How Outpatient Rehab Works

people at a support group

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Outpatient rehab is a type of rehabilitation center for those who have a substance use disorder.

Addiction is a widespread issue, with at least 10% of Americans experiencing substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives. Of that 10%, about 75% of folks will never get help. This disorder isn’t one that only impacts the person diagnosed with it—it also affects their friends, families, colleagues, and society at large. Understanding the options available to stop abusing a substance is an essential first step in getting help.

This article explores what an outpatient rehab is, how it works, what to expect, and how to find a center. It will also provide support to those trying to help a loved one heal from substance abuse disorder. Read on to learn more.

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What Is Outpatient Rehab?

Outpatient rehab is a treatment facility that those recovering from addiction visit every week. It is considered less intensive than inpatient or residential treatment centers.

People typically spend at least 10 hours a week at these facilities, receiving individual and group counseling, education on substance abuse disorder, and building a community with sober individuals. Time spent attending outpatient rehabs vary.

Some may spend over a year visiting the treatment facility, while others may spend just three months there. The determining factor in how long a rehabilitation stay will be is the severity of the disease.

It is possible to detox through an outpatient treatment facility. Rather than staying under constant supervision, the individual will attend the outpatient facility anywhere between three and five days per week.

During visits to the treatment facility, professionals will assess the patient to ensure that they are adhering to their detox plan. Medical professionals may also prescribe medication to treat detox symptoms. The detox process will vary by individual, as preexisting conditions and the type of substance used can dictate the protocols needed to move through the withdrawal process safely.

Who Should Go to Outpatient Rehab?

Those experiencing substance abuse disorder should seek treatment. Substance abuse disorder is a mental health condition where an individual cannot control their use of alcohol or drugs. As a result, their daily functioning is impaired, their livelihood is threatened, and their relationships suffer.

It is important to note that substance abuse can occur alongside other mental health disorders like ADHD and bipolar disorder.

Therefore, when seeking treatment, it is important that a trained professional rule out any other diagnoses, like depression or anxiety. Some may treat their symptoms of depression and anxiety by abusing substances, so having a professional assess what is going on is extremely important.

How Does Outpatient Rehab Work?

Typically, outpatient programs are chosen amongst those who have a strong desire to recover from their addiction, require a flexible schedule, aren’t utilizing intravenous methods of using drugs, and may be considered “high functioning.”

Patients Will Attend Weekly Programs

Each outpatient program will have specific weekly programming to support those healing from addiction. There are multiple groups that they may participate in. Support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, is often offered. Such groups provide a chance for connection and moral support.

Therapy groups may also be offered. Therapy groups offer a chance for intensive emotional processing in a group setting. Individual therapy is always provided in outpatient rehabs. There may also be stress management classes, relapse prevention classes, and drug or alcohol refusal training.

How Do I Know If I Need Outpatient Rehab?

Outpatient rehab may be for you if you’re aware that your substance use is no longer within your control and you’re dealing with major consequences as a result.

If you have a job, parenting duties, or other responsibilities that you feel will inhibit you from maintaining an inpatient stay, the flexibility of an outpatient program could be the right fit for you.

Suppose you’re aware you have a substance abuse problem and are highly motivated to get better. In that case, it is likely that you’re better suited for an outpatient rehab facility rather than an inpatient facility. 

How to Find an Outpatient Rehab

Acknowledging you need help is hard enough—finding a treatment center can be even more daunting.

First, if you have health insurance, go ahead and call your provider. They will be able to send you a list of outpatient facilities that your insurance company covers. This can help narrow down programs significantly and help you identify what program could be a fit.

If you don’t have health insurance, fret not. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a helpline designed to support those experiencing substance abuse and mental health concerns.

Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days out of the year, this hotline can help connect you to resources, including state-funded outpatient treatment centers, which may be of great support to those who don’t have health insurance.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Support Someone Who Has a Substance Use Disorder

It is extraordinarily hard to recover from addiction. It can be equally hard loving someone who struggles with addiction.

You may fear that your loved one won’t want to get sober, that this disease will take their life, or that they’ll lose all they have. If this is the case, you may want to consider staging an intervention.

This isn’t a decision that should ever be taken lightly, and there is much to think about. Consider reaching out to a licensed mental health professional for guidance.

Additionally, if you’re not interested in staging an intervention but find yourself feeling emotionally depleted, it may still be a good idea to chat with a therapist. They can help support you through this challenging time and offer ways to help you navigate helping a loved one who has an addiction.

Another option for seeking out support is Al-Anon, a 12-step support group created for the friends and families of people with alcohol use disorder. In this space, you can expect to learn more about addiction, hear others’ stories of healing, and have a safe space to be heard.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health. 10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives.

  2. Treatment C for SA. Services in Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs. Rockeville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2006

  3. Jahan AR, Burgess DM. Substance use disorder. Treasure Island, FL. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

Additional Reading
  • Meyers, Robert J., and Brenda L. Wolfe. Get your loved one sober: Alternatives to nagging, pleading, and threatening. Simon and Schuster, 2009.

  • Miller, William R., Robert J. Meyers, and J. Scott Tonigan. "Engaging the unmotivated in treatment for alcohol problems: a comparison of three strategies for intervention through family members." Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 67.5 (1999): 688.

By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.