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What is Outpatient Alcohol Treatment?

Various addiction treatment programs are available for people with alcohol use disorder (AUD). These programs help people achieve and maintain sobriety. 

Treatment programs for AUD include:

Outpatient rehab programs occur outside of an inpatient setting. They offer the lowest level of care for those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and substance use disorder (SUD). 

Outpatient rehabs are incredibly effective at reducing alcohol and substance use. This is true for both adults and adolescents.1

Who is a Candidate for Outpatient Alcohol Treatment?

Outpatient programs are a good option for those who have already completed other levels of more intense treatment. More specifically, these programs are for people who have gone through medical detox and inpatient treatment.

Those with less severe and less complicated AUDs might also be good candidates. A primary care physician or addiction therapist will determine the level of treatment someone needs.

People who partake in outpatient treatment programs are more independent in their recovery process. Minimal oversight means people must be responsible enough to continue treatment alone.

Some people might also be court-ordered to attend outpatient treatment. If this is the case, they will be required to attend treatment on a mandatory basis. 

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Outpatient Treatment Steps

There are various steps someone must take before they attend outpatient rehab: 

1. Detoxification 

Those with severe AUDs must first undergo detox. Detoxification is a process that involves the body clearing itself from toxins. Toxins include illicit substances and alcohol. 3

This process is painful for people with AUD who have been using alcohol for a long time. In general, the more alcohol someone has become tolerant and dependent on, the more severe their withdrawal symptoms are.

Unlike other illicit substances, alcohol detox can lead to significant withdrawal symptoms that can be fatal. 4  

These symptoms can include:

  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations

It’s important to seek inpatient detoxification to medically stabilize before inpatient or outpatient treatment. Outpatient detoxification is also available for less severe withdrawal cases.

2. Inpatient Treatment

After completing detox, clients should seek inpatient treatment if they feel they are not ready to transition to outpatient care.

In these treatment programs, residents learn coping skills and strategies to maintain sobriety. Inpatient treatment helps them prepare for transitioning into a sober lifestyle. 

Inpatient treatment facilities might be a good choice for those with severe alcohol use problems who are in recovery for the first time.

3. Transitioning To Outpatient Care

There are several types of outpatient addiction treatment programs that can help people transition between inpatient and outpatient treatment. Residents must follow the aftercare recommendations of their treatment provider. 

Aftercare planning can include outpatient treatment, medical appointments, and individual therapy elsewhere.

Types of Outpatient Treatment Programs 

Outpatient rehab programs offer a continuum of care for people with AUD. 

Below are some of the different types of outpatient programs:

Outpatient Detoxification

Outpatient detoxification is a great choice for those with less severe AUDs

There are several benefits of outpatient detoxification. This includes having a stronger support system during treatment. 

Outpatient detoxification is just as effective as inpatient detoxification for people with mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal. 5 It is also cheaper and less time-consuming than inpatient detox. Residents can still keep their job and maintain a normal lifestyle while in outpatient detox.

Partial Hospitalization Programs

Partial hospitalization programs are known as PHPs. These programs are a step down from inpatient treatment. They utilize group therapy, family therapy, and other counseling programs. 

PHPs also offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT). PHP programs require people to attend groups for the majority of the week. This typically involves 4 to 5-hour treatment sessions during the weekdays.

Intensive Outpatient Program

An intensive outpatient program is also known as an IOP. IOPs help people transition from a residential or detox setting into an outpatient setting. 

IOPs can have positive outcomes similar to inpatient rehab programs if a person is not at risk for acute withdrawal or intoxication. 6 IOPs are also flexible and only require 9 hours per week of treatment.

Regular Outpatient Rehab Program

This is the lowest level of care for alcohol addiction treatment. Regular outpatient programs typically offer 1 to 2-hour sessions once or twice a week.7 Outpatient care still incorporates individual and group counseling.

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What to Expect During Outpatient Alcohol Treatment

During outpatient treatment, someone is free to come and go from treatment as they see fit. Their treatment program might be combined with a sober living arrangement. This means residents can attend outpatient treatment and then return home to a sober living environment.

Outpatient rehab programs do not have medical staff on hand 24/7. They do, however, have medical staff available to administer a wide range of medications.

For instance, more popular outpatient clinics are geared toward helping people with opioid use disorder (OUD). These treatment centers have medical staff on site to administer medications for OUD. 

The same goes for outpatient rehab centers that treat AUD. The most popular medication used in an outpatient alcohol treatment program is Vivitrol. Vivitrol has been shown to help prevent relapse and improve retention rates. This means people with AUD and OUD stayed in treatment longer. 2

In addition to medication-assisted treatment, an outpatient rehab might also offer:

  • Family therapy
  • Mental health counseling
  • A combination of substance use and mental health counseling, known as dual-diagnosis treatment
  • Group counseling
  • Domestic violence counseling
  • Individual therapy
  • Recreational therapy
  • Childcare services

Outpatient rehabs are held in an office or clinic setting that will not be open 24/7 like inpatient treatment centers. 

Clients can choose to visit their treatment center based on a schedule that works for them. This allows them to attend morning or evening counseling and group sessions and provides more flexibility. 

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Outpatient vs. Inpatient Treatment for Alcoholism 

Here are the main differences between these two options:

Inpatient Rehab

In an inpatient program, residents usually stay in a rehab facility for 30 to 90 days or longer. Residents are not allowed to leave their treatment facility unless they have permission from their treatment provider. This rule will vary based on the specific treatment center.

Residential treatment facilities also have medical supervision staff on hand at all times. An inpatient alcohol rehab will also have sleeping quarters and a full day of group therapy and support groups where attendance is mandatory. 

Inpatient treatment is an ideal first step for those seeking recovery from severe AUD. They also offer help for mental health issues. An estimated 9.2 million U.S. adults have a co-occuring mental illness along with AUD and SUD. 8

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient treatment programs are incredibly varied. They can help clients recover from AUD and maintain sobriety through flexible treatment options. 

If you feel you’re ready to transition into more independent care, outpatient rehab might be the best choice. Before choosing outpatient treatment, it’s best to talk to your treatment provider, who can determine if you’re ready.

Updated on March 29, 2022
8 sources cited
  1. MW;, Tanner-Smith EE;Wilson SJ;Lipsey. “The Comparative Effectiveness of Outpatient Treatment for Adolescent Substance Abuse: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, U.S. National Library of Medicine
  2. Ndegwa, Sarah. “Injectable Extended-Release Naltrexone to Treat Opioid Use Disorder.” CADTH Issues in Emerging Health Technologies., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Aug. 2017
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (1970, January 1). 1 overview, essential concepts, and definitions in detoxification. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment [Internet]. Retrieved February 7, 2022
  4. Trevisan, L. A., Boutros, N., Petrakis, I. L., & Krystal, J. H. . Complications of alcohol withdrawal: Pathophysiological Insights. Alcohol health and research world. Retrieved February 7, 2022
  5. Hayashida, M. . An overview of outpatient and inpatient detoxification. Alcohol health and research world. Retrieved February 7, 2022
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. . Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Substance Use Disorders. Advisory
  7. Treatment, C. for S. A. (1970, January 1). Chapter 3. intensive outpatient treatment and the continuum of care. Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment. Retrieved February 7, 2022
  8. Co-occurring disorders and other health conditions. SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved February

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