What Is Intensive Outpatient Treatment?

Intensive Outpatient Treatment
November 26, 2019
|   Updated:
November 11, 2021

Substance use disorders impact approximately 10% of American adults at some point in their lives.

Unfortunately, a lack of sufficient and effective treatment continues to be a pervasive, societal problem. While awareness of addiction tends to be increasing, it can still be challenging to understand (and locate) professional help. Here’s a look at Intensive Outpatient Treatment, an approach to treatment that accommodates and supports the patient’s road to recovery.

What Is Intensive Outpatient Treatment?

An intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP) refers to a level of care used to treat addiction. While this care varies depending on the facility, it typically includes several hours of clinical services provided for a designated number of hours per week.

Intensive outpatient treatment programs may be part of a transitional, long-term, aftercare plan. For example, some clients will complete a formal detox and inpatient program. As a “stepdown,” they may then transition to an IOP. IOPs are meant to help clients successfully reintegrate into society after completing treatment.

That said, IOPs can also be a singular treatment option. Some clients will enter these programs directly instead of admitting into a formal inpatient or detox program. These people may have more mild or moderate substance use disorders (that don’t warrant detox or inpatient treatment). Likewise, they may also have particular obligations related to work or family that prohibit them from admitting into inpatient care.

IOP programs vary in length. Some programs may only last a month, whereas some programs last several months and up to a year. The treatment length depends on several factors, including one’s addiction severity, history of treatment, and overall commitment and compliance with recovery.

Each program has its own set of requirements. For example, clients may be required to participate in a specific number of clinical hours each week. They may also be encouraged to attend a certain amount of outside meetings. Finally, most programs do offer alumni and aftercare support because treatment professionals recognize the potential for relapse after completing care. That is why it is essential to have relapse prevention resources available and stay connected with sober support.

Intensive Outpatient vs. Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is the most structured level of clinical care. While at the facility, they live in controlled environments and receive a variety of group and individual therapeutic services. Depending on client needs and histories, programs may range from a few weeks to several months.

Inpatient treatment is often the recommended standard of care for treating severe substance use disorders. It can be tremendously beneficial for people who have histories of chronic relapse- especially if these people only received services at lower levels of care. Likewise, it can be helpful for people who need geographical separation from their current residences.

Unlike inpatient treatment, IOPs are not a 24/7 program. Most clients work, attend school, and take care of their families while also receiving support for their substance use disorders. While completing an IOP, they can live on their own. Therefore, there is a degree of personal accountability involved for those in an IOP.

While clients are tested and monitored, there is naturally more freedom in an IOP program than in an inpatient program. Clients are reintegrating into society and, therefore, must learn how to manage triggering environments and cravings as they arise.

Services can be similar across both types of programs. Most facilities offer services related to medical monitoring, case management, psychotherapy, family, and alumni support. Outpatient care tends to focus more on successful integration into society. Both services tend to focus on themes of relapse prevention, stress management, coping skills, and managing a successful work-life balance.

Inpatient and intensive outpatient programs can and do complement each other. Many facilities offer both kinds of services. In these cases, clients transition into IOP after successfully completing their inpatient level care. They may still work with the same treatment team (psychiatrist, therapist, case manager) throughout their entire treatment episode.

Understanding Success Rates

When seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one, it is essential to understand that success rates for recovery can and do vary. Unfortunately, research on long-term efficacy for addiction treatment is relatively limited. With that in mind, evidence does show that long-term treatment boasts more positive recovery outcomes.

Many experts agree that the most effective treatments entail a multidisciplinary approach. This approach should include evidence-based treatment that focuses on pertinent issues related to:

  • Understanding and identifying cravings
  • Providing education on relapse and how to obtain support following a relapse
  • Identifying a healthy and meaningful self-care routine
  • Establishing positive, prosocial peer support
  • Addressing current legal and financial issues related to the substance use disorder
  • Assessing and managing family and marital dynamics
  • Coordinating appropriate care with medical and psychological care support
  • Improving overall satisfaction and participation in occupational and academic affairs
  • Strengthening self-esteem and self-worth
  • Developing appropriate aftercare goals related to long-term recovery

Successful treatment programs focus on providing sustainable and individualized care. They integrate a full biopsychosocial approach when intervening with their clients. This means that they take factors like co-occurring disorders, trauma histories, medical concerns, and family dynamics into consideration.

Successful treatment programs also involve clients and their support systems. Many experts consider substance use disorders as ‘family’ diseases. This means, when appropriate, it is crucial to include spouses, parents, and significant relatives in the treatment planning process.

Finally, clients should be aware and informed of what to expect throughout their services. Clients should feel supported by their treatment team. They should also feel that their needs are being addressed in order to affect proper change.

Final Thoughts

Getting help for a substance use disorder can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, treatment options are abundant and available to those who are pursuing recovery.

Intensive outpatient treatment allows the client to receive professional support without sacrificing current obligations. Soberlink Remote Alcohol Monitoring, for example, is a popular choice for IOP’s due to the fact clients don’t have to be supervised daily and testing is customizable. Soberlink also provides a way to introduce accountability and relapse prevention tools before a client leaves their IOP.

For those struggling with addiction, IOPs who support the use of Soberlink may be the key to achieving lasting recovery.

About the Author

Nicole Arzt is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in providing psychotherapy to individuals, families, and groups struggling with substance use disorders and psychiatric illnesses. She received her master’s of science degree from California State University, Long Beach in 2014. She has extensive experience working in a variety of dual-diagnosis treatment centers, providing services for all levels of care from detoxification to long-term outpatient therapy.

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