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 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 like outpatient treatment.

What Is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

An intensive outpatient program, or 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 levels of care guidelines specifies 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 on 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.

Services Offered in IOP

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:

  • Medical services, including medication management and medication-assisted treatment
  • Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Relapse prevention

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 offers 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 — includes treatment for 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 come 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. 

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Kevin Wandler
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more

American Society of Addiction Medicine. “What are the ASAM Levels of Care?” May 13, 2015. Accessed July 16, 2019.

McCarty, D. et al. “Substance abuse intensive outpatient pro[…]sessing the evidence.” Psychiatric Services, 2014. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Flynn, P. M. et al. “Co-occurring disorders in substance abus[…]issues and prospects.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2008. Accessed July 23, 2019.

Ettner, S. L. et al. “Benefit-cost in the California treatment[…]pay for itself”?” Health Services Research, 2006. Accessed July 16, 2019.


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.