What’s the Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Care?

Recovery doesn’t begin and end with a month-long stay in a residential care facility. Many people—either because of the limits of their insurance or other logistical issues—opt for intensive outpatient therapy. Each individual, along with their care provider, needs to be able to choose one modality over another.

But there’s the rub: Many people with substance abuse issues and disorders may not be in a solid mental environment to determine the best course of action. Some substance abusers may see outpatient treatment as a less intense, “watered down” version of residential recovery. Meanwhile, some other clients see the opportunity to be away for a month almost like a vacation, in which a team of specialists will nurse them back to health on a set timetable.

Neither viewpoint could be further than the truth, so it’s critically important that we distinguish each from the other in an attempt to illuminate the differences between each, using the theoretical advantages and disadvantages for each—along with a breakdown of what we offer here at True Recovery—as an informative litmus test of what you may need from recovery experience in order for your sobriety to flourish.


What’s the difference?


In the article, “Differences Between Outpatient and Inpatient Treatment Programs1,” researcher Steven Gifford, LICDC, LPC notes that “Both types of treatment have distinctions which make them more or less appropriate for a patient’s needs, depending on the patient’s level and length of addiction,” and adds, “To truly understand which type of program is most appropriate for you, a friend, or a family member, an in-person diagnostic assessment with a qualified professional is needed.”

The need for a guiding and experienced professional at this time is vital. “You and your medical or counseling professional are best equipped to know which type of treatment is ideal for your situation. Be honest with yourself about how independently dedicated you can be in an outpatient program,” Gifford writes. Accordingly, he advises that the person seeking treatment and the addiction professional to honestly assess questions such as:

  • Do you feel like the temptations to use based on daily stresses, friends and acquaintances, or lack of social support would be an issue in successfully completing outpatient treatment? 
  • Have you tried and been unsuccessful time and time again at stopping your drug or alcohol use by yourself or in outpatient treatment? 
  • Are you physically addicted to drugs or alcohol and absolutely require a medical detox prior to receiving treatment services?1

While answering “yes” or “no” to any of these questions is not necessarily evidence of a perfect fit for either inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, they lead to a larger discussion of which service will provide you with the greatest benefits. Once that larger discussion has occurred, it’s smart to judge the relative merits of each. Let’s break down what inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation looks like at True Recovery as a way to illuminate each method’s potential benefits.


Inpatient care


Lasting a minimum of 28 days, residential treatment has long been the gold standard of care for the addicted individual. The reason for this is because it completely immerses the patient in a consciously sober environment, away from temptation posed by the outside world and in a structured therapeutic environment. Other standard benefits include:

  • Building life skills that had been interfered with due to addiction. 
  • Ideal for people who have unsuccessfully attempted to overcome addiction in outpatient programs, or for people who have identified that they need drug or alcohol treatment and want to make this time the “last time.” 
  • Highly emotionally supportive and focus on helping the whole body and mind through treatment. 
  • Patients benefit from having a “therapeutic community” in residential treatment programs–a community of patients who support one another through treatment1.

It’s no different here at True Recovery, where we’ll assist you with detox if that is what’s needed, then shepherd you through the initial days of your stay with compassion and understanding. We cater your treatment plan to your individual needs, allowing you to build on a 12-Step program, or create an alternative to the 12 Steps, or SMART Recovery. True Recovery’s residential treatment program offers clients the tools and skills they need while treating them with the compassion and respect they deserve. Clients are taught new ways to deal with stress and temptations while learning new tools to combat their addictions and identify the underlying issues which often contribute to their substance abuse2.


Outpatient care


Should you and your medical provider decide outpatient care is the best option for you, True Recovery offers the IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program), which is more robust than the common outpatient option. If you have gone through a residential program to its completion, or are at the point in your addiction where you don’t need a medically assisted detox, our IOP framework can be perfect for:

  • Individuals who do not wish to participate in a residential program, but are still strongly committed to their addiction recovery
  • Individuals who may have slipped up and are seeking to regain a foothold in recovery after a brief relapse
  • Those who have completed residential treatment and need structured support as they cope with a relapse or make their transition back to independent living
  • Substance abusers with a dual diagnosis, as they may graduate to outpatient programs as their needs change
  • Clients who do not need to go through, or have already completed, a detoxification process 




Wherever you are in your sober journey, we are here to support you. For more information on post-recovery and for anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783
or visit us online.