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Why Residential Addiction Treatment Programs Are Better Than Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

April 2, 2019

In a world where we focus largely on maintaining a fast-paced life, it can be easy to be enticed by the ease of undergoing treatment through an IOP. Though these programs may work for some, and have been shown to be effective in some cases, it remains true that treatment is most effective when a person enters a residential facility.

With more people seeking treatment for substance abuse every year, new forms of treatment are emerging all the time. One type of treatment that has recently taken hold is intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs, which allow participants to recover from home with minimal monitorization each week. This method contrasts with the traditional treatment first developed for substance abuse, residential treatment centers (RTCs), which require a patient to stay in a facility to begin recovery for an extended period.

The Difference Between Residential Treatment Centers And Intensive Outpatient Programs

Residential treatment centers are rehabilitation programs conducted in rehab facilities that require participants to stay at the facility for an extended period. The length of stay depends on the requirements of the person’s treatment, such as duration and severity of substance abuse, as well as any treatment necessary for other health conditions, such as co-occurring mental disorders. Stays are typically 30, 60, 90, or 120 days.

During a stay at a RTC, people receive monitoring around-the-clock to ensure a safe detoxification process, to avoid relapse, and to administer medication, counseling, and therapy. Perhaps what sets apart RTCs from other forms of treatment is the location. Undergoing treatment in a facility removes a person from his or her usual environment, which can be heavily laden with triggers that may foster relapse.

Intensive outpatient programs, by contrast, allow participants to undergo treatment outside a facility, usually from home and around their personal schedules. This type of treatment permits people to participate in facility treatment for a shorter period of time, after school or work, without staying overnight. Treatment sessions (therapy, counseling, etc.) all fit into a few two- or three-hour sessions per week.

While completing recovery in the comfort of your home and working around your obligations may seem like a great idea, this method simply does not work for everyone. In fact, it puts people at high risk for relapse because with some substances, like heroin or cocaine, it may be necessary to remove people from the influence of substances altogether to ensure they don’t relapse. Further, many things factor into deciding which treatment program is right for each person, and these factors should be carefully weighed before a person enters any program.

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What Factors Into Treatment Decisions?

Before anyone enters treatment, it must first be decided which program to choose and especially if a residential stay will be necessary. As previously explained, residential stays are usually needed for the best success in recovery but some things must be considered when deciding how long treatment should last, where it should be conducted, and the therapy methods which should be used. Some of the factors which may be considered in this process include:

  • A person’s willingness to commit to treatment—or a person’s ability to admit to a substance abuse problem and desire to make changes to his or her life
  • Treatment goals—this often includes long-term sobriety, but people can reap even greater rewards through recovery, such as gaining a stable job, improving in school, or building better personal relationships.
  • Amount of support—people often feel isolated in their substance abuse, so it is important to have a host of people who stand behind them, even if these people are staff and peers in a rehab facility.
  • Overall health of the participant—this includes severity and duration of substance abuse, any dual diagnosis concerns (such as other substance abuse disorders or mental health conditions), medication that will be needed, stress level, etc.
  • Payment—though money should never keep a person from getting the treatment he or she needs, some facilities can get pricy—so it may be important to have a plan before entering treatment. There are also scholarships and grants available or even sliding fee scales for certain circumstances.

Why Are RTCs Better Than IOPs?

Residential treatment centers offer patients a unique opportunity—they allow patients to get away from the trials of everyday life (including substance abuse) and to focus solely on recovery. Triggers at home and in the community can happen with work, school, family, and in social settings, and may lead to relapse. But completing recovery in a facility helps to ensure abstinence and healing, free from triggers, which is why some facilities ask participants to abstain from visitors during treatment. Essentially, RTCs help people best ensure they receive comprehensive treatment.

Intensive outpatient programs are not necessarily ineffective, as they are often utilized as aftercare for people who have undergone treatment in rehab facility. However, that is just the point; IOPs are better suited for people who do not need intensive treatment, such as those who have not experienced years of abuse or a severe addiction or for people who want to continue treatment. It is always better to seek treatment for substance abuse through any method, but people deserve the best chance at success in recovery, and residential treatment centers may provide that chance.

How To Get Help With Treatment Decisions

Finding the right treatment plan can be an overwhelming process, but you do not have to go it alone. If you or someone close to you is suffering from substance abuse, let us help you with the details. Contact us at today to voice your concerns, speak to professionals about treatment options, and for more information.

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