There are many types of approaches to treatment for addiction, which range from self-help to outpatient to inpatient programmes.
Each has its benefits and downsides.
Inpatient treatment, and the rarer intensive outpatient treatment programmes, are the most effective forms of treatment.
But there are a number of reasons that outpatient treatment for alcoholism should be considered when looking at addiction treatment.
For example, you may not be able to afford rehab, take extended time away from your responsibilities, or have an available programme you can go to.
Or you may find that outpatient treatment is a good start before you enter more intensive treatment.
At the end of the day, every person and their situation is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach for addiction treatment.
That’s why it’s so important to understand what treatment involves, so you can make sure you give yourself the best chance of recovery.
Inpatient vs Outpatient Treatment for Alcoholism
Inpatient and outpatient treatment share many similarities.
However, there are also significant differences.
During an inpatient programme, a patient attends treatment at a residential rehab clinic while undergoing detox and therapy.
Outpatient programmes require the patient to attend therapy during the day or evening but allow them to go home at the end of the day.
Overall, inpatient and outpatient programmes can be alike.
Some are actually held in the same location, where both residents and outpatients attend the same-day programme.
Both generally focus on individual and group therapy and may have complementary therapies as well.
Both also include aftercare preparation.
The specifics of the programme such as types of therapy, however, can differ from one clinic to another.
Inpatient Treatment Varies From Rehab to Rehab
Inpatient treatment is the most intensive rehab option and is recommended for people with severe addictions or those who have not been successful in less-structured programmes.
Inpatient programmes generally run from 4-6 weeks, but the longer the treatment continues, the better the outcomes will be.
Outpatient treatment for alcoholism can vary in length and time commitment.
Where an inpatient programme would provide a person with a full schedule, an outpatient programme is more flexible. Some may require attendance for only a few hours a day, a few days a week.
Others may require the patient to attend the same daily schedule, which could be an 8-hour day, 5 days a week, as an inpatient would, but would not require them to reside on-site.
Because outpatient programmes do not require the same time commitment as an inpatient programme would, they may take longer than 6 weeks.
However, certain people prefer this and find the extended period of care more effective.
What are the Benefits of an Outpatient Programme?
There are many benefits to an outpatient programme, which is why they are a popular choice. These include:
- Less intense commitment
- Schedule flexibility
- Stay at home
- May not have to pause work/school
- Reinforcement of therapy
The major benefit of an outpatient programme is flexibility. There are many people who are hesitant to attend rehab because of family, work or school commitments. In fact, it is one of the leading reasons why women often do not seek treatment right away.
Outpatient programmes vary in structure. Some run during the day, while others run in the evening, so it is possible to find one that works with your schedule.
Outpatient treatment is cheaper, less intense, you can stay at home
Not having to forgo other aspects of your life and attending a programme suited to your schedule can also be an advantage for those concerned about privacy.
There is no need to explain an extended absence, as is the case with residential rehab.
Because there is no added cost for residence, outpatient programmes are often cheaper.
For many people, the cost is a major concern when it comes to addiction treatment.
Having said that, residential rehab doesn’t have to be expensive, and treatment can be covered by private insurance or the NHS.
Outpatient treatment for alcoholism is also more readily available.
There isn’t always a residential rehab nearby, but addiction clinics, which usually offer some sort of outpatient treatment, are more prominent.
Another side benefit of outpatient treatment is a reinforcement of skills and behaviours they learn in therapy.
Because the person continues to live their normal life while attending treatment, they have the opportunity to actively implement the new skills they learn in therapy into their lifestyle right away.
While this can be stressful for some, it also allows the person to see what works and what doesn’t, and what can be improved.
When is an Outpatient Programme Not Recommended?
Outpatient may not work for everyone, and in certain situations, it is not recommended.
- Need for medically supervised detox
- Previous (repeated) unsuccessful treatments
- Patient lives in a toxic or stressful environment
- Dual diagnosis
If someone is in need of a medically supervised detox, as is the case with alcoholism, heroin or benzodiazepine addiction, an inpatient setting is likely the best option.
Detox, in such cases, can be dangerous to attempt without medical supervision. Outpatient treatment programmes may not always offer a detoxification programme, or if they do, the patient does not receive the 24/7 attention and care that may be necessary.
If a patient has attempted recovery multiple times before and has not been successful, they may require an inpatient setting.
There are many reasons for relapse, and an inpatient programme is more likely to address them.
Outpatient Treatment for Alcoholism is Less Intensive
Another major downside of an outpatient programme is that it is less intensive and does not remove the patient from their day-to-day environment.
While this can be a good thing for some, it can be a bad idea when addiction is strong or when their living situation is toxic.
Because the patient continues to live in the same home, go to the same job/school, and socialise with the same people, they may be exposed to temptation or stressors which can make recovery more challenging.
This contrasts with inpatient rehab where participants experience the full effect of the therapeutic community 24/7.
The experience of constant support and challenge that this provides can be a powerful force for change and is especially helpful in chronic or complex cases.
Patients with a dual diagnosis are also often recommended an inpatient programme.
This is because an outpatient program can be more focused on group therapy, therefore not providing enough personal attention towards a patient with a more complicated case.
In the case of an accompanying mental disorder, such as depression or PTSD, a patient needs to be treated for that along with their addiction.
This cannot be properly addressed without more intensive care.
Is Outpatient Treatment for Alcoholism Effective?
Of course! They can be just as effective as an inpatient programme.
Some studies have shown that overall, there are minor differences in success rates between the two.
However, this cannot be said for every person and every addiction.
People with less severe addictions, or ones that do not need medical supervision, often opt for outpatient treatment, as it allows for more flexibility.
Ultimately, every approach for treating addiction can be as effective as the next.
There are plenty of people who achieve sobriety just by going to AA meetings alone.
It ultimately depends on a person’s honesty, openness and willingness to change.
Just because a treatment is intense, doesn’t mean it will work.
A person has to want to recover, or else they will be in danger of relapse.
It is perfectly fine to start with a less-intensive programme to see if it works for you.
However, it is best to consult with a GP or an addiction specialist to discuss the options.
There are also various free and confidential addiction-focused clinics and charities throughout Ireland.
- List of Resources
- Alcoholism and Gambling
- What You Did Not Know About Alcoholism
- How to Talk to Someone with Alcoholism
- Do I Have Alcoholism?
Last updated & clinically assessed 9 September, 2021