Does Intensive Outpatient Treatment Work?

how IOP works

When people are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction or are in need of treatment for other issues, many may turn to residential treatment programs. But, depending on the circumstances, intensive outpatient treatment may be the best option for addiction treatment.

What is the Difference Between Inpatient Treatment and Outpatient Treatment?

Inpatient or residential care for mental health issues or substance abuse disorder requires you to live on-site while you are engaged in intensive treatment. From group therapy to inpatient programs, all of your services are conducted onsite at a residential facility where you temporarily live. However, if your substance use disorder is less severe and you do not need 24/7 medical treatment and support, then an inpatient treatment facility may not be necessary. Instead, you can engage in an intensive outpatient treatment program where you receive substance abuse treatment, participate in treatment sessions, learn coping strategies, and maintain a support system all while returning to your home each night.

Intensive outpatient treatment programs enable patients to have a sense of normalcy in their day-to-day lives while they are engaged in intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment. Treatment centers that offer intensive outpatient programs are different from residential treatment programs in that patients do not live in, yet they are similar in many of the services that they provide. Some of the intensive outpatient therapy options include individual therapy sessions, family therapy, early intervention services, IOP treatment, mental health services, group therapy sessions, and relapse prevention.

Unlike inpatient or residential care facilities, standard outpatient programs do not have round-the-clock medical treatment for clients because clients leave the facility each day and return to their homes. However, if medical treatment is necessary, an intensive outpatient program will work with experts in addiction medicine to ensure that clients have access to all of the services that are necessary to receive treatment, even if they are not onsite. Outpatient services are extensive and are catered to the needs of each individual in terms of how many days a week one needs to be seen.

What Does a Day in Intensive Outpatient Treatment Look Like?

An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is a program for clients who need moderate support rather than inpatient services with round-the-clock residential treatment. Most often, clients would engage in treatment three times a week for a few hours each day. The IOP lasts about one or two months, depending on each client’s individual needs. From substance abuse and co-occurring mental health conditions, treatment centers with an IOP provide intensive outpatient therapy that includes group sessions, various treatment services, alternative treatments, and an overall focus on looking at substance abuse and mental health. 

The approach of IOP at a treatment center is customized to the needs of each individual client, with the overall goal being long-term recovery and wellness. During a day in IOP, clients look at their unhealthy behaviors, learn how to utilize coping skills, identify specific triggers, enhance their problem-solving skills, and improve their self-awareness. Those seeking treatment for substance abuse will also receive support for co-occurring disorders such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and personality disorders. From individual counseling to group therapy and family therapy, a day in IOP can consist of a variety of programs and services, all customized to your individual needs. 

Working with medical professionals in an outpatient program enables you to still maintain responsibilities such as family, work, taking care of pets, etc. Unlike residential programs where you live at the facility, a typical day in an IOP allows you to do the work you need to do to address substance use disorders or to adhere to the structure of dual diagnosis treatment with you still maintaining the look of your day-to-day life. 

What Can I Get Out of an IOP?

By committing to an IOP, you are taking a big step in ridding yourself of unhealthy patterns and instead learning how to incorporate healthy routines into your life. You are able to live at home with your family members while being in an intensive outpatient program IOP as you attend therapy sessions, partake in addiction treatment for substance abuse, and work regularly with treatment providers who see you as a whole person. 

The structure of IOP varies in treatment intensity from an inpatient care facility or an inpatient program where patients live onsite with access 24/7 to services. For those with more moderate needs, outpatient services as part of an outpatient treatment program can be a great option. If your needs include partial hospitalization services or medical care such as medication management, those services are often available at an outpatient facility for IOP. 

What is an IOP at CRC in Chicago?

IOP treatment programs at CRC Institute include individual therapy, group sessions, and family therapy. With a team of experts with expertise in addiction medicine, the intensive outpatient program IOP focuses on behavioral health and overall wellbeing. In addition to traditional addiction treatment, CRC also provides specific modern therapies that are part of the intensive outpatient programs. These more modern options are evidence-based and holistic in nature, such as yoga, acupuncture, and meditation. 

There is also a built-in support system and also after-care programs including support groups to ensure that you stay on the road to recovery. Intensive outpatient programs are a great way to engage in addiction treatment while learning life skills that you will use day after day. However, the journey does not end after the IOP. The intensive outpatient treatment program is a critical step, but the focus on optimizing your health is something with which the team at CRC is always available to assist. 

What are the Advantages of an IOP Program? 

As mentioned earlier, when one is in an IOP for drug abuse or mental health issues rather than in a residential treatment program, an advantage is that the client can return home each night. However, that is not the only advantage of an IOP over an inpatient treatment. Some other advantages include:

1. Less Disruptive to Daily Life

If you have to work or take care of children, you can schedule your IOP around your existing schedule. Also, you do not have to relocate to another state for the right inpatient treatment facility. Instead, you can remain local at an intensive outpatient program. 

2. Real-Time Life Skill Training

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “IOP programs provide opportunities to practice recovery skills in real-time.” While patients are maintaining many aspects of their daily lives (like living at home), they have an opportunity to put their new skills to the test when they go home and engage with family members.

3. Continuum of Care

While part of an IOP, many outpatient intensive treatment centers have a lot of resources that their clients utilize, such as community resources and networks. This becomes a part of the clients’ routine, so they return to their lives from outpatient treatment with the support of a continuum of care already in place. They can more easily maintain relationships with various support groups as those connections have already been formed.

For more information about an intensive outpatient treatment program in Chicago, visit CRC’s website or call (312) 858-0422.

Reviewed by Dr. Beth Dunlap

Dr. Beth Dunlap, a board-certified addiction medicine and family medicine physician, is the medical director at CRC Institute, where she is responsible for overseeing all the integrated medical services at the Institute. Beth completed medical school, residency, and fellowship at Northwestern University, where she continues to serve on the faculty as a member of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She has extensive experience in addiction medicine at all levels of care, and her clinical interests include integrated primary care and addiction medicine, harm reduction, and medication-assisted treatment.

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