Why Choose Outpatient Treatment for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders?

Jan 21, 2024
By Sarah Church, Ph.D.

When most people think about addiction treatment, they immediately think of detox and inpatient rehabilitation programs (a/k/a “rehab”). They might also think of peer support that can be accessed through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other 12-step programs. However, people don’t typically think of outpatient psychotherapy or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Outpatient care for substance use disorders can be a good way to begin addressing issues with alcohol or other drug use. There are several ways in which it may even be preferable for some people. Here are seven ways in which outpatient care can be helpful to someone looking to make changes in their substance use:

1) Flexibility: You can start outpatient treatment without completely disrupting your life. You can continue to engage in your normal daily routines including working or going to school. You can maintain your job, your social connections, and your responsibilities to your family. Most outpatient programs are designed to accommodate various commitments and to allow participants to attend therapy sessions and support groups on days and times that are convenient for them. You may even be able to do treatment using telehealth sessions. This flexibility ensures that treatment seamlessly integrates with daily life.

2) Cost-Effectiveness: Outpatient care is more cost-effective than inpatient care which bears the burden of 24/7 medical supervision and accommodation. Because of the lower cost, outpatient treatment can be provided over a much longer time for the same price. In some cases, you can receive an entire year of treatment on an outpatient basis with what you might have paid for a month of care at a luxury inpatient program. This makes quality care accessible to a broader range of people and reduces financial constraints that could block the path to recovery.

3) Real-life Applications & Experiences – One of the biggest strengths of outpatient care is that you can learn skills in treatment and then practice those skills and coping strategies in your everyday environment. Implementation of newly acquired skills in your life makes the lessons tailored to you in real-time. This makes the transition to a life without the use of alcohol and drugs more manageable.

For example, you can work with your therapist and discuss an upcoming situation that you worry might trigger an urge for you to drink or use your drug of choice. You can create an action plan for coping with that situation and then you can go home and try to implement the plan. Then, you come back the following week, discuss your experience with your therapist, and share how it all played out. Examples of this could include struggles with an employer, a spouse, a child, or a friend, or they could include a difficult upcoming situation such as a wedding, air travel to a vacation or possibly having a weekend alone while your spouse goes on a business trip. Being able to create a plan to manage real-life situations safely and then process them afterward helps you learn how to cope with new challenges each week. Over a year, you will learn how to crack the code on every holiday, every anniversary, and every season. This is extremely helpful in helping you learn new ways of coping with the situations that have prompted and maintained your alcohol and drug use in the past.

4) Personalized Approach: Comprehensive psychosocial assessments identify specific challenges, underlying causes, and co-occurring mental health disorders that can contribute to ongoing substance use. Using this information, outpatient treatment centers can tailor treatment plans to individual needs while addressing specific challenges to get at what is driving your overuse of substances. This personalized approach enhances effectiveness and promotes sustained recovery. It also increases the likelihood of successful recovery by providing targeted support which can be modified over time as you grow and change and as things change in your life and in your family.

5) Community Connection and Peer Support: When engaging in outpatient care, you can immediately start to develop a supportive community of peers facing similar struggles. Sharing experiences and insights with others who have the same issues fosters a sense of belonging and reduces the sense of isolation you may feel during early recovery.

6) Time: In outpatient care, you have the luxury of time. Individual and group therapy sessions can serve as a platform for introspection, allowing you to be curious and delve into the underlying causes of your continued use. Over time, active participation in treatment includes openly sharing your experiences, challenges, and successes, and developing strong therapeutic alliances with your therapists. Group sessions create a safe, non-judgmental environment for sharing experiences, gaining insights, and building strong bonds. In groups, the goal is to connect with your peers who understand your journey, who share their insights, and you to form relationships that reinforce your commitment to change.

7) For people who go into detox, rehab, or residential treatment, outpatient programs offer continuity of care beyond the intensive treatment phase. This ongoing support helps you transition to your home environment with continued therapy and support. Continuity of care is crucial in preventing relapse and maintaining long-term recovery.

Involving Family in Treatment is Key to Success Outpatient substance use treatment allows for long-term family involvement in the recovery process. At Wholeview, we use the Community Reinforcement and Family Therapy Model (CRAFT). We teach positive communication which fosters open discussions among family members, and we educate concerned significant others about addiction. We also emphasize self-care for the family members who are often exhausted by caring for their loved one who may have been struggling for quite some time. Engaging families creates a supportive environment, brings down the temperature for the entire family, and increases the chances of long-term success for everyone in the family.

Conclusion In your journey toward recovery, we encourage you to explore the power of outpatient treatment, knowing that every positive change you make contributes to a healthier, more productive, and more satisfying life.

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