this form of care. But most treatment facilities have staffers who can walk you through the logistics, so you understand the cost and your financial obligations.

hand helping hand

Outpatient Care: Who Needs It?

You’ve read through the inpatient care descriptions, and it doesn’t seem like that’s the best choice for you. Would outpatient care be better? Let’s find out.

Outpatient care involves working on your addiction part-time. You will live at home or in a sober living facility, and you’ll head into the treatment center periodically to get help.

You might go every day, a few times a week, or just a few times a month. Your team will set the schedule with you. When you’re not in the facility, you’re free to do as you wish.

An outpatient program might be best if you:

  • Finished inpatient care. You have a lot to learn as you maintain your sobriety. You may start those lessons in an inpatient program and then complete them in outpatient care.
  • Have a strong support system. Your family must help you stay the course when you’re not in the building. If you have close friends and family members, that’s easier.
  • Find your job or kids motivating. Outpatient care lets you tend to your obligations. If you love your work or your kids are your main sobriety prompt, outpatient care can be a good option to stay involved during recovery.

While it’s convenient to talk about treatment in black-and-white terms, the reality is less clear. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment works best when individualized. That means your program should change as you grow, and it might shift between inpatient and outpatient dictated by your needs.

But as you start your search for the right solution to your addiction, knowing what program seems best can be helpful. You’ll know which facilities to keep and which you might pass by.

America’s Need for and Receipt of Substance Abuse Treatment in 2015. (September 2016). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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