What’s the Difference Between Outpatient Treatment and Intensive Outpatient Treatment?

If you or someone you know is battling addiction, you may be considering different levels of care and what’s right for you, including popular care levels like outpatient or intensive outpatient treatment.

Although they share many similarities, outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment have different goals.

Read to learn about the differences between outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment and which program is best for your or your loved one’s needs.

Outpatient Treatment vs. IOPs: How Do They Compare?

To best learn to manage your addiction long-term, you need to choose the right treatment method. 

Here’s what to know about outpatient treatment and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs).

About Outpatient Treatment for Addiction

There are two main types of addiction treatment: traditional outpatient and residential treatment programs. 

Traditional outpatient programs allow people to receive treatment while living at home. An example is Hope’s Destiny’s partial hospitalization program (PHP), which combines elements of outpatient and inpatient programs to address participants’ unique needs.

Outpatient programs require patients to attend sessions without having to move to another place or radically change their schedule or lifestyle. These programs tend to be less expensive than residential programs.

Residential programs, on the other hand, require people to move to a facility for at least 30 days. They provide a supportive, structured setting for recovery. 

This type of treatment is best for people with:

  • Severe behavioral and mental health issues
  • Severe addiction(s)
  • Those who require a controlled and supervised environment

About Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Addiction

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are a subtype of outpatient treatment for addiction. These part-time programs provide robust psychosocial support and facilitate coping and relapse management strategies without 24-hour supervision.

Quick Facts on Outpatient Treatment and IOPs

Outpatient treatment programs:

  • Duration: Usually ranges from 3 to 6 months
  • Frequency: 24/7 
  • Effectiveness: Effective, particularly for people with robust support networks
  • Services: Group therapy sessions, counseling, and medication management
  • Flexibility: Lets you keep your existing school and work commitments
  • Cost: More budget-friendly than residential rehab

Intensive outpatient therapy treatment or IOP programs:

  • Duration: 2 weeks to over 3 months
  • Frequency: Three 3-hour sessions for at least 9 hours a week
  • Effectiveness: Very effective, particularly for those who need additional support but want to continue living at home
  • Services: Structured group, individual, or family therapy and psychoeducation about mental disorders and substance use
  • Flexibility: Lets you keep your existing schedule
  • Cost: Tends to cost more than regular outpatient treatment but less than residential

Benefits of Outpatient Treatment vs Intensive Outpatient Programs

Choosing between outpatient and intensive outpatient programs depends on how much care you need for your condition.

You should consider choosing outpatient treatment if you:

  • Have a less-severe addiction
  • Have a stronger support system
  • Need less support

On the other hand, intensive outpatient programs may be a better choice if you:

  • Have a more severe addiction
  • Have a weaker support system
  • Need more support

What to Expect in Outpatient Treatment for Substance Abuse

Outpatient treatment services vary depending on the treatment facility and the severity of your substance abuse symptoms. 

Generally speaking, here’s what you can expect from outpatient treatment programs:

  • Assessments for determining how much care you need and your treatment plan
  • Random drug testing for maintaining accountability
  • Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), holistic therapies, and prescription-aided treatment
  • Psychoeducation and life skills training to help you develop tools and strategies for preventing relapse
  • Group, family, and individual therapy to create a collective support system
  • Aftercare planning, such as support groups, ongoing therapy, and relapse prevention to stop you from slipping back into old habits and sustain recovery

What to Expect in Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Substance Abuse

Intensive outpatient programs essentially provide the same services as outpatient treatment programs, only at a higher level of intensity. However, their services are at a lower level of intensity than those offered at residential programs.

Most IOP visits last around three hours and may take place during the day or evening. You will also receive medical check-ins, group therapy, and individual counseling to monitor medications. 

Outpatient vs Intensive Outpatient Program Duration

Most outpatient treatment programs last three to six months.

Meanwhile, IOPs can last several weeks to over three months. Once a patient finishes an IOP, they will receive outpatient aftercare.

Keep in mind, however, that these are just estimates. 

The length of outpatient and intensive outpatient programs depends on your symptoms and needs. Talk to your outpatient treatment provider to learn more about the length of your particular treatment program.

