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Do you need outpatient or inpatient drug treatment? How to decide

Updated on June 30, 2008

Inpatient or outpatient drug treatment?

Once you have made a decision and a commitment to change and to sobriety, most people will need some form of professional assistance to see them through the very tough initial weeks and months of abstinence.

There are a number of treatment options available, but at the most basic level, recovering alcoholics or drug addicts must decide between therapy and treatment on an inpatient, or outpatient basis.

The temptations to and advantages of outpatient therapy are many, and staying at home and at work while participating in therapy certainly appeals to many weighing their options. Unfortunately, although less intrusive, for people with serious addictions outpatient therapy is also less effective.

The advantages of outpatient therapy

Far cheaper

You can continue to work and support a family while getting help

Stay in the home and with family

Maintain community responsibilities

The advantages of inpatient drug rehab

For people with more serious or long lasting histories of substance abuse, outpatient therapy may not be enough.

By staying in the environment of use while receiving therapy, you do stay close to family and work, but you also stay close to temptation, triggers to use, and access to drugs and alcohol; and during the initial days and weeks of sobriety it can be very tough to resist this.

Additionally, during an inpatient period of treatment you can focus all of your energies and attention on therapy, on self reflection and on getting better. It can be tough in outpatient therapy to consolidate the lessons of recovery when your mind is naturally pulled towards the everyday challenges of work, and family.

A period of residential rehab also offers unmatched intensity of therapy and educational programming, and a committed recovering addict can learn a lot in a month or more of full time therapy. Outpatient therapy can never be as intensive, and never gives addicts as firm a foundation for sobriety.

So which do you need?

Addictions professionals generally recommend that people start with outpatient therapy. Since it is so much cheaper and less disruptive, it's a great place to make a first attempt at sobriety.

Some people may be better off getting into a more intensive rehab immediately.

If you have tried outpatient therapy before, and still drink or drug, you should consider drug rehab.

If you have no strong family or sober peer support, or a sober living environment, then it will be very tough for you to stay sober using outpatient therapy.

If you have an accompanying mental diagnosis (depression, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, etc.) then you should consider an inpatient drug rehab.

If you have a very long history of substance abuse, or a very severe addiction you should consider drug rehab.

Try one try them all!

Doing anything is preferable to continued abuse, and if outpatient therapy can work for you then it offers a minimum of disruption for a maximum of effect. On the other hand, the dangers of addiction are such that there is little to lose with "overkill".

For those people with serious addiction issues, if possible, an inpatient drug or alcohol rehab offers a greater chance of success and sobriety. Remember though that therapy should never end with the completion of a period of inpatient rehab, and that active and committed participation in the therapies of aftercare are equally important to long term sobriety.


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      Cheri 7 years ago

      I know I need to stay somewhere for a while. I have been drinking and other things for the last five years. At this point I have no one left to make me stay on track. I have lost my will to try even. It sounds like I am weak. I am not..but I know I need help. I have no money left at this point can not even get a job because it messes with my drinking schedule. I feel that even one month out of my environment with being sober will give me back my mind. I know what to do just can't pick my self up. I need help to be a productive person. I have always been a stay at home mom and a few years ago I got divorced. Since than I have showen everyone how pathetic a person i am. I use to be great! Everyone wanted to be around me, but now..well, I can't stand myself and I am so depressing that I lost it. I am sure I could get a job, if I could get the alcohol out of my system and pick myself up. I had soo much but lost it, but I know I still have it in me somewhere. I need this for me, my children and now my grandchild.