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What To Expect During an Outpatient Treatment for Alcohol

Alcohol addiction is a serious medical condition that is also called alcohol use disorder (AUD). It has a serious effect on a person’s mind and body, but not everyone who is addicted seeks treatment.

Navigation: How Common is Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States?, What is Outpatient Treatment for AUD?, How Do You Know If Outpatient Rehab is Right for You, , What to Expect from Outpatient Alcohol Rehab, Choosing Between Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment: Is Inpatient Treatment Better?, What are the Types of Outpatient Rehab?, Choosing an Outpatient Treatment Program, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Drinking alcohol is common in social settings. In fact, according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 85.6 percent of people in the US over the age of 18 have reportedly consumed alcohol at least once in their lifetime. This same survey also showed that 69.5 percent of this age group consumed alcohol within the past year, while 54.9 percent drank within the past month.

Unfortunately, social drinkers are at risk of developing unhealthy drinking habits. If their alcohol consumption goes unchecked, they may even develop tolerance, addiction, and alcohol dependence.

Alcohol addiction is a serious medical condition that is also called alcohol use disorder (AUD). It has a serious effect on a person’s mind and body, but not everyone who is addicted seeks treatment. This is because there is still a stigma surrounding addiction and rehab. People are afraid to seek treatment because they are afraid of being judged by their peers. On top of that, they don’t understand how treatment in rehab works.

When people think about addiction treatment, they immediately think about inpatient treatment programs. They think they have to spend weeks or months in a rehab facility for their alcohol addiction.

This is actually not the case for every patient. Sometimes inpatient rehab isn’t necessary. That is why there are several outpatient alcohol treatment programs available. Let’s take a closer look at outpatient rehab programs and what you should expect from them.


How Common is Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States?

Nearly 15 million people in the US that are over the age of 12 are affected by alcohol use disorder. Around 414,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 have an AUD, according to the NSDUH. Heavy drinking is common because a lot of people love to drink socially in order to hang out with co-workers, bond with friends, celebrate their achievements, or to just relax. Drinking alcohol is okay in moderation, but going over the recommended number of drinks per week can cause some problems. Just like drug abuse, alcohol abuse can lead to addiction.

Aside from heavy drinking, binge drinking is also very common in the US. This refers to excessive alcohol intake within a short period of time. In 2019, around 25.8 percent of people 18 and older reportedly participated in binge drinking within the past month. This high-intensity drinking habit is a form of alcohol abuse and may lead to serious health effects.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines binge drinking as consuming 4 or more drinks for adult women and 5 or more drinks for adult men, within 2 hours.

Even if you don’t engage in binge drinking, heavy alcohol consumption in general can increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol addiction and dependence. It can even do some serious damage to your body.

People who regularly drink and go beyond the normal drinking thresholds are 70 times more likely to visit the emergency department. People who drink even more than that are 93 times more likely to be rushed to the emergency room.

The NSDUH also reported that only 7.2 percent of people who had an AUD in the past year received any type of alcohol treatment. This means even with the consequences of alcohol use disorder, people are not rushing to their nearest treatment centers.

Even those with an AUD will often just visit a doctor for a health problem related to alcohol rather than seek treatment for alcohol addiction itself. But discussing how treatment works can help eliminate the stigma surrounding the rehab journey. Hopefully, learning how outpatient alcohol treatment works will help you guide your addicted loved one towards lasting sobriety. If you or someone you love is currently dealing with an addiction, do not hesitate to seek treatment.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), for example, provides plenty of great resources for alcohol treatment and other addiction treatment programs. There are many treatment options out there. You just need to be willing to get started on the road to recovery.


What is Outpatient Treatment for AUD?

Not all patients struggling with an alcohol use disorder require intensive care. While alcohol addiction is a debilitating problem, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it can even be managed with an outpatient alcohol treatment program.

