Intensive outpatient programs allow clients to practice newfound recovery skills in a clinically supportive setting.

To successfully manage drug and alcohol addiction, patients and their teams must apply the most effective treatments at the most appropriate times. In the spectrum of addiction treatment, an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP) allows for balance between the rigor of structured treatment and the flexibility of an outpatient setting. In an IOP program, patients can transition from inpatient or partial hospitalization to more independent settings within outpatient care. 

What Is an Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program?

An IOP is a treatment program often offered by treatment facilities as a way to ease the transition between acute treatment and outpatient care. Intensive outpatient treatment programs are designed to offer rigorous treatment while maintaining patient autonomy. Whereas inpatient and residential programs offer treatment 24 hours per day, IOP services occur during set blocks of time during the week. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) levels of care guidelines specify that intensive outpatient programs must last between nine and 20 hours per week.

Typically, participants in intensive outpatient programs can choose to live either in sober living environments associated with their treatment center, with supportive friends or family, or even alone if there is sufficient emotional support available. Many IOPs are either timed or structured to allow patients to work, attend school or respond to family needs. For this reason, many intensive outpatient programs are offered in the evenings or during weekends. At The Recovery Village, many clients in IOP treatment transition from higher levels of care. Depending on individual treatment goals and clinical recommendations, clients live off-site in a sober living community or supportive home environments and travel to The Recovery Village to receive intensive outpatient treatment on a part-time basis.

How Does Intensive Outpatient Treatment Work?

In the treatment of addiction, outpatient care services serve primarily as progressive “step-down” healing programs. Step-down programs are less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs. An intensive outpatient program schedule provides patients with more independence as they move through the continuum of care while still maintaining high levels of support for patients.

After patients complete drug detox or alcohol detox, they are usually recommended to complete a comprehensive care program, such as residential rehab treatment or partial hospitalization program. From there, an intensive outpatient program would be an excellent step-down program, as patients will have progressed through treatment and developed the recovery skills needed to improve their function in day-to-day life.

Intensive outpatient programs can also serve as a starting point for treatment for patients who have less severe forms of addiction or who have outside obligations that preclude them from participating in more structured treatment.

IOP vs. Inpatient Treatment

Intensive outpatient programs can vary widely in the services they offer. An intensive outpatient program curriculum is based on a treatment center’s offerings, expertise, and individual client’s needs. However, most IOPs offer:

  • People participating in an inpatient program live on-site at a treatment facility, whereas those in an IOP attend appointments at a facility and then return home afterward. 
  • Both inpatient and IOP services provide a variety of treatments, including individual and group counseling, medical care, support groups, medication management and mental health care. 
  • Inpatient treatment is considered a higher level of care, meaning that it is usually intended to treat those with more severe addictions or complex needs, whereas an IOP is a step down from inpatient care. 
  • IOPs tend to be less costly than inpatient programs because patients in IOP do not have to cover the cost of housing and meals, nor are they receiving around-the-clock medical care.

IOP vs. Outpatient Treatment

Both IOP and outpatient treatment fall within the outpatient level of care, but an IOP is more intensive and structured than standard outpatient care. According to ASAM guidelines, an outpatient program provides fewer than nine hours of services per week, compared to an IOP, which offers between nine and 20 hours of weekly service. 

Some key comparisons between IOP vs. outpatient treatment include:

  • Outpatient treatment is intended to meet the needs of those with a less severe addiction or who are stepping down from higher levels of care, whereas IOP care is appropriate for those with more complex needs or who require greater structure.
  • Outpatient services are available in a variety of settings, such as doctor’s offices, clinics and mental health centers, whereas IOPs are typically affiliated with a specialty substance use disorder treatment center.
  • Both IOP and outpatient programs offer a variety of services, including individual and group counseling, support groups, medication management and family counseling.

IOP vs. Partial Hospitalization Programs

A partial hospitalization program is a step higher than an IOP. Some key comparisons between the two include:

  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are more intensive than IOPs. A PHP provides 20 or more hours of service per week, and patients may report daily to a treatment center for appointments.
  • PHPs provide more clinically intensive programming when compared to IOPs.
  • Patients in PHP often have medical or psychiatric comorbidities that lead to more intensive treatment needs.

How Long Does an IOP Last?

The length of an IOP will depend upon the policies of your treatment facility, as well as your specific needs. At The Recovery Village, IOPs last between two weeks and three months, but treatment length can vary widely among different people.

We offer a comprehensive range of treatment programs at all of our locations. This means we can provide a full continuum of care, ranging from medical detox to outpatient services. Explore all of our treatment programs here.

Services Offered in IOP

Intensive outpatient programs can differ in the services they offer. An intensive outpatient program curriculum is based on a treatment center’s offerings, expertise and individual client’s needs. 

Group Therapy

Group therapy programs are a part of the treatment process in many IOPs. These programs can help people develop social skills, increase self-awareness and obtain social support. At The Recovery Village, we believe that group therapy is an integral part of the addiction treatment process. In our FORTITUDE specialty track, we offer group therapy exclusively for veterans and first responders.

Individual Therapy

In individual therapy sessions, you will work with a counselor or therapist to process your emotions, correct unhelpful ways of thinking and develop coping strategies. We offer numerous therapeutic modalities, including EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and mindfulness therapies in our IOPs.

Complementary Therapies

Complementary therapies like EMDR, family therapy, art therapy, yoga and music therapy can help you process your emotions and develop stronger coping skills. They also offer an opportunity for you to heal both physically and psychologically from the effects of addiction. While not offered at all of our facilities, many of our programs incorporate some form of complementary therapy.

Support Groups

Support groups can also be an important part of the treatment process, as they connect you with others coping with similar challenges. Many of our facilities offer 12-step sessions or SMART Recovery meetings.

Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Programs

The benefits of intensive outpatient treatment have been well established by decades of research and experience. The effectiveness of IOP has been confirmed in multiple research studies.

Compared to acute care and outpatient care, IOP offers several advantages:

  • Balanced Treatment: IOPs offer a balance between the autonomy of outpatient treatment and the rigor of residential or inpatient treatment. Intensive outpatient programs typically cost less than acute care and offer higher levels of access to programming than conventional outpatient treatment.
  • Access to Medical Services: Physicians, advanced practice allied health professionals, and nursing staff perform ongoing health needs assessments and medication management in intensive outpatient treatment.
  • Access to Mental Health Services: IOPs include frequent, predictable access to mental health providers that makes them well-suited to addressing mental health conditions. It is common for mental health conditions that had been previously unrecognized to be diagnosed during intensive outpatient treatment.
  • Substantial Therapeutic and Educational Opportunities: With fewer clinical hours than residential or partial hospitalization programs, IOPs deliver concentrated services that allow patients to make significant and sustainable progress over a relatively short amount of time.

IOP for Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

Often termed “dual diagnosis,” the phrase “co-occurring disorders” refers to the coexistence of a mental health condition with a substance use disorder. Treatment of co-occurring disorders can occur in the outpatient setting, as mental health professionals are available regularly. In most IOP programs, an individual sees a counselor at least once per week. Group therapy typically takes place multiple times a week.

Every level of care at The Recovery Village — including IOP — treats co-occurring disorders. We believe that physical and mental healing from addiction is integral to long-term sobriety.

Are You a Good Candidate for IOP?

Since intensive outpatient programs can serve a wide variety of functions, patients who utilize IOP can come from several different treatment settings. Many patients in IOP transition from acute treatment, while others may do best when IOP is the starting point for their recovery efforts.

A good candidate for IOP has:

  • Completed a residential or partial hospital program
  • Developed sufficient coping skills
  • Shown they are able and willing to participate in their recovery treatment plan
  • A sustainable support system at home or in the community

For some individuals, the intensive outpatient program is their first active treatment in an outpatient setting. For those transitioning from acute treatment, they have often learned invaluable skills that can now be put to use in an environment that still allows for frequent therapeutic contact. Other reasons for enrolling in an intensive outpatient treatment program include:

  • You suffer from a less severe addiction: Your addiction is less severe or has been well managed and does not require rigorous, multidisciplinary care. Those at risk for withdrawal symptoms are better suited for inpatient treatment. Though detox can be performed in an outpatient setting when withdrawal symptoms are mild, it is generally reserved for more acute settings where care is immediately available.
  • You’re leveraging this treatment as continued rehabilitation: Those who have completed detox and residential treatment may use outpatient programs as a continued source of professional addiction help.
  • You biggest needs are emotional support and community reintegration: Those who have a comprehensive understanding of addiction and its manifestations may desire more motivational support from a network close to home. Those in early recovery are often eager to reintegrate back into their communities. IOPs offer a mindful transition back into the community of individuals recovering from addiction.
  • You are unable to commit to inpatient care: Work, school and family obligations sometimes preclude patients from participating in residential or other acute treatment. For others, the cost of inpatient treatment may be prohibitive. Those who are unable to participate in inpatient care can enroll in an intensive outpatient program to begin their steps in recovery.

How Much Does Intensive Outpatient Cost?

As a general rule, the cost of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction mirrors the intensity of the treatment. Therefore, acute and structured care like residential treatment or inpatient hospitalization costs more than outpatient treatment. The largest percentage of these expenses comes from the availability of medical care, followed by the cost of room and boarding.

The cost of intensive outpatient treatment is on the lower side of the overall spectrum of addiction treatment expenses. There are many factors that impact the cost of IOP treatment, like length of stay and services included. Typically, the cost of an IOP ranges from $2,000 to $10,000. Before enrolling in a program, be sure to ask your treatment provider for more information about specific costs.

From a societal standpoint, there is near-universal agreement that treatment of substance use disorders pays for itself. Some studies suggest that the ratio of benefit to cost for addiction treatment is more than 7 to 1, primarily because treatment sharply reduces criminal activity and increases employment.

Finding Intensive Outpatient Services Near Me

Internet searches for “intensive outpatient programs near me” usually yield many results but no adequate way to assess the quality or filter results. Some things to consider when choosing an intensive outpatient program include:

  • Proper accreditation and licensing at the federal and state level
  • Access to medical services on an as-needed basis
  • Access to mental health services on an as-needed basis
  • At least nine hours of therapeutic or educational activities per week

Intensive Outpatient Programs at The Recovery Village

Our intensive outpatient program (IOP) at The Recovery Village allows patients to live off-site, in sober housing or at home with a positive support system present. Most patients in IOP have successfully completed higher levels of care. They have coping skills and a relapse prevention plan in place to successfully increase their autonomy while still receiving continued support.

At The Recovery Village, our intensive outpatient programs offer an excellent opportunity for our patients to utilize the skills acquired during the acute phase of treatment. If you’re ready to enroll in treatment or have questions, reach out to a representative at The Recovery Village today to get started. 

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Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Medicaid Innovation Accelerator Program. “Overview of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)[…]ystem Reforms.”, April 2017. Accessed February 8, 2023. 

McCarty, D., et al. “Substance abuse intensive outpatient pro[…] the evidence.” Psychiatric Services, 2014. Accessed February 8, 2023. 

Flynn, P. M., et al. “Co-occurring disorders in substance abus[…]and prospects.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2008. Accessed February 8, 2023. 

Ettner, S. L., et al. “Benefit-cost in the California treatment[…]or itself”?” Health Services Research, 2006. Accessed February 8, 2023.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.