Choosing Outpatient Treatment


When you’re looking to unshackle yourself from drugs and alcohol, you might consider outpatient rehab, an intensive program that doesn’t require a residential commitment. Instead, clients attend multiple outpatient sessions weekly for at least several months, often after work or after school. Over time, treatment becomes less intensive, and clients meet less often and for fewer hours.

There are some very good reasons to consider an outpatient program:

  • Perhaps your insurance company only covers an outpatient program, which can be significantly less expensive than inpatient. Some insurance companies or medical systems require their patients to try an outpatient program before even considering residential treatment. Other companies or insurers will pay only for outpatient treatment. Check with your insurer to see what they cover.
  • Your job, your family obligations or your finances make it impossible for you to attend an inpatient, residential program.
  • Maybe this isn’t your first rehab rodeo, and you already know the basics. But you’ve fallen off the horse and are willing to give an outpatient program all you’ve got as you reinstate or adjust your treatment plan. Be kind to yourself as you get back in the saddle, and remember that relapse is not failure. Instead, it’s a sign that your treatment plan needs bolstering.

There are also some very bad reasons to seek outpatient rehab:

  • You – or others – are in denial about your substance abuse. An outpatient approach may seem to imply (to you or to others) that your drug/alcohol problem isn’t all that serious.
  • You’ve got one foot in the rehab door and one foot out because you are not fully committed to getting better. You might consciously or subconsciously select an outpatient program because it seems, well, less demanding. News flash! Getting sober is hard work and it requires you to be “all in.” Your recovery program – whether inpatient or outpatient – will only work if you work it fully.
  • You’re simply trying to get someone off your back, so you select a program that appears to require as little from you as possible.
  • Outpatient rehab may not be right for you if you’ve attempted rehab many times before or if you’ve been self-medicating because of significant mental health issues.

As part of the treatment plan, an outpatient program typically includes individual or group counseling (or both) with a case worker or counselor. That therapy may be:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps clients recognize the situations which trigger their drug/alcohol use and develop healthier alternative behaviors.
  • Family therapy, which helps the entire family heal from the damage of drug/ alcohol abuse. Improving overall family functioning is especially important for adolescents and their families.
  • Group therapy, which helps break down the walls that often isolate those who abuse drugs or alcohol.

What should you look for in an outpatient program? The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that you consider five elements when searching for a treatment program:

  • Choose a program that offers “evidence-based” treatment. This means the treatments have demonstrated their effectiveness over time. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy meets that standard; stand-alone nutritional therapy does not. There aren’t any magic wands, and treatment should include approaches that have a track record of success.
  • Look for a program that meets your unique needs. You’ll want an outpatient program that offers the right service in the right setting. Consider your age, your gender, your culture, your ethnicity and your spiritual values before you make a selection. Make sure the program can accommodate any practical considerations such as the need for day care for a child, or close proximity to your home or workplace. Be sure to choose a program without obstacles to treatment so you can fully focus on your recovery. Aligning treatment settings, programs, and services with your unique problems and needs is the key to recovery success.
  • Look for a program that will offer comprehensive, evolving support over the course of your treatment program. At the onset, you may need legal or social services support. Down the road, your family may need to be brought into the healing process. The best programs offer a full range of services that may include child care, family services, mental health resources, medical services, education and vocational services, housing, HIV/AIDS services and transportation.
  • Make sure the program is long enough. The gold standard for sustained recovery is a 90-day treatment program. That’s because spending more time in treatment builds a stronger foundation and reduces the chances of relapse.
  • Being part of a support group during and after treatment is critical. This might take the form of group therapy, AA or NA meetings, or living in a sober living environment. The good news is that you can find a vibrant, supportive and active recovery community wherever you go. Keep in mind that returning to a full and productive life is a work in progress, and it takes a village.



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