What is the Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Rehab Programs?

For those who are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, looking for help can be a daunting task. Rehab is a largely foreign and unfamiliar experience to most, as many people’s only exposure to it stems from some sort of media. This leads to many misconceptions surrounding rehabilitation treatment, and can cause more hesitancy in deciding to get treatment. Those who do choose to take the first step towards recovery and admitting they need help, are left to grapple with another difficult decision—which treatment program best fits their needs. This article will illustrate the differences between inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation treatment. Each form of treatment has their advantages, and it is important to understand which form of rehab best fits the individual.


What is Inpatient Rehab?

In many instances, inpatient rehab is also referred to as residential treatment. This is because during inpatient rehabilitation treatment, the individual who is struggling with addiction stays at the rehab clinic for the full course of their treatment. They check into the treatment facility so they can complete their treatment in a controlled environment, one where medical and emotional assistance is available to them through round-the-clock care. In most cases of inpatient rehabilitation treatment, the individual stays anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on the severity of their addiction and what is required for treatment. One of the most important aspects of inpatient rehab is the preparation required before starting treatment. Since someone would be living at the rehab clinic for the duration of their treatment, it is important to have one’s affairs in order before checking into rehab.


What are the Elements of Inpatient Rehab?

When choosing the right inpatient rehab treatment center, it is important to understand all the elements that go into a successful inpatient rehab program. The first part of one’s inpatient rehab treatment begins with detox. The severity of the detox is entirely dependent on the severity of the patient’s addiction, as well as the substance that is being abused. Alcohol, for example, can be difficult to detox from in a safe manner without medical assistance. Detoxing is incredibly important to treatment as it ensures all traces of the addictive substance are removed from the person’s body. This helps with the physical withdrawal symptoms that arise when substance use has stopped. Medical professionals and addiction specialists will monitor the individual’s vitals and ensure that patients have a safe detox experience. 


This leads to the second crucial element of inpatient rehabilitation treatment, withdrawal management. After a patient has successfully completed their detoxification, the challenge of managing withdrawals arises. Since managing withdrawal symptoms is seen as one of the most difficult challenges addicts face during recovery many inpatient rehabs offer medically assisted treatment. Medically assisted treatment means clinics can provide their patients with medications designed to alleviate some of the physical withdrawal symptoms.


Another crucial element of inpatient rehab is the in-person individual, or group, therapy sessions. These therapy sessions help patients understand the root causes behind their addictions, their actions caused by addiction, and how their addiction affects those around them. There are many different types of therapy offered in inpatient rehab, but they all are designed to help patients cope with the everyday pressures from life, while avoiding continued substance use.


Finally, once someone’s rehabilitation is complete, clinics offer aftercare services to ensure patients stay on the road to recovery. Even though they may have completed their inpatient treatment, their recovery process is not over. Aftercare programs ensure former patients can continue their therapy sessions, on a less intense and demanding schedule.


What is Outpatient Rehab?

For those who don’t need a rehabilitation program as intense as inpatient rehab, many clinics offer outpatient rehabilitation treatment. It is designed for individuals who have much milder substance abuse problems. Outpatient rehab is  tailored towards individuals who, while not fully addicted, realize they are becoming more and more dependent on substance use, and recognize it as a growing problem. Outpatient rehab is much less restrictive than inpatient rehab. Patients do not live on the campus of the rehab center, and instead can continue to live at home. While not as intense as inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab is still an effective treatment option and can provide effective long-term support. Outpatient support systems are structured in a much more flexible manner, allowing people to continue living their lives. .


What are the Elements of Outpatient Rehab?

The elements of outpatient rehab are not too different from what is offered at inpatient rehab clinics. Similar to inpatient, outpatient rehabilitation offers a variety of different therapy arrangements. Individual therapy sessions are still accessible to those enrolled in outpatient rehabilitation treatment, though they may not be as frequent or as long as inpatient sessions. The same is true for group therapy sessions. They are still offered as group therapy is a powerful treatment tool, but patients may not be required to go as frequently, or for as long. Since patients are able to live at  home during their outpatient treatment, many are able to continue living a “regular” lifestyle, and maintain their normal schedule.

Outpatient rehabilitation treatment still offers detox programs, but they are designed for mild to moderate substance users. Outpatient detox programs are still safe and effective, despite the patient not being under constant medical supervision. Patients will be required to visit their treatment site for physical and mental exams to ensure the detox process runs smoothly. Typically, the outpatient detox process is quicker than inpatient detoxification, with an average detox time of just under seven days. For outpatient rehab patients, medical assistance may be available during their physical and mental check-ups for those who may be experiencing more severe withdrawal symptoms.


An important thing to note about outpatient rehab is that it typically lasts much longer than inpatient treatment. Since people are able to maintain pretty normal schedules and can stay in their own homes, weekly treatment time can vary anywhere from three to 30 hours a week.


No matter what type of treatment someone chooses, rehab can change their life. Addiction is an illness, and recovery is a lifelong journey. Support from medical and mental health professionals, as well as group support systems are necessary for long-lasting recovery. Don’t wait any longer, visit Sunshine Behavioral Health and begin your journey to recovery.




Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

Sunshine Behavioral Health Facilities


Chapters Capistrano


Monarch Shores


Mountain Springs


Willow Springs


Lincoln Recovery

Find out more about our admissions process