What Is Outpatient Treatment?


outpatient treatmentMost addiction treatment centers provide some sort of outpatient care. In fact, according to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, released in 2011, outpatient care was provided by about 80 percent of all facilities that dealt with addiction. Even though this kind of care might be common, many people who need help with an addiction issue know very little about the help an outpatient program might provide. They might be convinced that inpatient programs are the only way to treat an addiction, and they might avoid care altogether because they worry about leaving friends and family behind in order to deal with the issue at hand. It’s a shame, as outpatient programs really can be vital in the fight against addiction, and the help provided by these programs might make all the difference for people with serious issues who are, at this very moment, avoiding care.

Many Options

Addictions are often measured on a scale of severity, taking into account a person’s:

  • Mental health status
  • Living situation
  • Prior history of addiction
  • Physical health

People on opposite sides of the spectrum might be addicted to the same kinds of drugs, but the care they’ll need might vary dramatically. Where people with mild addictions might only need a few hours of therapy per week, those with entrenched addictions might need more intensive therapies that are delivered much more frequently. Outpatient programs can account for these changing needs, and customization is considered part of the process for people who have addictions.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, intensive outpatient programs for addiction often require people to spend nine to 20 hours each week in addiction treatments, while programs for those with mild problems might only require a few hours of care per week, and those sessions might be held on weekends or in the evenings. The therapies in both programs might be very similar, but the intensity and the frequency set the programs apart.
At the beginning of an outpatient program, clients are provided with a battery of physical tests, allowing experts to determine what kinds of drugs the person has been taking and how those drugs have impacted the person’s health. Then, mental health tests help experts understand what kind of distress the person might be feeling deep down inside, and how well the person is able to handle that distress. With this information in hand, experts can devise a program that can help.

outpatient therapyTreatments Provided in Detox

A person who is under the influence of drugs and alcohol can’t fully participate in addiction care. The drugs impede rational thought, making the person feel sedated, elated or invincible, unable to think through the consequences of an action and reign in destructive impulses. Outpatient detoxification is considered the first step toward healing, as this process allows people to achieve sobriety in a controlled, safe environment. Pain is reduced, medical complications are controlled and emotional support is provided. When the process is complete and the person is sober, therapies can help the person learn how to maintain that clarity, no matter what else might happen.

In the past, detoxification was provided in hospitals or medical clinics, allowing staff to monitor the person’s physical condition as the drugs worked their way out of the body.

According to an article published in the journal American Family Physician, outpatient detoxification is also a viable solution, especially for people who have no underlying medical conditions and who have friends who can watch over them as they move through the process. They can stay at home, working on their addiction, and this might be more pleasant for some people when compared to entering a hospital.

During detox, some people need medications that help to soothe their cravings for drugs and correct the chemical imbalances that can lead to depression, anxiety and insomnia. Those who need medications might visit with their doctors on a daily basis, so medical professionals can ensure that the process is moving forward as it should, but they might lean on friends and family to ensure that they eat right, sleep well and take care of their bodies as they transition.

Treatments Provided in Rehab

outpatient drug treatmentDetox alone isn’t considered a treatment for addiction, as a person who has achieved sobriety in detox might quickly go right back into using drugs unless habits, opinions and behaviors change. The stresses that led to the drug use are still in place, and the person might easily bow to that pressure without some kind of therapy.

There are many different types of therapy techniques that can be used in the fight against addiction, and the type chosen might vary depending on the person’s history and specific preferences. For example, some people with underlying anxiety conditions might benefit from therapies that help them to face their fears and process their feelings, without turning to addictive substances. Similarly, those with depression due to childhood trauma might need to express their feelings and process their memories, and they might need very different treatments when compared to someone with a depression that’s chemical in nature. Therapists are adept at tailoring their approach, providing the intervention that’s best suited to help the person in need.

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The time that lapses between therapy sessions can be dangerous for some people, as they might be tempted to head out and find addictive substances to help them deal with the stresses of everyday life. Boosting compliance might be as easy as asking some people to keep a journal of their feelings and write down their worries instead of taking drugs, but some people might need a larger incentive in order to really feel confident and motivated. Vouchers can sometimes help provide the motivation that’s lacking in these people.

In a voucher system, people are provided with prizes for compliance with therapy, and the rewards might get larger and larger for each step the person takes toward sobriety. In a study of the effectiveness of this kind of care, published in JAMA, researchers found that people given vouchers were more likely to stay in treatment, and they used drugs less often and were more likely to be employed. While not everyone needs an intervention like this, those with low motivation levels might find vouchers to be the secret ingredient that leads to success.

Self-help groups might also be important for long-term success. Attending a meeting allows people to meet others in recovery from addiction, but a meeting can provide more than mere fellowship. In an addiction support group, people continue to learn about addiction and they continue to develop vital skills that can help them to resist temptation and maintain the success they’ve achieved. According to a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, people who attend meetings like this tend to have higher rates of abstinence than people who don’t attend, and even a low amount of attendance can be helpful in increasing abstinence rates. It’s easy to see why this would be considered an important part of the treatment puzzle.

inpatient vs outpatientInpatient Care vs. Outpatient Care

It’s common for people looking for addiction care to compare inpatient modes of care with outpatient treatment options. People want to make the right decision for their families, so they can enter treatment just once and achieve long-term sobriety when the treatment program has ended. For people who like to comparison shop like this, there are multiple studies that suggest that inpatient care provides an excellent value at a low price. However, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, comparison questions like this aren’t really helpful for families who are trying to find the right kind of care to help someone they love. Once again, it’s important to remember that addictions are personal and private affairs, and the settings that can help one person might not help another.

There are some people, however, who just might not benefit from outpatient care. For example, a study in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly found that people provided with outpatient care tended to drop out of treatment four times more often than people provided with inpatient care. The temptation can simply be too hard for people to bear, and they might need the buffer of security that a sober living environment can provide.

People considered at risk for failures like this include people who:

  • Have a low motivation to quit
  • Live in neighborhoods where addiction is rampant
  • Have mental health concerns that aren’t being addressed
  • Struggle with relationships in the home
  • Have tried to quit in the past and have failed

Making a Choice

Families aren’t required to obtain a master’s degree in addiction in order to help the people they love. They might, however, need to meet with an expert in order to outline the issues they face and find out the best setting in which to provide care. Some families do this consultation over the phone, calling a treatment facility and outlining the type of help they need for an addiction. Others meet with counselors and receive a case manager to help find the right treatment plan. Asking for help from an expert is never a bad idea when it comes to addiction care, and most professionals are happy to help.

If you’d like to know a little more about outpatient care, please contact us. Our Foundations Recovery Network Dual Diagnosis approach to treatment has been proven effective, in both an inpatient and an outpatient setting, and we’re happy to discuss our research with you and help ensure that you get the help you need.