Inpatient vs. Outpatient Recovery

AARC — Inpatient vs Outpatient Recovery

Treatment programs for drug and alcohol addictions generally fall into one of two categories: Inpatient vs outpatient recovery. While both inpatient and outpatient recovery focus on treating addiction, inpatient requires a full immersion in the program, while outpatient allows the patient to go about their lives while still working on becoming sober. It is important for recovering addicts and their families to understand the differences between these types of treatment programs so they can choose one that best suits their needs. This article will describe major differences between outpatient and inpatient recovery.

What is Inpatient Recovery?

Inpatient recovery or rehab is also known as residential rehab. This is because these programs allow patients to live full-time in a recovery center, giving them 24/7 access to any care they require. This type of treatment can be effective for those with severe drug and alcohol problems, as well as those who are also dealing with underlying mental health conditions. Living in a rehab facility can help the patient avoid triggers and other negative external influences that could hinder their progress. The environment of an inpatient program is meant to be completely conducive to healing and recovery.

When looking for a treatment facility that offers inpatient rehab, you want to look for one that is licensed and has professionally trained healthcare professionals and experts on-site. There are usually three phases of recovery in an inpatient program: detoxing, reflection, and growth. These phases are essential in helping patients learn the coping skills they need once they are released into society, and at the same time adopt a healthy, drug and alcohol-free lifestyle even after the treatment is over. Most of these programs include a step-down approach that helps patients to transition from inpatient recovery to individual or group counseling after their time at the facility.

There are long-term and short-term programs that patients can choose from. The long-term programs can last anywhere from 6 months to a year, while the shorter ones enable the patient to stay 3–6 weeks.

Advantages of Inpatient Recovery

Inpatient recovery is ideal for those who are suffering or battling long-term addiction and in need of supervision to recover. Being fully immersed in the program and able to completely dedicate oneself to recovering from the addiction is invaluable. Here are some other advantages:

  • You will live in a stable and 100% sober environment with no distractions.
  • They provide you with round-the-clock care in a non-hospital setting.
  • You work with healthcare providers so you are not alone in overcoming your addictions.
  • Long-term and short-term programs are designed with detoxification treatments to prepare you once the program is over.
  • Treatment plans are highly structured and focused on all aspects of addiction.
  • You will live in a safe environment where medical care is given 24/7.
  • This kind of recovery program is great for patients with severe addiction problems that may be accompanied by co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • Patients are monitored at all times to ensure everyone’s safety.
  • There is reduced risk of relapse because of the substance-free environment and strict supervision.
  • You will have intensive individual therapy and group sessions.
  • Minimized risk of exposure to triggers and stressors.
  • There are plenty of specialized treatment services like exercise, meditation, yoga etc.
  • Luxurious facilities are available for you to use.
  • Recovery is highly successful when the treatment program is completed.


Like anything, there are also some potential disadvantages to inpatient programs that you should know about:

  • You will have limited contact with loved ones.
  • You might have to leave work or school for this treatment program.
  • Treatment programs are highly structured and your freedom is limited.
  • A lot of your day is scheduled and decided for you by the staff.
  • More costly than outpatient recovery.

What is Outpatient Recovery?

When you are considering inpatient vs outpatient recovery, it’s important to know that an outpatient recovery program typically involves daily treatment like counseling, therapy or group sessions within a facility or clinic. Those who choose to enroll in an outpatient recovery program can continue to live at their own home while in recovery, and live their life relatively normally. This allows patients to take care of their families, work in their jobs, stay in school, or whatever daily activities they may be involved in. It is also less expensive than inpatient recovery, but the trade-off is that the program and level of care you get is less intensive.

Most of the time, programs in this treatment include group or individual counseling. It also uses a step-down approach as the sessions are about to be completed. This means that the sessions you receive become less intense and frequent as you progress through the program. This type of treatment is useful for patients who have drug and alcohol dependence, but it hasn’t completely dismantled their life and they’re still able to maintain somewhat normal functioning.

Outpatient recovery programs usually utilize one or more of the following techniques during the treatment:

  • Cognitive therapy – this helps patients become aware of their unhealthy thoughts and behaviors while providing them with the skills and strategies they need to cope and be healthy individuals.
  • Motivational interviewing – this is done to identify and modify any feelings that are a hindrance to progress and recovery.
  • Contingency management – is done by providing incentives or rewards to patients in order to help them develop regular behaviors that can help them recover.
  • Matrix Model – this is where therapists are allowed to become both the teacher and coach of the patients by helping and empowering them through positive self-image and confidence. This is mostly used for recovering addicts with stimulant use disorders.
  • Multidimensional family therapy – is a program that helps families work together in terms of helping a family member recover. This is mostly used in cases where an adolescent has drugs and alcohol problems.

Advantages of Outpatient Recovery

  • You don’t have to pay for board and lodging.
  • You can still work or go to school while receiving care.
  • You can see your friends and family like normal.
  • The cost of treatment is lower compared to inpatient care.
  • Different types of counseling are offered to recovering addicts and you can choose the level of intensity of care that will work for you.
  • Setting an appointment is accommodated according to your schedule.


Getting treatment within the comforts of your home surely has its benefits, but there are also some cons to it:

  • You may experience the constant need to use drugs and alcohol especially since you are not monitored 24/7.
  • You don’t get the support you need right away.
  • You have to be very self motivated and ensure you attend every session you are reasonably able to.
  • Poses a potential heightened relapse risk because some home environments may be unstable or can be stressful to a recovering addict.
  • Detoxing at home can be very difficult and even dangerous without healthcare experts to help you through it.


Whatever treatment option you choose for yourself or a loved one (inpatient vs outpatient recovery), rehabilitation will do wonders in helping you in your journey to recovery. Addiction is a chronic illness and recovery is a long process, so it is important to choose the right kind of program for you and your lifestyle. The choices you make today will determine your future, and with proper research, we know you can make the right one! Good luck.