Understanding Outpatient Addiction Treatment

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Many people who are overcoming addictions to substances of abuse benefit from a range of treatments and types of care. Although inpatient and residential treatment can give individuals an opportunity to begin to build a foundation for sobriety in a safe and controlled environment, the end goal of treatment is to return a person to his or her everyday life. However, many individuals require longer-term care than inpatient or residential treatment can provide, though they are also ready to begin rebuilding their lives and keeping up with professional, academic, and family commitments. For these individuals, traditional outpatient care may be the best option.

Chemical dependency treatment is provided on a spectrum of intensity. Listed below are the most common levels of care in order from most intensive to least intensive:

Inpatient or Residential: During inpatient or residential treatment, individuals live at the treatment center. Inpatient or residential treatment often also includes detoxification, or detox, services for individuals who are beginning treatment with substances of abuse still in their systems. Inpatient treatment is generally shorter, typically no more than a week or two, while residential treatment is often more long-term and can range in length from a few weeks to a few months.

Partial Hospitalization Programming (PHP): Often used as a step-down level of care from inpatient or residential treatment, or a step-up level of care from intensive outpatient or traditional outpatient treatment, PHP care allows individuals to receive many of the same interventions as inpatient or residential treatment, but also begins to give them more independence. In some PHP programs, individuals continue to live at the treatment center, while in other programs, individuals commute from home.

Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP): IOP care is often used as a step-down level of care from PHP or a step-up level of care from traditional outpatient treatment. IOP care typically occurs a few days per week for three or four hours per day. Intensive outpatient programming is designed to allow individuals to receive extra support as they transition back into their everyday lives. This type of care often includes group therapy, individual therapy, and other interventions typical of inpatient, residential, and partial hospitalization programs.

Traditional outpatient care: Traditional outpatient care often includes a range of different professional services. In traditional outpatient treatment, individuals live and work according to their normal schedules, but may also benefit from individual therapy, group therapy, and other services that they themselves arrange. Traditional outpatient care is completely self-directed by the person who is seeking treatment. For example, an individual seeking traditional outpatient treatment for a substance use disorder may see a therapist weekly, attend a process group once a week, participate in 12-Step meetings, and be a member of a recreational club that focuses on using fitness to help individuals who are in recovery.

Traditional outpatient treatment is delivered by a range of professionals. Individuals may have weekly therapy or counseling sessions with a psychologist, therapist, addictions counselor, or other professional. They may have monthly meetings with a psychiatrist to manage medications and may also choose to participate in weekly group therapy sessions led by a professional therapist or counselor. In addition, they may also receive other paraprofessional forms of support, such as 12-Step meetings, meetings with a sponsor, or informal gatherings of a select group of friends to check in on one’s progress towards full recovery.

As described above, traditional outpatient care is dictated entirely by the individual seeking treatment. He or she determines which interventions he or she would like to receive, and then he or she pursues the appropriate professional.

Traditional outpatient support is provided by a diverse range of professionals. Some of the most common of these include:

  • Psychologists
  • Therapists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Addictions counselors
  • Nurses or nurse practitioners
  • Art therapists
  • Activity therapists
  • Recreational therapists
  • Coaches, sponsors, or other non-professionals or paraprofessionals

Some of the most common interventions that individuals who are receiving traditional outpatient treatment may engage in include:

Medication management: An individual who is in recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol and also has a co-occurring mental health condition may seek out the support of a psychiatrist in his or her community. The psychiatrist can prescribe medications and check in on the individual to make sure the medications are working and are not causing severe side effects.

Individual therapy: Regular one-on-one meetings with a therapist or counselor give individuals an opportunity to process their progress in recovery and receive support, encouragement, and greater insight into their addictions.

Group therapy: Group therapy allows individuals to come together in a safe environment that is led by a trained group therapist. These group therapy sessions allow individuals to give and receive feedback and support while also continuing to hone their recovery skills.

Other supports: Many people in recovery find that they benefit from other avenues of support. These vary widely and depend on the individual, but may include regular 12-Step meetings, support from a sponsor, physical activity and recreation groups, regular meetings with a close group of friends, meditation or spiritual practices, and any other activities that the individual finds are helpful in his or her recovery effort.

If you or someone you love might benefit from outpatient treatment for a substance abuse concern, research treatment options and make a few contacts in your community with professionals and other organizations that may be helpful. With the proper support, a brighter, substance-free future is possible.

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