The Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Rehab

Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Rehab

Choosing to Enter Rehab is Only the First Step

The difference between outpatient and inpatient rehab. Freedom from addiction is a long process, and it’s rare that it happens in just a few days or weeks. Making the decision to enter a rehab program is one of the most important steps, largely because it involves the drug or alcohol user recognizing that there is, in fact, a problem. This admission is the beginning of the journey toward a drug-free life.

However, there is still a major decision ahead, and it’s one that has a huge effect on how the user’s life is going to look over the next few months. Ultimately, it may significantly influence how successful the rehab program is. This choice is between the two major types of rehab programs, outpatient and inpatient rehab. Education is key for making an informed decision about which is best.

The Basics of Outpatient Rehab

Getting treated as an outpatient is the preferred method for many people because they do not want to move away from friends and family to receive treatment. Outpatient rehab programs are those where drug abusers do not formally get checked into a clinical setting where they’re monitored around the clock. Instead, people live at home and attend rehab activities on a regular basis.


Outpatient rehab happens in many different environments. These may include meetings with counselors or psychologists, support groups that meet in churches or community centers, and medical testing at hospitals. Overall though, the drug user stays in the same primary environment, which can make rehab difficult because of continued exposure to drug cues in the setting. At the same time though, the drug user is surrounded by family and friends who can provide emotional support. In addition, there isn’t a huge transition in environment after completing rehab which can help people successfully remain drug free.

Duration of Program

The length of an outpatient rehab program is very open-ended. Because there isn’t necessarily a formal track each drug user takes, some people go through just a few rehab sessions, whereas others attend support meetings for years. This flexibility in the program allows individuals to tailor it to their unique needs. Some people choose to go through a short period of very focused rehab, whereas others get some immediate help, but focus more on long-term maintenance of drug-free habits.


Because an outpatient program does not include a chemical detoxification stage, it is overall a less intense type of program. It is ideal for people who do not use opiates and who have a relatively short history of drug addiction. The intense part of an outpatient rehab program is often staying away from using drugs while in the program. Because people live at home, they often encounter temptations to slip back into old habits of drug abuse.


The cost of outpatient rehab can vary significantly depending on the types of programs used and the duration of care. However, the average cost for someone who ended up drug free was $6,300 and the average cost for someone who successfully reduced drug use was $2,400. Many types of health insurance cover some or all of the costs involved.

The Basics of Inpatient Rehab

In contrast to an outpatient program, people who go through inpatient rehab actually check into a facility where they are under watchful care for a duration of time. Inpatient rehab may be necessary for people who can’t detox without constant medical supervision. Overall, inpatient rehab programs are much more structured, and therefore may be more effective than outpatient care for people who need that kind of structure.


Hospitals may have detox centers where people can check in for medically supervised detox. Other types of inpatient rehab are more like resorts where people move in and live at the rehab center for the duration of the program. Because the drug abusers are actually checked in as patients, they cannot leave during the treatment and are protected from the drug cues in their environment at home. In addition, they have their basic needs taken care of with meals generally prepared for them so they can focus on rehab.

Duration of Program

Just as with outpatient programs, inpatient rehab ranges in duration. Detox-only rehab programs may last just a couple of days in mild cases or up to a month in severe cases. Inpatient rehab programs that include a detox component in addition to counseling, group therapy, and tips for transitioning back into daily life usually last at least 28 days. Some may be longer, lasting three months, six months, or even a year.


Inpatient drug rehab programs tend to be very intense and focused because people are not doing anything else during that time. They’re not working their usual job or participating in social activities with their usual friends. Instead, they’re focusing on getting treatment for addictions. This often includes a social component, as well as people interacting with others going through rehab to discuss progress and helping each other find freedom from addictions.


The cost for inpatient drug rehab varies significantly depending on the length of the rehab program. The average cost of an inpatient program is $15,600 for someone who successfully ends drug-free or $6,100 for someone who ends with reduced drug use. Although this cost is significantly higher than with outpatient programs, it’s largely because the inpatient programs include other features, like housing and food. In addition, it’s important to remember that health insurance may cover some or all of the cost of inpatient rehab.

Don’t Pick from a Hat: Choose the Right Type of Rehab for the Individual

Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient RehabEach type of program has its pros and cons, so it’s important to take a look at these and make an informed decision of which type of rehab is best.

Outpatient treatment tends to be better for people who:

• Have existing commitments to family, work, or others and need to keep up with these during the course of the rehab treatment

• Are very independent and motivated and are willing to put in the work to make it through rehab successfully

• Are concerned about transitioning back into the patterns of everyday life and would prefer to go through rehab while in that environment

Inpatient treatment is often a better choice for people who:

• Have serious or longstanding addictions and require supervision to remain drug free during treatment

• Would prefer to devote a concentrated period of time to rehab rather than stretching it out over many months or years

• Want continuous contact with other people who are going through the same process of rehab

Commit to Treatment and Stick With It

Many people will be successful in overcoming their addictions in either type of treatment, so it’s a matter of choosing the one that fits better with the drug or alcohol user’s personality and lifestyle. Some  people are clear cases for one type of treatment over the other. Either way, it’s critical to commit to one type of treatment and stick with it through the entire rehab process to successfully overcome the addiction.

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