Outpatient Treatment: What It Is and What It’s Like

What is outpatient treatment like

Treatment is an exceptionally important part of recovering from addiction. And, unfortunately, it’s not as common as it should be — only 11 percent of the estimated 24.6 percent of Americans with substance use disorders get treatment.

While this is alarming in itself, many individuals don’t know what treatment entails, even those who are a part of the addiction community. It’s regularly assumed that getting help means going to a detox program and perhaps inpatient rehabilitation for a few weeks and then everything will be fine. However, this is generally not the case. Detox and inpatient care are only the first steps in what is often a long process.

After successfully completing an inpatient program, the next step is outpatient care. Outpatient care is available in a few different forms, including partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. Here is what you can expect in outpatient treatment following the successful conclusion of residential rehabilitation, including an average outpatient addiction treatment schedule.

What Is Outpatient Treatment?

Types of Treatment IOP and PHPAs the name implies, outpatient treatment is a form of rehabilitation that does not require a participant to live in a treatment center. Instead, those in outpatient rehabilitation live either at their own homes or in a sober living house while attending treatment.

Outpatient treatment is generally less intensive than inpatient treatment as participants attend meetings and therapy sessions less frequently. Some forms of outpatient rehabilitation programs take place during the day, around the time span of a normal job, like partial hospitalization programs. Others, like intensive outpatient programs, may take place in the mornings or evenings to allow time for daily obligations.

While participants do not live in the same place they receive treatment, many forms of outpatient care have significant similarities to residential rehabilitation. Outpatient programs run by certified treatment centers utilize a heavy reliance on mental health principles, working to help participants continue to explore the root causes of addiction and coping methods for sobriety. As those in outpatient programs are beginning to transition into normal life, heavy emphasis is placed on staying healthy — mentally, emotionally and physically — outside of a residential environment.

Coursework during treatment includes topics like:

  • The making of an addict
  • Anger management
  • Difficult emotions
  • Relapse prevention
  • Adaptive coping mechanisms
  • Resiliency training

The extent of treatment in an outpatient program can vary largely based on the type of program and the provider hosting the program.


an example schedule of IOP at FHEOutpatient programs frequently come in two forms: partial hospitalization programs and intensive outpatient programs. Each of these options offers different advantages, and both are recommended in the course of step-down care.

Partial Hospitalization Programs

Partial hospitalization programs, or PHP, often span four to 10 weeks and provide a scaled-down version of the care patients are already familiar with. Considered the most intensive form of outpatient care, PHP treatment most closely resembles inpatient treatment in form and time commitment.

Sober living is highly encouraged for those who choose a PHP. This prevents temptation after treatment ends for the day, helping those in rehabilitation to stay focused on sobriety.

Intensive Outpatient Programs

Intensive outpatient programs are a step down from PHP care. Also known as IOP, intensive outpatient programs require less time devoted to treatment but are still quite rigorous and demanding. In IOP, participants usually attend meetings for a few hours a day, several days a week. This allows for time to ease back into work, school and family obligations.

As with PHP, sober living is suggested for participants in intensive outpatient programs. More freedoms can be dangerous for those in recovery, and sober living encourages a responsible lifestyle.

How Much Time Does Outpatient Treatment Take?

Those who have successfully completed inpatient treatment are often encouraged by the opportunity to move away from the demands of a residential program. However, it’s important to understand that outpatient treatment still requires a substantial time commitment.

In a partial hospitalization program, participants spend 30 to 40 hours a week attending meetings, treatment sessions and activities related to recovery. This usually entails around 10 to 15 group meetings per week, as well as individual therapy appointments, medication management and life skills training. PHP requires availability during the day Monday to Friday from around 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

Intensive outpatient programs are a step down from partial hospitalization, requiring three to five days of commitment a week for around three to five hours a day. Some programs are more flexible than others, with availability in the morning, in the afternoon or in the evening. Under some circumstances, it may be possible to go to work or school while working around an IOP schedule.

A Day in the Life in Outpatient Care

PHP - Example of schedule at FHECommitting to a program requires adherence to a strict outpatient addiction treatment schedule. In a partial hospitalization program for a participant living in a sober house, a day in the life will be very structured.

At FHE Health, partial hospitalization starts first thing in the morning, usually around 7:00 AM. After waking up and having breakfast, participants will take medications, if applicable, and start off the day with group counseling or life skills seminars from 9:15 AM to 12:15 AM. After lunch, coursework resumes, with a second group program from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM. After this point, another medication session will be held, with an accountability check at 3:45 PM. For those in sober living, a self-help program is held from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM, followed by medications at 9:00 PM and lights out at 11:00 PM.

The schedule is similar for intensive outpatient programming at FHE, with the morning schedule mirroring that of PHP. However, after morning courses and lunch, participants have time for appointments from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM with no other afternoon obligations. At 9:00 PM, participants have a second scheduled time slot for medication, followed by an accountability check at 9:30 PM and lights out at 11:00 PM.

Is Outpatient Treatment Right for You?

So, is outpatient treatment right for you?

Perhaps — but preferably if you have already successfully completed inpatient rehabilitation. While some people do begin treatment in an outpatient setting, this isn’t necessarily suggested. By omitting the detox and residential care steps, participants enter programs without the skills, knowledge and emotional preparedness provided by earlier stages.

For those hoping to successfully recover from a substance use disorder, a full continuum of care is highly recommended. When starting from the beginning, those in recovery receive a strong foundation in psychological, emotional and physical wellness designed to provide direction throughout the journey. Missing out on these early stages may result in a less stable, less secure approach to recovery and thus an increased likelihood for relapse.

At FHE, we believe in supporting participants through every step of recovery, from detox to guidance in our alumni programs. Please contact us today to learn more about our outpatient programs.

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