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Outpatient treatment, which is far less intrusive than a sequestered inpatient facility, may be recommended for people with less serious or long lasting addictions, and may also be recommended as a first attempt at professional intervention. The advantages of an outpatient drug treatment are primarily twofold, and if it can provide enough motivation to change, an outpatient drug rehab should be considered optimal.

Firstly, the cost is generally far less, and depending on the intensity of services, can be a fraction as much as a corresponding inpatient treatment. Secondly, because the recovering addict remains at living at home, the disruption to career, family and other commitments is minimized.

The range of intensity of outpatient drug treatment may vary from a few sessions a week of group therapy and education, to as much as full day inclusion in a drug treatment program, with the only difference from a residential stay being a return home (and with it a return to temptation) each night.

Disadvantages of Outpatient Treatment

When it works, outpatient drug treatment is the ideal solution, but too often outpatient drug treatment is encouraged due to the relative expense of inpatient treatment. Public drug rehabilitation programs will generally consist of mostly drug treatment on an outpatient basis, with limited access to inpatient beds.

While remaining within the family and able to work has its advantages; the continuing presence of temptation in the environment of abuse presents a significant obstacle to initial sobriety. Many people find that without getting away from access to drugs and alcohol, they are unable to remain away from abuse during the initial craving filled weeks.

Additionally, the more intensive and committed the participation in recovery, the greater the ultimate likelihood of sobriety. Inevitably, when addicts undergo treatment within their home environment, their attentions are focused partially elsewhere, and they are unable to give as focused an effort at recovery.

Although the minimal disruption and low cost of outpatient drug treatment can be very attractive, and may work for some people with a short history of abuse or minor dependencies, most addicts will ultimately require a more intensive period of rehabilitation, as is offered at an inpatient facility.

Outpatient Therapies


When presented with a physical addiction to drug or alcohol, the first stage in any recovery is drug or alcohol detoxification, and although detoxification is best done under medical supervision, an outpatient but still monitored detoxification is possible. Some people will benefit from an initially hospitalized period of detoxification, followed by continuing outpatient therapy.

Group therapy

Almost universally, outpatient drug rehab programs will use peer group support programs as an educational and motivational tool. These peer support groups may or may not be 12 steps based, and will encourage abstinence through a shared exploration of abuse behaviors and a shared discussion of applicable strategies to use avoidance.

Cognitive behavioral therapies

Through participation in cognitive or behavioral therapies, addicts are encouraged to take responsibility for their substance use and abuse, and even for the cognition that lead them to temptation and increased risks of abuse. Real world strategies to avoid situations of temptation and techniques to get away from inevitable temptation without relapse are explored. This technique has been very successful for certain drug abuser profiles, particularly younger abusers.

Private therapy

Although frequent peer group sessions are beneficial, the concurrent therapy with a trained addictions councilor or psychologist best allows recovering addicts to discover their individual risk factors back to abuse, and to formulate a plan to stay sober.

Drug and vocational education

Drug education classes inform recovering addicts of the bodily consequences of addiction, and teach relapse prevention and general health.

Vocational training may be offered to those without employable skills, and some better outpatient facilities may even include a supervised work component. High school equivalency courses or even higher education classes may also be offered.

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Page last updated 27/09/2015

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