Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab

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Healing from a substance abuse disorder is no easy task. It can be an emotionally taxing, turbulent, and frightening experience. No one can heal from a substance abuse disorder with sheer willpower alone—professional support and treatment are essential.

Rehabilitation centers can be an excellent option for help in recovering from addiction. However, there are multiple types of rehab centers, and it is essential to identify the best fit for you. This article will explore the difference between inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab, how to know if you should look into getting professional help, which rehab is right for you, and how to find further support. 

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What Is Inpatient Rehab?

Inpatient rehab, also known as residential rehab, is an intensive treatment center for those struggling with addiction. These treatment facilities offer 24-hour care and supervision, making it a preferred choice for those experiencing more extreme forms of addiction.

Additionally, if one is experiencing both substance abuse disorder and another mental health disorder, inpatient rehab is equipped to provide the level of care necessary through medical attention, psychotherapy, group therapy, and access to help no matter the time of day or night.

It is important to note that contact with the outside world is minimal during inpatient rehab stays. There may be visitor hours available every week. Still, it is common for residents to have restricted access to their cell phones and no access to social media and technology. Though these are extremely strict protocols, they’re in place to ensure that the focus can remain on the treatment process while in rehab.

Frequently an inpatient rehab stay begins with a detox. This is a medically-supervised withdrawal from all substances. Since detoxes can be incredibly dangerous, having access to constant care can be critical. The average length of detox is 3 to 7 days. After the detox period is complete, an inpatient rehab stay may continue anywhere from 1 month to 3 months.

What Is Outpatient Rehab?

Outpatient rehab is a treatment center for those recovering from addiction that doesn’t provide residential care. Rather than staying overnight for multiple months, outpatient rehab allows folks to visit a treatment center numerous times a week, offering the opportunity to maintain employment and other duties.

Outpatient rehab programs typically require at least 10 hours of participation a week, though that time can vary by person. In addition, outpatient rehab programs offer individual counseling, group therapy, support groups, and educational classes on substance abuse. 

While outpatient programs may be more flexible, there are protocols to ensure participants are compliant with maintaining sobriety and following the program. While detoxing is often associated with inpatient rehab, it is possible to detox at an outpatient rehab.

Instead of a residential stay, the individual will attend the facility 3 to 5 days a week. During their visits, professionals will pay special attention to withdrawal symptoms in case medication to treat detox symptoms is needed. It is important to note that detoxing through an outpatient rehab isn’t for everyone—those who have preexisting conditions or more severe cases of substance abuse may not be a fit for outpatient detoxing.

How Do I Know If I Have A Problem?

Some early signs of substance abuse disorder are excessive use of mind-altering substances, including nicotine, alcohol, and illicit drugs. This excessive use is so severe that it begins to negatively impact one’s relationships, career, and daily functioning.

Another component of substance abuse disorder is the inability to stop, feeling as if you have no sense of control over how and when you use. It is worth noting that a diagnosis of substance abuse disorder isn’t the only criteria for needing help for addiction. If you’re finding that you’re experiencing substance misuse—for example, binge drinking more than you’d like or relying on marijuana to the point of detriment, it is still worth looking into getting help. 

Other signs of having an issue are if those close to you have urged you to get help, you’re beginning to experience financial repercussions due to your use, or you need to use higher amounts of substances to experience their effects.

Which Rehab is Right for Me?

Choosing a rehab is a significant decision and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The first thing to take into consideration when choosing a rehab is to consider what would be the best type of treatment for the symptoms you’re experiencing.

For example, if you’ve already tried getting sober multiple times to no avail or think you may have to undergo an intense detox process, inpatient rehab may be a better fit. This is because inpatient rehabs provide consistent care that can be very useful in healing more severe cases of addiction.

If you know you have a problem with substance abuse and are highly driven to get sober, then outpatient rehab could be a fit. You may be uncertain which rehab makes the most sense for your recovery, which is okay. Consider calling inpatient and outpatient programs to learn more about which program could work for you.

How to Find A Rehab Center

It can be hard to find a rehab center when in the throes of addiction. If you have health insurance, giving them a call can help streamline the process of finding treatment. They can give you a list of facilities in your insurance network, lessening the stress and financial worry that can arise when seeking support.

If you don’t have health insurance, reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. They can direct you to state-funded programs, centers that offer sliding scale or low-fee services, and other resources. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It may be scary to seek help, but healing from substance abuse disorder is possible.

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. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); Office of the Surgeon General (US). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services; 2016.

  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.

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.