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Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment

Providing Trusted, Evidence-Based
Treatment for Three Decades and Counting

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

For most healthcare decisions, situations either necessitate inpatient care with round-the-clock monitoring, like following a major surgery, or can clearly be handled in an outpatient setting with ongoing healing at home, like having strep throat or a cold.

However, when it comes to addiction recovery, the decision may not be as clearly defined. Is inpatient rehab best, or would an outpatient program provide more appropriate help? It’s an important to decision to make, and you are much better equipped to make it if you are well-informed.

How Are Inpatient and Outpatient Programs Different?

Counseling groupIn an inpatient treatment program, patients live in a secure facility and receive care 24 hours a day. Patients in an inpatient rehab, or residential rehab, focus all their time and attention on addiction recovery. Outpatient treatment, however, is a form of treatment in which patients continue to live at home—and may even keep their regular work schedules—and go to treatment at various times during the week, primarily for group therapy and individual counseling.

Inpatient programs are generally for patients with more severe addictions or who may have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis in addition to addiction. People who have been to rehab before — inpatient or outpatient — and relapsed will often be recommended for inpatient programs as well. They generally last 30-90 days but vary by situation. Because of the more intense care, inpatient programs cost more than outpatient programs that have fewer overhead costs.1

Outpatient programs are much more popular for those seeking treatment—likely because of their lower costs and schedule flexibility. In 2015, 89-90 percent of patients seeking addiction treatment entered outpatient treatment compared to only nine-10 percent of patients in inpatient programs. This has been a consistent trend in the last 10 years.2 However, just because outpatient rehab is more common does not mean that it is necessarily the right choice for you or your loved one. It is important to understand all the options before making your decision.

Inpatient Rehab Basics

Inpatient programs provide a safe and secure environment for patients so they can focus on recovery without the temptation to use. Patients work with a care coordinator to schedule their days toward their best healing. A day’s appointments may include the following:

  • Support group meetings
  • Group therapy meetings
  • Individual therapy sessions
  • Experiential therapies
  • Recreational therapies
  • Art therapy programs
  • Medical appointments

Inpatient programs provide structure and support to keep patients focused on their personal goals. Many also provide luxurious amenities to make the healing process more comfortable and enjoyable. Inpatient rehabs often offer specialized tracts for patients with specific needs. They may specialize in treating addiction to certain substances like opioids or alcohol, and many offer directed care for those with a co-occurring mental health disorder. In these programs, the patient can learn about the connections between their mental health diagnosis and their addiction and how to heal from both simultaneously while receiving excellent care for both areas of concern.

Outpatient Rehab Essentials

Outpatient treatment programs may offer several of the same treatment options as inpatient programs — like individual and group therapy, recreational outings, and aftercare — but patients may participate in fewer as they are continuing to live at home with familial and work responsibilities. Outpatient programs vary in intensity. Some require only a few hours of participation each week while others might require daily participation in the program, and many taper participation throughout the treatment process.

For some patients, outpatient care may not be the wisest choice. In an outpatient program, clients have access to all of the stresses and temptations that led to the original addiction problem. Their recovery may not be strong enough to avoid former people and places associated with their addiction. Because of the risk of relapse, some people may should focus solely on inpatient programs. Some patients will also benefit from a new setting for healing. It is best for them to go to a new area without the demands of home and work life in order to focus on healing.

Starting a Search

Many treatment facilities now utilize screening tools to help match patients with the best treatment programs for their needs. These type screenings usually involve questions in the following categories:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Family ties
  • Living situation
  • Employment situation
  • Prior rehab experience
  • Payment ability

Participating in a similar evaluation may help you make a great decision for you or your loved one. At Michael’s House, we provide our clients with a comprehensive addiction assessment as well as a psychiatric evaluation. We use this information to craft a customized care plan, and we offer both inpatient and outpatient care options for our patients. This approach allows us to deliver the right level of care to people.

Anika of Heroes in Recovery found hope from addiction in different forms of rehab and found each helpful to her health. She is still participating in ongoing care years after her stay in an inpatient rehab. Now she spends her time giving back by running a sober living home for others. Recovery is lifelong, but we can help you get started today. Please call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline to speak to an admissions counselor about our programs.


1 “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Addiction. July 2016.

2 “National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS): 2015.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. March 2017.