Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab: What’s the Difference?

2 min read · 5 sections
Addiction treatment looks different for everyone, and several levels of care are available, including inpatient and outpatient services. While only a clinician can advise you on which type of treatment is best for you and your unique needs, understanding the differences between inpatient and outpatient programs offers insight into how treatment works in each scenario.
What you will learn:
What inpatient rehab is
What outpatient rehab is
Key differences between the two
How to choose the right program for yourself or a loved one
How to find addiction treatment

What Is Inpatient Rehab?

Sometimes removing oneself from the environment—people, places, stressors, triggers—that contribute to their addiction can help. Inpatient treatment programs or residential programs require an individual to live at the facility or campus for the duration of treatment, which may last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, or longer, depending on the severity of the addiction and other co-occurring mental health disorders.1

For many, inpatient treatment begins with medically managed detox, a process that allows the body to rid itself of the substance under the supervision of healthcare professionals, who can keep the individual safe and as comfortable as possible with medication.

After detox, the comprehensive treatment program begins, which includes working with addiction specialists and participating in various evidence-based therapeutic interventions geared toward helping an individual build coping skills to promote long-term sobriety.1 Inpatient rehabs typically provide a wide range of services, including:2

  • Medical detox.
  • Mental health evaluation and treatment.
  • Individual behavioral therapy.
  • Group therapy.
  • Family counseling.
  • Psychoeducation.
  • Medication management.
  • Mutual-help support groups.
  • Recovery support.

This intensive treatment setting may not be necessary for every individual entering rehab. While there are a variety of inpatient options—from luxury facilities offering upscale amenities and accommodations to centers providing specialized programs for specific populations, such as Veterans, couples, or members of the LGBTQ+ community—the care provided by inpatient facilities is best for individuals who need the 24/7 care and support. These individuals may include:2

  • Those with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.
  • Those with health conditions who necessitate round-the-clock nursing care.
  • Those at risk of experiencing dangerous withdrawal symptoms from substances such as alcohol and benzodiazepines.
  • Those lacking a stable or supportive home environment.

What Is Outpatient Rehab?

Outpatient rehab, on the other hand, allows individuals to live at home or in a sober living environment while they participate in therapies and counseling sessions that look similar to inpatient programs but allow them to maintain their work, school, and home responsibilities during treatment.1 Various levels of outpatient care and services exist to provide treatment for individuals based on their needs. Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), for instance, generally provide somewhere between 9 and 19 hours of structured programming each week at the facility; partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) typically provide 20 hours or more per week; and traditional outpatient programs usually provide less than 9 hours a week.2

After a thorough clinical assessment, a healthcare provider may recommend an outpatient program for some individuals, including:

  • Those with less severe substance use disorders.
  • Those who have a strong support system and home environment outside of treatment.
  • Those who do not require intensive medical or psychological care.
  • Those who have already completed a more intensive inpatient or residential program.

What Is the Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Rehab?

While the programming and therapeutic interventions offered in inpatient and outpatient rehab share many similarities—including the utilization of a combination of evidence-based behavioral therapies, medications, and recovery support services for relapse prevention—there are some key differences.3 The primary one, as was previously stated, being that inpatient care requires living at the facility for the duration of treatment, while outpatient programs provide treatment at the facility but allow individuals to return home or to a sober living facility at the end of each day. There are some other differences as well, including:

Inpatient Addiction Treatment Programs

  • Treat severe addictions.
  • Reduce an individual’s exposure to stressors and triggers that lead them to substance misuse.
  • Provide a highly structured environment.
  • Offer round-the-clock care and supervision.
  • Provide safe, substance-free housing for the duration of treatment.
  • May take place in a hospital or residential facility.
  • Allow for constant monitoring of co-occurring medical and mental health conditions and options to adjust treatment easily.
  • May offer healthy recreational activities and specialized treatment services, such as yoga or meditation to treat the mind, body, and spirit.

Outpatient Addiction Programs

  • Are often less expensive than inpatient care since it doesn’t include room and board.
  • Give the individual access to the same or very similar interventions and therapies utilized in inpatient settings.
  • Provide some flexibility for individuals to continue working, going to school, and caring for children or other dependents while receiving treatment.
  • Offer different treatment intensities depending on an individual’s needs.
  • Allow for increased access to support from family and friends.
  • Offer individuals the opportunity to apply what they learn during the treatment process to their everyday environments.

How Do I Choose the Right Rehab Program?

Understanding the differences between inpatient and outpatient rehab can help inform your decision, and while the information in this article can be helpful, speaking with your primary care physician (PCP) or an addiction treatment specialist is the most effective way to determine the appropriate level of care for you or a loved one.

How to Find Addiction Treatment

Once the level of care has been determined, you should call the admissions departments at the facilities that you’re considering and discuss your situation and recovery needs so you can better understand your treatment options.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help you start the road to recovery. Call one of our admissions navigators, who can listen to your story, answer your questions, and explain your treatment options—we have facilities offering inpatient and outpatient care nationwide.

If you or someone you love struggles with substance misuse, contact AAC today at and let us help you get the treatment you need today.


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