When an individual who is struggling with addiction has a relatively low risk of relapse, a high level of motivation to stop using drugs, and a strong support system to help get through rehab, outpatient treatment may be an option.

Outpatient treatment is rehab where the person does not reside at the facility, but still spends a good amount of time in treatment to learn and apply the tools that prevent relapse and enable recovery. In outpatient treatment, the individual is then able to live at home, and often has time to keep up with work, school, and other responsibilities at the same time.

Still, even with outpatient treatment, the length of time spent in the program can have a profound effect on treatment outcomes and the ability to maintain recovery afterwards. The following provides some details about how outpatient treatment can work for people who are working toward recovery from drug abuse.

Length of Recommended Treatment at an Outpatient Facility

Recommendations for Time in Outpatient Treatment

Treatment time is important no matter the kind of drug treatment, as explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Research shows that the longer a person stays in treatment, the more likely they are to maintain recovery for at least one year after treatment.

For example, an article from the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors demonstrates that, for both inpatient and outpatient treatment, longer retention times resulted in a higher likelihood of long-term recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

Most outpatient programs last between one and three months. Based on the above information, periods of at least 90 days in treatment is recommended to achieve the most positive outcomes.

The Course of Outpatient Treatment

The Course of Outpatient Treatment
The process of treatment in outpatient programs depends partly on the individual’s relapse risk and on other factors that determine the intensity of the treatment process required to help the individual develop the needed tools to avoid cravings and maintain abstinence. The determination is made through applying criteria from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) that assign people to levels of care based on the degree of addiction and other elements as described in detail below.

The degrees of outpatient treatment include:

  • Standard outpatient treatment: meant for those with the lowest relapse risk
  • Intensive outpatient treatment: designed for people who have a slightly higher relapse risk
  • Partial hospitalization: offered to those who have a higher relapse risk but do not need residential care

The course of treatment might include a range of services and sessions provided or facilitated by experienced addiction treatment personnel, counselors, and peer organizers, including:

  • 12-Step program involvement
  • Educational sessions to increase understanding of drug abuse issues
  • Counseling and therapy sessions to increase abstinence skills
  • Informational and peer support sessions to build motivation and accountability

Standard Outpatient Treatment

Standard outpatient treatment generally consists of less than nine hours per week of treatment for adults or less than six hours a week for teenagers, as described by the ASAM Continuum. Treatment often occurs before or after work or school, in the evenings, and on weekends.

Treatment can be appropriate for those who have mild substance abuse issues, and who have a relatively low risk of relapse and high motivation to complete treatment and maintain abstinence in the long-term. This type of treatment can also be useful for people who have cognitive difficulties and who need a less intense, gentler form of treatment.outpatient treatment

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

This slightly more intense form of outpatient treatment involves more than nine hours per week for adults or more than six hours per week for adolescents. ASAM Continuum states that this type of outpatient treatment can also provide care for people who have co-occurring conditions but still have a high degree of motivation to complete treatment and a relatively mild to moderate level of addiction.

Intensive outpatient treatment can still be delivered in a variety of locations. However, the individual may spend as much as three hours, three times a week or more, receiving and participating in treatment services.

Partial Hospitalization

Partial hospitalization is at least 20 hours per week of treatment, for those who need more intensive service and support. This type of outpatient treatment will often provide service during the day at a dedicated facility. As such, the individual may need to make arrangements with work or school to have time for treatment requirements.

ASAM Continuum recommends that this level of care be used for those who have higher levels of instability but do not require 24-hour supervision. This can include people who have moderate abuse issues but also have a strong social support system and motivating factors to recover.

Recovery with Outpatient Care

Achieving and Maintaining Recovery
When an individual who is struggling with substance abuse has the dedication to complete treatment and a relatively low risk of returning to drug use after treatment, outpatient treatment may be an option. It can also be used to support those who have completed inpatient treatment but are not quite ready to live without some form of structured treatment services.

As with any treatment type, the ability of outpatient treatment to help an individual achieve recovery depends a lot on the individual’s motivation and determination to stop using drugs. With a research-based outpatient treatment program, an individual struggling with substance abuse can start on the path to a clean, more positive future.