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Inpatient vs. outpatient alcohol detox—which is best?

young woman being indecisive

Detox. It can be a scary word. You’ve heard that it can be miserable to go through on your own, and maybe even dangerous. Is it true?

Depending on the severity of your addiction, yes. Detox can be a rough ride on your own. But when using a treatment facility’s inpatient or outpatient program, you’ll have access to medical support to make the detox process much more tolerable.

Detox is the first step in taking control of your addiction, and there are several options available to you. In this article we’ll talk about detoxing from alcohol –  inpatient vs. outpatient, and which one might be best for your situation.

Inpatient alcohol detox

Inpatient alcohol detox takes place inside of a rehab facility. It’s done as either medical detox, where doctors may administer medication to make withdrawal symptoms safer and more tolerable, or as medically assisted detox, where doctors are on just on hand to monitor for dangerous symptoms. Inpatient detox can take anywhere from 5 to 14 days to complete.

Pros of inpatient alcohol detox

Inpatient alcohol detox is perfect for individuals who either have been drinking so long that withdrawals pose a deadly threat, or who have too many temptations at home to complete detox on their own.

Inpatient detox lets you relax in the comfort of a rehab center. You’ll have doctors on hand to take care of you and ease your withdrawal symptoms. You may also have access to amenities like pools and spas, or holistic classes like yoga and art therapy. The inpatient experience can help you find relief from the day-to-day pressures and focus on getting better in a peaceful environment.

Cons of inpatient alcohol detox

Some people may find detox in a facility easy, but will struggle the moment they return home. It’s best if supportive family and friends can be involved, especially if you choose to continue treatment in an inpatient setting. Family programs can be a great way to help you rebuild relationships and communication with your loved ones throughout treatment.

A big deterrent that many individuals bring up is the cost. Inpatient detox can be significantly more expensive than outpatient detox. However, your insurance may help out. Many treatment centers also offer payment plans so you can get the help needed immediately, and pay in monthly increments over time.

Outpatient alcohol detox

Outpatient alcohol detox takes place outside of a treatment center. You’ll travel to the treatment facility each day for monitoring and medication, except for perhaps on weekends. Your first session will usually last 1-2 hours, during which the doctors will do a physical exam and begin your treatment. Each follow-up session will last just half an hour or so. A complete outpatient detox averages 6.5 days, but it can range from 3 to 14 days depending on your body and the severity of your addiction.

Pros of outpatient alcohol detox

The biggest benefit of outpatient detox is the ability to live at home and continue and work or family responsibilities you may have. You have more freedom than in an inpatient program, and it’s generally less expensive. You also have easy access to the family and friends who can offer their support throughout detox and the transition to a treatment program.

Cons of outpatient alcohol detox

Outpatient detox can make relapse easier since it provides easier to access alcohol. It can be a particular challenge for those who have a rough or disruptive home life, especially if a family member is an alcoholic. You must also be able to keep your appointments and travel to the rehab center for treatment; this may require the support of a friend or family member as some medications inhibit your ability to drive.

Finally, outpatient alcohol detox is not a good idea for someone who has been a heavy drinker for a long time. Extreme withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens can cause death if not handled in a medical facility. Be honest with your doctor about your drinking habits so they can evaluate your risk.

Which detox method is more effective?

While inpatient detox is generally thought to be more effective, the reality is that both inpatient and outpatient detox programs provide comparable results. That is, as long as you’re only experiencing mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms. This means things like hand tremors, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

If withdrawal symptoms go beyond that, you must do an inpatient detox program to stay safe. Delirium tremens can cause symptoms like confusion, delirium, deep sleep, and hallucinations. It can also be deadly. Don’t take that risk.

The key elements of detox

Regardless of what kind of detox you choose to do, the rehab facility should lead you through three key steps:

Evaluation

On the day you arrive for detox, medical professionals will conduct a physical exam and question process, testing for the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. This will help determine what kind of withdrawals you can expect and what your treatment options are.

Stabilization

Over the next few days or weeks, you’ll be assisted to help your body clear out the alcohol and reach a medically stable state. This may include medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, which you’ll be safely weaned off later with the doctors’ guidance.

Preparing you for treatment

Detox is just the first step and is rarely enough to help you stay sober. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “detoxification alone is not sufficient in the treatment and rehabilitation of substance use disorders.” The next step in your journey to sobriety is a treatment program.

In detox, your doctor will discuss your options with you to find the best treatment solution for your situation. Like detox, treatment can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Detox alone isn’t enough

Detox is a big first step, but the life it leads to is  worth it. Learn more about detox, and talk with our live specialists about your options. Saying yes to sobriety is hard. But when you’re ready to claim a new, fulfilling life, we’re here for you.

Hayashida, Motoi, M.D., Sc.D. “An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification.” Alcohol Healthy & Research World. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Web. 20 Apr 2016. .

“Quick Guide for Administrators: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  SAMHSA, 2006. Web. 19 Apr 2016. .

“Delirium tremens.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 Apr 2016. Web. 19 Apr 2016. .

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Alcohol Detox—Which Is Best?
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