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Addiction Behavior Glossary Lifestyle

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab: Which Is More Effective?

1 year, 8 months ago

9962  0
Posted on Sep 06, 2022, 1 p.m.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic occurred, the number of people in the U.S. age 18 and older with at least one substance use disorder (SUD) was estimated to be over 20 million.  Since the dawn of the pandemic, researchers have noted increases in substance use disorders and drug overdoses. With those statistics in mind, the need for rehab is more important than ever today. However, not all rehab approaches are the same. Here’s how inpatient and outpatient compare with each other.

Understanding the Context of SUD 

With only 10% of people with a substance use disorder seeking addiction treatment on average, the risk of overdose and alarming fatality numbers will only increase with time, especially as more lethal drug cutting is practiced in illicit drug supplies. Examples of SUDs can range from alcohol to prescription drugs and even plant-based drugs that have been chemically manipulated, such as heroin. Some people will struggle with misusing a single substance, while others experience multiple SUDs simultaneously. The danger of the brain being rewired to crave multiple substances at the same time can produce a whole host of issues that prohibit the body from working as it should. This not only includes the danger of vital organs no longer working properly but also the mental state of those suffering from addiction. 

Since drug addiction is a brain disease affecting the central nervous system, ongoing substance abuse will begin to affect the messaging between the brain and the body in a way that starts to damage our emotional and cognitive state. Sadly, this happens all the time. It happens not only when the substance is working in the body but also when the body experiences withdrawal from not having the drug. As long as this vicious cycle continues, the body has no physical or mental relief from the dangerous effects of substance abuse. Additionally, some people might not find relief because they have unknown addictions

For example, a person might be addicted to hydrocodone, a powerful opioid drug prescribed for pain management. However, their drug dealer has been selling a fake version of hydrocodone with fentanyl, and even Xanax laced in the pill. The buyer, who has no idea they are addicted to multiple substances, may find they can’t satisfy their addiction when they attempt to buy hydrocodone from someone else who doesn’t practice drug cutting.

What Each Rehab Approach Accomplishes

Unfortunately, this scenario is becoming increasingly more common, and it highlights just how complex the issue of substance abuse has become. But the good news is this highlights how understanding the rehab methods available can empower us to address the issue of addiction comprehensively.  

First, rehab of any kind offers the benefit of community and professional expertise. The scenarios mentioned above are scary for someone to figure out all alone. Many people are unaware of the complex mental issues that substance abuse can cause, and as long as they avoid professional treatment, they can never receive a formal dual diagnosis. Not only does a dual diagnosis help identify the connection between substance abuse and mental health, it allows medical professionals to create a customized treatment plan that addresses each person’s recovery needs. Co-occurring mental disorders can lead to unsuccessful treatment, meaning someone who manages to stop abusing a substance by themselves without dealing with their mental health is more likely to relapse.

After it is determined what mental and substance-related treatment a person needs, they will need to choose inpatient or outpatient rehab. Both are self-explanatory in the sense of where someone will be while they undergo treatment, but the advantages might not be as clear at first glance. 

On the one hand, outpatient treatment has the advantage of flexibility. This includes flexibility in finances and personal responsibilities. People undergoing an outpatient treatment program can continue their weekly schedule and work responsibilities. Most people who benefit from outpatient programs may have a network of friends and families to support them through the process. However, outpatient programs will normally serve people best who are in the early stages of an SUD or do not need to receive medical detoxification services. Additionally, this requires a large amount of focus and discipline because it will be up to the individual to remain honest and independent while still commuting to a hospital, clinic, or rehab facility for therapy treatment. 

Some people participate in an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for several hours each day, followed by a regular outpatient program (OP) that generally meets less often and for shorter periods. 

In contrast, inpatient programs are more comprehensive. One of the most apparent differences between outpatient and inpatient rehabs is inpatient (also called residential) offers 24/7 access to medical professionals. Inpatient programs typically last for at least 30 days, but the dedicated treatment can be much more individualized and modified as needed to ensure the best results. Especially because so many people suffer from the aftermath of drug cutting, the withdrawal process is in response to multiple substances that the body must detox from. The presence of medical professionals is not only a support system; it’s also a safety mechanism for the dangerous and even life-threatening nature of repairing the body from these harmful substances. That is why outpatient treatment is not recommended for long-lasting or complex SUD cases.

Deciding for Yourself

With these things in mind, it’s hard to compare inpatient and outpatient rehab based on which one is better. Both are meant for different scenarios, and both have different methods in place for recovery. Educating people about these differences can help dispel assumptions that we might have between the two approaches, and it can even inform us about the multiple options that exist for rehab. 

While combating substance abuse has a lot to do with educating people about the dangers before they ever decide to use these substances, it has everything to do with providing education and direction for those stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction and abuse.  

This article was written for WHN by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine.

Content may be edited for style and length.

Materials provided by:

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NIH. (2022 Feb 25). Covid-19 & Substance Use. Retrieved

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NIH. (2015 June). Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence. Retrieved

NIH. (2022 May 20). Withdrawal Syndromes. Retrieved

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