If you or a family member are seeking substance-abuse treatment, the first step toward recovery is choosing the right program. But what’s the difference between outpatient drug counseling and inpatient facilities? Primarily, the difference is in the location of therapy, but there are other factors to consider as well.

What you need to know before choosing a program
There may not be a single approach that works for every person, but both outpatient and inpatient counseling focus on the person first—and their condition second. Investing time and energy into one’s self is a vital requirement of any program, but here’s what to consider before choosing a plan.

What is drug counseling?
Substance or drug counseling is another way to describe rehabilitation therapy for people dealing with addiction. Outpatient drug counseling gives clients the tools they need to recover without requiring admittance to a hospital or rehab center, while inpatient includes an on-site stay at such a facility.

Both inpatient and outpatient therapy utilize ongoing assessments, integrated counseling methods, the 12-step model, individual and group counseling, and relapse-prevention training. However, the ultimate focus is on rehabilitation with a holistic approach.

Teams of professional staff provide physical, emotional, and psychological support for clients in a variety of settings. Considering the whole person, including their rehabilitation needs, maintains an individual-centered mindset and bolsters client confidence while providing tools for the recovery journey.

Do you qualify for leave from work?
Committing to inpatient treatment means taking a substantial amount of time off work and could mean unemployment following discharge. However, many people qualify for leave from work under specific programs. Fortunately, counseling staff can assist clients in filling out the appropriate paperwork so that their jobs and their livelihoods receive protection.

For people who cannot obtain either paid or unpaid leave from work, choosing to check into an inpatient facility may mean forfeiting a good job in favor of a healthier future. Whereas committing to outpatient rehab for substance abuse does not require days or weeks away from work.

Whether or not an individual can afford to take time off work can influence his or her decision to seek treatment. Outpatient drug counseling helps clients to maintain their daily schedules regarding work and family life while still receiving critical aid toward recovery.

What options does your insurance cover?
If you are relying on insurance to cover the cost of your counseling, you may have limited options when it comes to outpatient drug rehab centers or inpatient facilities. However, rather than letting your insurance dictate where you can turn for help, you may also consider a financing program.

Many financing programs help foot the bill for outpatient or inpatient treatment, letting you access the services you need at a price that’s manageable. Plus, free or low-cost Medi-Cal programs cover most types of drug counseling, meaning there is a treatment option for every individual regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay out of pocket.

Where will you stay?
Depending on where you live, inpatient treatment may sound more feasible than driving a long distance to receive outpatient drug counseling. However, the higher cost and commitment required for inpatient treatment can discourage people from pursuing recovery. Therefore, outpatient drug rehab centers serve a specific client need that inpatient facilities cannot fulfill.

With outpatient rehab for substance abuse, clients either live at home or in a partner sober-living facility. Sober-living facilities can help keep clients on track toward recovery by placing them in a substance-free environment with other people on the path toward wellness. Rent is typically lower for sober-living housing than standard housing, although this is an added expense if you are maintaining a home as well.

Choosing to check into an inpatient facility, move to a sober-living location, or remain living at home comes down to what type of treatment you and your healthcare team feel is best for your recovery—and what costs you or your insurance provider are willing to carry.

Are you ready?
While these questions can help prepare you to choose a drug-counseling program, there are more things you need to know before entering an addiction-recovery program. Between being able to take time off from work and ensuring that financial and personal circumstances are covered, entering into counseling requires serious commitment.

To do substance-abuse treatment the right way, you need to be able to trust your healthcare team to have your best interests at heart. Working together and accepting their guidance will help you meet your recovery goals, but you must be serious about the commitment.

You’ll also need to develop a plan for your life following treatment, one which includes professional help, community resources, and a reliable support system of family or friends. Having these systems in place before seeking outpatient drug counseling improves post-treatment outcomes.

Finally, accepting that you need help and that you’ll have to be honest to receive it is a vital part of getting ready for treatment. Your counselor will ask you many essential questions, and honesty is critical in every instance, both for your treatment and your relationship with the professional team.
Outpatient versus inpatient counseling timeframes
Recovery takes time, so clients can’t expect to make tremendous progress overnight. That said, the timeframes for inpatient and outpatient counseling are very different. This is because each program has its unique processes and components, plus staffing and other needs.

  • Outpatient drug counseling
  • Outpatient treatment can range from three days per week at three hours per day, to one day a week for one hour. Because you’ll remain living at home or enter into a sober-living arrangement, you won’t need to spend all your free time at the facility.

Inpatient drug counseling
Inpatient therapy usually lasts for two weeks, and clients live on-site. This means additional hours of therapy over outpatient settings. However, inpatient treatment gives clients the benefit of on-site support staff 24/7 in a secure and sober facility. Also, following an inpatient stay, clients can continue to attend outpatient therapy for months afterward. This reinforces positive client behaviors and helps prevent relapse.

Erica Franco Mortimer, MA, LPC, LCADC
Founder and CEO
Center for Healing
Evan Berk Erica is a licensed therapist with over twenty-years experience in mental health. Erica offers practical and straight forward advice to those struggling with addiction and their families. Having deep insight and understanding of addiction, Erica is able to offer guidance to those looking to regain control of their lives.

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