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Outpatient vs. Inpatient Rehab: What Kind Of Treatment Options Do I Have?

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Treating addiction is most effective when it takes a personalized approach: it is true that one size does not fit all. But before committing to a treatment plan, those with substance abuse disorders and their families should be informed of the differences between levels of care, and when one might seem more fitting than the other.

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  1. Detoxification Programs: Medical detoxification programs are a safe place for people with addiction to manage their acute physical and psychiatric symptoms associated with initial withdrawal. For example, withdrawing from heavy alcohol use may cause nausea, dizziness, tremors, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness and even, in severe cases, seizures. Detoxification requires supervision to help manage these symptoms and to provide support so that the individual in care does not return to substance abuse to lessen the withdrawal effects. The program is structured as inpatient, usually on a hospital ward, to ensure the safety of the person in recovery is monitored. While this is a serious undertaking, it is considered an initial stage of treatment for severe abuse and does not often lead to long-term sobriety.
  2. Short-Term Residential Treatment: Short-term residential programs are considered intensive but also brief, consisting of 3 to 6 week hospital stays on substance abuse wards. Many include detoxification programs as part of the stay, but include individual therapy, group therapy, substance abuse education and medication management. It is meant to not only stabilize the patient, but also teach long-term sobriety management skills for those with less severe substance abuse addictions. It is important for those in inpatient programs to stay in outpatient treatment following their discharge, to maintain support and reinforce new habits while adjusting back to regular life.
  3. Long-term Residential Treatment: Long-term residential programs provide 24 hour care outside of the hospital setting, usually in a treatment facility designed to handle the specific addiction. Patients usually stay 6 to 12 months. The programs usually include detoxification, therapy, and peer support. What differentiates long-term care from short-term care is that long-term care also provides a multidimensional, intensive treatment program that teaches the patient new ways to live without relying on their drug of choice in a setting where they can practice those new skills. “Addiction is viewed in the context of an individual’s social and psychological deficits, and treatment focuses on developing personal accountability and responsibility as well as socially productive lives. Treatment is highly structured and can be confrontational at times, with activities designed to help residents examine damaging beliefs, self-concepts, and destructive patterns of behavior and adopt new, more harmonious and constructive ways to interact with others. Many TCs offer comprehensive services, which can include employment training and other support services, onsite,” The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains.
  4. Outpatient Treatment Programs: Outpatient treatment programs can be structured in a variety of ways but are not meant for overnight stay. These programs may come in the form of a support center that offers medication management, addiction education, and group therapy. It may also include intensive day treatment, which is targeted towards those battling more severe addictions, offering hours of skills training for managing living without substance use. Some outpatient programs also provide dual diagnosis treatment, helping the patient manage their addiction and any concurrent mental health disorders. They also often offer family education and therapy programming to help others support the loved one with addiction. These treatment programs are intended for those who suffer from substance abuse but have supportive and stable living environments to go back to after visiting the center. They are also used to treat patients who have come out of inpatient residential treatment as follow-up support and maintenance support for continued sober living. They are considered highly effective in long-term substance abstinence if matched properly to the severity of addiction.

There are many forms of treatment for substance abuse disorders that vary in length and intensity depending on the severity of the addiction and the causes for the addiction’s onset. However, pursuing help should not stop with initial treatment. Maintenance is required to keep addiction at bay, including continuous education, behavior and cognitive management, and peer and family support. Pursuing a structured treatment program is the first step to getting off substance use and gain clarity on how to live a healthy life in the long-term.

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