But first things first: what exactly is addiction? Addiction is typically characterized by the compulsive need to take a certain substance even if the person is already suffering from its adverse health effects. The same thing applies for alcohol addiction. The person will keep drinking even if they are already feeling the consequences. They may suffer from physical and mental health effects, but they are unable to quit drinking.

Alcohol becomes their top priority. They may even lose interest in things they used to enjoy or neglect their responsibilities in favor of alcohol. Their days will revolve around drinking, thinking about drinking, attempting to obtain alcohol, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.

Their prolonged alcohol consumption will make them more tolerant to its effects, meaning they will have to drink more just to experience the same effects.

People drink for a number of reasons: peer pressure, work-related stress, and socialization are among the most common reasons. Some people drink because they like how alcohol reduces their inhibitions and lowers their anxiety. But regardless of the reason, anyone can get addicted.

Loved ones are usually the first to notice when something is off about a person’s behavior. They may drink in the middle of the day or while they are alone. They may lie about their whereabouts and who they are spending their time with. This secretive behavior may tip you off about the ongoing substance abuse.

Addiction can be an overwhelming condition. That said, addiction can range from mild to severe. For those with mild to moderate alcohol addiction, an outpatient alcohol treatment program may be the right choice for them.

There are plenty of treatment options out there. With some support from your friends and family, and enough determination to push through, you can make significant progress towards life-long sobriety. Of course, you also need the support of medical professionals.

In an outpatient setting, patients in recovery do not have to stay in the rehab facility for the duration of treatment—which is what inpatient treatment is. Instead they can go home in between sessions. This means outpatient treatment involves frequently driving to the treatment center.

Despite not staying in a rehab center, patients are expected to stay sober even if they are staying at home.

The flexible nature of outpatient rehab makes it ideal for those who have plenty of responsibilities in the real world that they cannot leave behind. With outpatient treatment, they can go home, attend classes, go to work, take care of their family, etc. You can keep up with your obligations while still receiving the kind of help you need.

This is a non-residential, therapy-based treatment that can be done for alcohol and drug addicted patients. It is also referred to as partial hospitalization.

Food and accommodations are not provided, unlike in residential treatment, which means patients have to provide for themselves. This won’t be a problem since the patient will stay in their own home anyway.

Both inpatient and outpatient rehab can help a person achieve sobriety. It’s just a matter of finding the right program that fits the patient’s specific needs.

How Do You Know If Outpatient Rehab is Right for You?

One of the biggest contributing factors to a successful addiction treatment is your choice of rehab. The right treatment program in the right treatment center can give you the best chances of recovery. Remember that addiction treatment is not just about helping you get sober, it is also about teaching you sustainable and effective ways to maintain long term sobriety.

Since outpatient rehab programs are designed to allow patients to stay in their hometown and live in their own home, it may be the ideal choice for people who want to remain in close proximity to their community.

Some patients with moderate alcohol addiction may still be able to work or attend classes while going to rehab. An intensive outpatient program (IOP) may help them achieve this balance while still receiving proper care.

Outpatient alcohol treatment may be the right choice for a patient with a strong emotional support system at home. Their family supports them in their recovery efforts without tolerating their addictive behavior or enabling them. Patients need a support system that will keep them on the right track instead of enabling their alcoholism.

If you have easy access to transportation, outpatient alcohol treatment may work for you. These programs involve frequently scheduled visits to the rehab center or facility. You have to show up on the scheduled dates. Having a mode of transportation will make that part easier.

One of the biggest benefits of outpatient rehab is that it lets you live life a normal while you receive the treatment that you need for your addiction. This is a less structured and less intensive approach compared to inpatient treatment, but this can help you adjust faster to life outside of rehab after treatment.

Outpatient alcohol rehab programs are also a good fit for highly-motivated patients who are determined to get sober. Even without round the clock access to healthcare professionals and counseling sessions, they can stay sober in between treatment sessions.

It is also a good fit for patients who are not at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, some patients have medical complications and co-occurring disorders that are better addressed in an inpatient setting. But for those who are not in need of these services, outpatient care may be enough.

