Is Inpatient or Outpatient Drug Addiction Treatment the Right Choice?

One of the first choices you will make as you begin your journey into recovery is what type of rehabilitation program will best work for you. Though it is true that the most comprehensive care is usually provided by inpatient drug addiction treatment programs due to the 24-hour nature of the support offered, intensive outpatient programs can provide an effective therapeutic treatment regimen, and in some cases, less intensive outpatient treatment services may be most appropriate. It depends on:

  • Your history with addiction
  • Your co-occurring mental health symptoms
  • Your drug of choice and whether or not you struggle with withdrawal symptoms during detox
  • Your home life
  • Outstanding legal issues
  • Your past attempts at treatment and sobriety
  • Your personal goals for recovery
  • Your insurance and financial situation

Take a moment to consider these different areas of your life to help you determine whether inpatient or outpatient care will be a better fit.

Addiction History

If you have been living with addiction for decades, then the habit of drug use is deeply embedded, and the lifestyle of sobriety will take a bit of time and practice. Inpatient detox and addiction treatment followed by time spent in a sober living home and outpatient care that tapers off slowly are often recommended to ensure you have everything you need to stop using drugs safely and learn how to feel comfortable living without them.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you have only recently begun to experience consequences due to drug or alcohol use, and have decided that treatment makes sense, then outpatient services will likely be your best course of action. Choosing therapies that allow you to continue working or attending school, to rebuild relationships with family members that may have become strained, and that provide you with directed treatment to get you back on track may be more beneficial than a long-term immersion program.

If you are somewhere in between these two extremes, then your gut feeling on what you need to truly build a strong foundation in sobriety is important, and due weight to the other considerations may play a large role in determining what style of treatment is best suited to your needs.

Co-occurring Disorders

If you are living with a mental health disorder – an issue that is twice as likely to strike someone with a substance use disorder as compared to the general population – then it is important that you seek treatment for both addiction and the mental health issue simultaneously. Treatment programs that address dual diagnoses will provide you with the psychiatric care necessary to manage your mental health symptoms while providing you with relapse prevention and therapeutic treatment for trauma and related issues. Often, drug use can trigger mental health episodes and symptoms, and mental health symptoms can trigger the urge to drink or get high; thus, it is important to treat both issues at the same time. Some intensive outpatient treatment programs provide in-depth treatment for clients with dual diagnoses, but many will find that inpatient care is the best way to stabilize in recovery.


Depending on the drug of choice, detox may be a significant first step in recovery. Defined by physical as well as psychological withdrawal symptoms, it may be helpful to make use of medications to manage the issue in some cases. While it is possible to detox on an outpatient basis, many programs are inpatient in order to ensure that you have medical care and treatment available to you if necessary around the clock.

Home Life

If you choose an outpatient treatment program, it is imperative that you have a stable, sober home to return to each night. If you live with other people, friends, or family members, they should be supportive of your sobriety and willing to help you while also giving you the space and time to heal at your own pace. If you live alone, you must feel strong enough about getting sober to be able to avoid relapse when you leave the program. There will be random drug tests to help you stay on track, but if you feel that you will be unable to maintain sobriety while living at home, then an inpatient program may be a better option.

Legal Obligations

If you are entering treatment at this moment at the behest of a court order, then you will need to follow the dictates of that order to a tee. If it requires you to enter a drug addiction treatment program that lasts for a certain amount of time, requires mental health treatment, and/or indicates that inpatient or outpatient treatment is necessary, then you will need to follow the order exactly. The good news is that if you enter a drug court program and follow the treatment order, check in with your probation or parole officer as directed, and avoid relapse then it may be possible to have the charges dropped.

Past Treatment

If you previously entered outpatient treatment and did not sustain sobriety for long, it may be an indication that inpatient treatment will be more effective for you. Knowing what does not work for you can be just as valuable as knowing what does work for you, and this knowledge should inform your treatment choice.

Personal Goals

How do you envision your time in recovery? What would you like to accomplish in terms of treatment, building a new social network, and creating a new life for yourself? Consider what the different treatment programs, both inpatient and outpatient, have to offer and head over for a visit. Then, ask yourself which one feels right to you.


Health insurance should cover the cost of substance abuse treatment, but it may not cover the full cost, especially if you choose to enroll in inpatient rehab. Call your health insurance provider to nail down the specifics and then determine whether or inpatient or outpatient treatment is within your budget.

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