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Inpatient vs. Outpatient: Which Should I Choose?

Addiction is an extremely complex, nearly enigmatic disease that we’ve only recently begun to understand. In fact, it used to be that addiction was largely seen as a moral issue with individuals who suffered from substance abuse problems considered to merely be bad people. Fortunately, years of research and observation has shown us that’s not exactly the case.

Rather than being a moral affliction, addiction is a chronic relapsing disease of the brain, but it actually has more far-reaching implications than just the brain. While it’s true that addiction originates as a brain disease, it affects virtually every aspect of an individual’s life due to how the disease changes patterns of thought and behavior. People who develop addictions to alcohol or drugs often exhibit profound changes that raise immense concern among their family members and close friends.

For those who are suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction and are in need of treatment, there are two main options: inpatient and outpatient care. But it can be tricky trying to figure out which is the right form of treatment for a person’s unique needs.

So what’s the difference between inpatient and outpatient care? And which form of treatment is right for you?

What is an Inpatient Program for Addiction Treatment?

More often than not, when a person refers to an addiction treatment program in casual conversation, he or she is referring to inpatient treatment. In the briefest terms, an inpatient addiction treatment program is a residential-style form of rehabilitative treatment, meaning that patients live on-site for the duration of the program. As such, patients who enroll in inpatient care are assigned temporary residential accommodations, which can range from group living arrangements that evoke college dormitories or more premium suites.

Since patients in inpatient care reside on-site, it follows that there’s more time available for addiction treatment. As such, patients in inpatient treatment programs usually receive the greatest amount (and variety) of addiction treatments.

What are the Benefits of Inpatient Care?

There are numerous benefits to choosing inpatient care over alternatives. As mentioned above, individuals in inpatient treatment reside at the treatment facility; since this saves them time from having to commute to and from the treatment center, they’re able to spend much more time actively participating in treatment. In other words, the residential nature of inpatient care affords much more time for treatment.

But there are other benefits, too. In particular, one of the greatest strengths of inpatient treatment is that it provides patients with a safe, stable environment in which to focus on their recoveries. Although there’s immense variation in how individuals come to be addicted to alcohol or drugs, research has shown that an individual’s circumstances are one of the most influential factors in the development of a substance abuse problem. Since the people, environments, and situations in a person’s life often contribute to the development of his or her addiction, an inpatient treatment program would afford such an individual with a reprieve from these factors. In other words, an inpatient program separates patients from certain social and environmental triggers.

Knowing When Inpatient Treatment is Right

Despite inpatient being the most highly recommended form of addiction treatment, it’s not always the best choice. For this reason, it’s important to be knowledgeable of one’s situation and recovery needs.

The individuals who benefit from inpatient care the most tend to be those who suffer from more severe or longer-term addictions. Similarly, certain forms of chemical dependence — e.g., addictions to substances like alcohol or benzodiazepines — warrant the round-the-clock observation and support than an inpatient program affords.

It’s worth noting, too, that inpatient care is ideal for individuals who don’t have stable or drug-free homes. Finally, individuals who have had previous attempts at recovery that were unsuccessful might find an inpatient program to be a better avenue for recovery than the forms of treatment they’d previously attempted.

What is an Outpatient Addiction Treatment Program?

On a basic level, an outpatient program is like the opposite of an inpatient program: Whereas an inpatient program is residential in form, outpatient care gives patients the ability to continue living at home as they commute to their treatment centers on designated days. Since they’re living at home, outpatient care doesn’t provide patients with residential accommodations, except in the case of partial hospitalization, which is considered outpatient but is more like an inpatient drug rehab program with clients living in community housing.

However, aside from the nonresidential format, outpatient care still shares the core curriculum of an inpatient program. Just like an inpatient treatment program, outpatient care has a strong foundation of individual (or one-on-one) and group-based therapy sessions; therefore, patients in outpatient care stand to benefit from the same intensive psychotherapy that patients in inpatient treatment receive. If there’s a key difference in the curricula between the two, it’s that, due to the lesser amount of time available for treatment, outpatient programs can offer patients less diversity as well as less potential to really personalize and individualize the program.

The Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

The greatest benefit of outpatient treatment — and arguably the benefit that continues to make outpatient care the most popular type of addiction treatment — is that it’s very accessible. For individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders, the prospect of recovery via clinical rehabilitation can be quite daunting, especially the earliest stages of the process when individuals must abruptly stop using the substances to which they’ve been addicted. In short, many individuals who choose to remain in active addiction choose to do so out of fear of withdrawal, so there’s a common assumption that a period of intense withdrawal is an unavoidable part of clinical recovery. But an outpatient program gives patients a level of reassurance as they tend to feel more comfortable with detoxing at home.

Just as outpatient care is more accessible, it’s likewise more flexible, too. Historically, one of the biggest deterrents to rehabilitation was the inflexibility of inpatient care. To complete an inpatient program, individuals essentially have to take an extended leave of absence from their lives, including absence from work, school, and even their families. Fortunately, outpatient care offers a more flexible option, allowing patients to incorporate treatment around their existing obligations and responsibilities.

Knowing When To Choose Outpatient Treatment

It’s important to remember that there’s not one particular form of treatment that’s ideal for everyone. Rather than forcing everyone to adhere to one specific type of treatment, the ideal scenario is for an individual to choose the form of treatment that best corresponds to his or her needs.

With outpatient care, the individuals who stand to benefit the most are usually individuals who have inflexible work schedules or who are hoping to fulfill their work or familial duties while in treatment. Not only do high-level company executives tend to find outpatient treatment easier to work around their schedules, people with children or other dependents often find inpatient care prohibitive for scheduling purposes. Thus, outpatient treatment stands to offer a very similar experience when it comes to the actual treatment curriculum.

What are Other Treatment Options?

Besides inpatient and outpatient care, it’s worth noting, too, that there are a few other options available. For instance, there have been numerous individuals to experience great success after joining twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Alternately, medication-assisted therapies continue to be a popular recovery tool; a common example of a medication-assisted therapy is methadone maintenance, which is also known as replacement therapy.

Principles Recovery Center understands that a drug rehab program needs to work for the individual. We believe in truly individualized treatment and you being the focus of your treatment program. Call us today at 1-866-692-0909 for more information about overcoming substance abuse for good.

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