As we mentioned previously, this is only recommended as an option for those who have mild to moderate cases of addiction. Those who have severe addiction, intense withdrawal symptoms, and require close medical supervision may benefit more from the round the clock care provided by an inpatient treatment program.

Choosing to overcome an alcohol use disorder is often the first and most difficult step in the addiction treatment journey. Admitting that you have a problem is not easy for everyone. Some are in denial while others are burdened by shame, guilt, or regret. But once you have taken that leap, receiving the right treatment from an outpatient alcohol treatment center can make the journey much easier from that point on.

Addiction recovery is not going to be a walk in the park. But with the right program, you can make significant progress and change your life.

Outpatient alcohol treatment may not be right for you if you have a severe alcohol addiction, a history of relapse, a high risk of severe withdrawal, and a toxic living environment.

Take note that some patients go from inpatient to outpatient alcohol treatment after making significant progress towards their sobriety. It can also work the other way around: patients who relapse or are not making progress with outpatient programs may be advised to switch to an inpatient treatment program.

What to Expect from Outpatient Alcohol Rehab

Before you enter an outpatient alcohol treatment center, you may want to know what to expect from this type of program.

Just like in an inpatient addiction treatment program, the patient will undergo a combination of medication assisted treatment, therapy, counseling, and group sessions. This will be done in a treatment facility or clinic. The only difference is that the patient does not have to stay for the duration of the program. They will have frequently scheduled visits to the treatment center, but they can go home in between sessions.

As such, the facility does not provide food and lodging. The patient will have to take care of these needs themselves, which they can do from home.

Before you get started on an outpatient alcohol treatment program, you will talk to a staff member about your condition. This is called the intake process, and it is what helps the rehab center develop a personalized treatment plan based on your condition and needs. You may be asked about your alcohol intake, medical history, co-occurring mental health disorders, medications, current situation, etc.

In any type of addiction treatment program, a personalized treatment approach is always preferred because addiction affects everyone in different ways. This intake process will also allow the treatment center to establish clear goals that have to be met by the patient. This creates a clear direction for treatment.

The patient will then be informed about the rules of the facility. These rules have to be followed carefully for the duration of the treatment program.

Even with an outpatient program, patients will still receive the treatment that they need. They will still go through medical detox, during which their alcohol intake will be gradually lowered while their withdrawal symptoms are managed by addiction experts.

Alcohol detox will help them get sober again because their body will no longer be dependent on alcohol to function. Medications will be administered to make the recovery process much more comfortable for the patient. This will help keep their condition stable and their cravings at a minimum. With fewer distractions, they can focus on their recovery.

The patient will also go through family therapy, individual therapy, and group therapy. The goal of these is to help the patient identify unhealthy thought patterns and get to the bottom of why they drink. They will address issues that are keeping them addicted and also learn healthy coping mechanisms that will allow them to stay away from alcohol even if they are all alone.

After each treatment session, they get to go home and continue living as normal. That said, the exact treatment methods will vary from one rehab to another. With the ability to live in their own home, patients can start learning how to balance real life with addiction management. This is something inpatient clients still have to learn after leaving rehab. But the adjustment period is practically non-existent for outpatient clients.

One thing worth noting is that outpatient care is less expensive than inpatient rehab. This will help patients with milder conditions to recover from their addiction without spending too much.

No treatment program is perfect. Because recovery is done in a less structured environment, the chance of relapse is slightly higher than its inpatient counterpart. But at the end of the day, it all depends on how good a fit outpatient care is for a particular patient.

Choosing Between Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment: Is Inpatient Treatment Better?

Although inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are different from one another, one is not necessarily better than the other.

Inpatient rehab or residential treatment provides round the clock care in a focused and comfortable environment. It is perfect for those with severe alcohol addiction who need to be taken out of their usual environment before they can make significant progress towards long-lasting sobriety.

It is suitable for patients with serious alcohol use disorder who can benefit from close medical supervision. Patients who get sober in an inpatient setting are more likely to stay sober once they are out of rehab.

