Inpatient vs. Outpatient Addiction Care: Making the Right Choice

Whether you need treatment for an addictive disorder or you are helping a loved one find care, making the right choice means considering several factors. There are many types of treatment and many different caregivers with different strategies and guiding philosophies. One of the big choices to make will be whether outpatient or inpatient care is the best option. Be sure you know the difference between these and the pros and cons of each so you can make a decision that will be the best for you or your loved one.

What is Inpatient Care?

Inpatient care means staying in a facility for an extended period of time while receiving treatment. This is also referred to as residential treatment. Residential programs tend to be intensive and they usually provide around-the-clock monitoring. This kind of treatment may take place in a hospital or a dedicated rehabilitation facility. The length of stay in an inpatient facility varies from a few weeks to several months.

The Pros and Cons of Inpatient Care for Addictive Disorders

There are some obvious benefits to submitting to fulltime, 24-hour care for an addiction. There are also drawbacks. One benefit is that a residential program allows the opportunity to devote all energy and time to treatment. There are no distractions from work or personal life and all focus is on recovery.

Another advantage of residential care is that professionals are on hand 24 hours a day. This benefits anyone who feels they cannot resist the urge to use again unless isolated from drugs and alcohol. Inpatient facilities have strict rules to protect patients from the possibility of making bad choices. This strictness gives structure that can help the addict learn to make better choices after treatment.

In a residential facility the patient is surrounded by peers that they can rely on for support during recovery. Social support has been proven in research to be a crucial element in recovery from addiction. This built-in social network of people who are going through the same process can be a powerful aid to recovery.

On the negative side, the restrictive environment in a residential treatment center can be too intense for some people. Visits from friends and family are restricted and this can be stressful to those who are very close to loved ones. The transition after treatment may also be challenging; going from an intense and strictly controlled environment back to everyday life is not easy and can lead to relapse. Finally, if insurance does not cover the treatment, residential care can be expensive.

What is Outpatient Care?

Outpatient care may include the same treatment types as inpatient care, but treatment does not take place in a residential facility. In outpatient care therapy sessions run during the day, in the evenings or on weekends and the patient can stay at home or with family. The types of care and the intensity can vary widely for outpatient care.

The Pros and Cons of Outpatient Care for Addictive Disorders

One of the most important benefits of outpatient care is that it allows the person to stay with supportive family or friends. There may also be a greater variety of therapy types to choose from. Outpatient treatment allows the person receiving treatment to choose how intense they wish the treatment to be, how often they want to go, and for how long. If they have a job they can fit in treatment around work hours and keep earning. Outpatient treatment is also typically more affordable than residential care.

Another benefit of opting for outpatient care is that during  treatment a relatively normal lifestyle can be maintained. This avoids the scary transition from structured care and 24-hour supervision to being ‘alone’ again.

On the other hand, without that rigid structure and supervision it is easier to relapse while being treated. This is especially true if there is not a strong support network at home. Friends or family can help the addict avoid triggers and resist urges. Also, without group therapy sessions as part of the treatment, there will not be  the camaraderie and social support of other people going through recovery as well. And, while living at home might be nice, there will be distractions and there will not be ‘full time’ devotion to the recovery treatment as there would be in a residential program.

Researchers have found that it is impossible to make a general statement as to whether inpatient or outpatient treatment is more effective. This is because studies show that no one approach to treatment works for all people. You cannot generalize treatment for addictive disorders. This means that when you look for treatment for yourself or a loved one, you must take into account the unique needs of the individual concerned and the pros and cons of each style of care.

Although no single treatment works for all patients, there are some important factors to consider no matter what style of care is chosen. Look for treatment programs that use therapies based on research. Make sure you are not relying on a program that promises a quick fix. Recovery takes time. And, of course, be sure that you or your loved one feels comfortable with the program and caregivers chosen. If these things are kept in mind, as well as the needs of the individual, they will find the right inpatient or outpatient program to get well.