What’s the Difference?

Inpatient rehab is where you “check in” to a rehab facility. You essentially stop your life and just do rehab for a certain period of time. Outpatient rehab is where you live your life “outside” of rehab, but spend some amount of time engaged in rehabilitation, including group meetings, individual counseling, etc.

Inpatient (residential) Rehab

What it is and how it works

Inpatient treatment refers to the treatment of drug dependence in a location setting. The first part of inpatient treatment includes medically supervised detoxification. This could last up to a week, and is typically the most difficult part of recovery.


Length of stay will vary for an inpatient drug treatment program. Traditionally, inpatient rehab lasts 28 days. However, the last few years have seen an emergence of many different substance abuse care models, ranging from as few as 3 days and upward to a year.

Types of Inpatient Programs

There are several types of inpatient programs, including:

  • therapy-based programs
  • 12-step programs
  • multimodality programs


According to this research study, substance abuse treatment is more effective when secondary mental health issues, such as anxiety, are addressed as part of therapy. This is why inpatient treatment is effective for people addicted to drugs who also have a mental health illness, such as depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, Cyclothymic disorder, borderline personality disorder, or others.


Drawbacks to inpatient drug treatment include:

  • Controlled environment dictates your schedule, when you get up, when you eat, when you go to bed
  • You are not free to come and go
  • You’ll need to leave you job for the duration of the treatment
  • Depending on the type of insurance you have, inpatient treatment may or may not be covered


What it is and how it works

With outpatient rehab, you’ll live your life like you normally would, and attend treatment programs during off-hours. Outpatient programs offer patients the greatest amount of flexibility while still providing a high standard of care

Outpatient drug treatment includes a range of protocols,including:

  • Professional psychotherapy
  • Informal peer discussions
  • Counseling services, including individual, group, or family counseling
  • peer group support
  • vocational therapy
  • marital therapy
  • cognitive therapy

Aftercare outpatient services can consist of 12-step meetings, group counseling, individual counseling, vocational counseling, recovery training, and/or relapse prevention strategies.

Making the Choice

It can be difficult decision to make when choosing between inpatient or outpatient treatment. While not everyone may necessarily need inpatient care, others may not be qualified for outpatient treatment. Overcoming an addiction requires you to be all in, so it’s important to choose based on what’s best for you and your recovery.


Cost is a major factor when choosing between an inpatient and outpatient treatment program. Inpatient treatment programs cost more than outpatient programs, because there is more involved. An inpatient program could cost between $10,000 to $40,000 a month. Luxury treatment programs run even more. Although insurance will likely cover some of these expenses, depending on your situation, if you’re paying out-of-pocket, cost will be something that’s important to you. In that regard, outpatient programs will generally run under $10,000 total, and provide many people with an affordable option for rehab.

Success Rates

Success rates for various programs vary per the individual. This study indicates that 1/3 of patients reported total abstinence from their primary drug and 50-57% decrease in depression across all treatment modalities. However, the average drop out rate for outpatient therapy is higher than inpatient programs, suggesting that the full commitment to an inpatient program helps people to stick with a recovery program.

Although there are also many success factors associated with rehab treatment, it’s important to consider that a person may relapse, moving in and out of treatment over a course of years as part of their recovery process. Relapse should not be considered a failure of treatment, but an indication that treatment should be reinstated or adjusted.

According to a Treatment Protocol Effectiveness Study from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the following are all aspects of treatment that should be present to improve treatment success.

  • Ongoing assessment
  • Comprehensive range of services, including pharmacological treatment, individual and/or group counseling, and educational elements
  • A continuum of treatment interventions
  • Case management and monitoring to engage clients in an appropriate intensity of service
  • Provision and integration of continuing social supports.
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