Addiction tends to be chaotic since it affects almost every aspect of someone’s life. Inpatient care provides structure and control. It brings back a sense of direction for the patient. In residential rehab, their days are structured and their activities are planned out. This means there are fewer distractions, temptations, and triggers, compared to the outside world.

That said, inpatient programs are more expensive because food and accommodations are provided. These treatment programs last for 3 to 9 months on average. That is why they tend to be pricier. But the good news is that they are accessible through insurance coverage and payment plans.

On the other hand, outpatient care is for patients with more manageable conditions. It is also used as a step-down program for those who have already made significant progress in residential rehab.

Outpatient rehab has the edge in terms of treatment cost because they are generally more affordable. It is also more flexible when it comes to scheduling. Patients can keep up with their responsibilities outside of rehab. They can even set appointments in the evenings or during the weekend to fit their schedule.

Both options are perfectly viable, but it depends on the patient’s condition. That said, both of these treatment programs have very clear advantages and disadvantages that you need to look into when choosing a rehab program. Ask for the professional recommendation of medical experts to make an informed decision.

What are the Types of Outpatient Rehab?

Outpatient treatment programs come in different forms. Common examples are day programs, continuing care, and intensive outpatient programs (IOP).

If you want to experience the highest level of care in an outpatient setting, you should look into day programs. Patients in this type of outpatient alcohol rehab program attend therapy sessions 5 to 7 days a week. Each treatment session lasts for several hours. While this is a huge commitment, patients still get to go home afterwards.

Meanwhile, an IOP establishes a treatment plan that tracks patient progress through measurable milestones. As they hit these milestones, the time required for therapy is reduced.

Finally, continuing care is for patients who have already made significant progress towards sobriety. It refers to support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous which conduct weekly sessions that are led by a licensed therapist.

Choosing an Outpatient Treatment Program

Finding the right outpatient alcohol rehab facility for you or your loved one may be tricky, but it’s a necessary step in the recovery process. You need to find a program that can meet the addicted person’s unique needs and circumstances.

Don’t worry: there are plenty of rehab centers that offer outpatient care. You will have plenty of options.

The first factor to consider is location. This is especially important since we are talking about outpatient alcohol treatment. The patient will be traveling back and forth to the rehab center on a regular basis. The place needs to be accessible.

Use keywords like “rehab near me” when searching for outpatient alcohol rehab online. This should narrow down your choices. You can then pay a visit to each of the options you see.

Next, look into them one by one. Learn about the programs they offer and what types of addiction they specialize in. Look into their success rate and their staff certifications.

You can then look into specific programs: how long they last, what they entail, and how intensive they are. Find out what level of care is given. These should be available on rehab websites.

Some programs also offer alternative treatments like art therapy, dance therapy, music therapy, exercise programs, yoga, acupuncture, etc. These are programs that work in tandem with more traditional treatment methods to provide lasting results.

Aside from the treatments and therapies, you also have to consider the amenities. Some patients enjoy fancy amenities, while others don’t really need them. Amenities can make the rehab journey more comfortable, which will make it easier for the patient.

Finally, the cost factor is something you may have to consider when seeking addiction treatment. Generally speaking, rehabs with more amenities are more expensive. Your decision may be influenced by what facility accepts your health insurance providers. The good news is that insurance opens up a lot of treatment options for you.

Different rehab centers have different programs, so expect varying prices. You can look for alternative payment options for rehab if a program is not covered by insurance and money is a concern. There are alternatives like Medicaid and Medicare, The Affordable Health Care Act, and private health insurance. Some rehabs even offer payment plans to make treatment accessible for more people.

It’s a good idea to visit a few rehab facilities and get a feel for them first before fully committing to one. This will help you decide what kind of treatment is right for you.

If you are ready to start your journey towards life-long sobriety, look for a rehab facility near you today. Learn about their different programs and treatments. This will bring you closer and closer to regaining your sobriety.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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