Outpatient and Intensive Outpatient Program Services

Outpatient and intensive outpatient programs offer a wide range of services. These include:

  • Detoxification or detox is the first addiction treatment stage. It is performed to manage withdrawal symptoms safely. Healthcare providers can perform detox in outpatient and residential treatment settings.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses medications along with behavioral and counseling therapies to help people sustain recovery. It is particularly effective in treating opioid use disorders (OUD).
  • Behavioral therapies are evidence-based methods for treating mental health conditions. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people recognize problematic distortions in thinking and develop coping skills. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) helps people understand how thoughts affect behaviors and emotions.
  • Group therapy sessions involve at least one psychologist leading a group of 5 to 15 patients. Group counseling can reduce wait times, boost accessibility, and help patients realize that others share similar feelings, thoughts, and issues.
  • Family therapy is a type of talk therapy that focuses on improving relationships among family members. It can consist of various combinations of loved ones, including parents and their children, aunts and uncles, siblings, grandparents, and friends.
  • Alternative therapies are natural products or practices that exist outside conventional medicine. Examples include yoga, herbal remedies (such as roseroot and St. John’s wort), acupuncture, and bright light.
  • Relapse prevention is a cognitive behavioral approach to relapse. It aims to identify and prevent situations that may lead to substance use relapse.

Cost of Outpatient Treatment vs Intensive Outpatient Programs

The cost of outpatient services and IOPs depends on the services you need and your chosen treatment provider.

IOPs are usually more expensive than regular outpatient programs, with one day of IOP treatment costing, on average, $250 to $350 per day. With insurance, the out-of-pocket cost may be far less, however. 

In some cities, such as Los Angeles, the cost of a full treatment IOP course (2 weeks to over 3 months) ranges between $3,000 to $10,000.

On the other hand, outpatient programs are more affordable than intensive outpatient programs, with most ranging from $1,400 to $10,000 over a 30-day period. Again, insurance may cover the bulk of these costs.

Tips for Choosing Outpatient Rehab vs IOP

Selecting the right outpatient program type can greatly affect your ability to sustain recovery.

Keep the following in mind when choosing between outpatient rehab versus intensive outpatient treatment:

  • Your treatment history: IOP may be a better choice if you have received treatment but relapsed before. 
  • Your schedule and lifestyle: If you do not want to change your lifestyle or schedule due to work, family, or school, outpatient rehab may be a better choice since it is less intense, giving you more time for other activities. This is because IOPs often take up to 12 hours per week.
  • The severity of your condition: IOP is a better choice if you have a severe addiction or mental health problem. 
  • Treatment fees: Talk to your insurer to see which treatments are covered and which costs you must pay out of pocket.
  • Your support system: IOP is a good choice if you don’t have a strong support system.

Find Quality Outpatient Addiction Treatment in Pennsylvania

Finding outpatient addiction treatment can be challenging, especially if you have never gotten addiction treatment before and don’t know how to choose a treatment center.

Generally speaking, however, IOPs are better for people who require a higher level of care, while regular outpatient addiction treatment programs are better for people who require less support.

Fortunately, Hope’s Destiny can help you locate the best outpatient addiction treatment programs in Pennsylvania. We provide tailored, compassionate, and specialized support designed for behavioral health needs and substance use disorders.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help. We offer outpatient, intensive outpatient, and partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) as well as a wide range of treatment options.


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Cleveland Clinic. “Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/22838-dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt. Accessed on March 21, 2024.

Cleveland Clinic. “Family Therapy.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/24454-family-therapy. Accessed on March 21, 2024.

Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. “What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?” Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral. Accessed on March 21, 2024.

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National Library of Medicine. “Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4152944/. Accessed on March 21, 2024.

National Library of Medicine: PubMed Central. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. “Relapse prevention.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5844157/. Accessed on March 21, 2024.

National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS). “Average Cost of Drug Rehab.” Retrieved from https://drugabusestatistics.org/cost-of-rehab/. Accessed on March 21, 2024.
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A poster for Mental Health Awareness Month featuring a green ribbon symbol
a sign showing outpatient at a facility
Drug addiction rate in Pennsylvania: A concerning issue with increasing numbers of individuals struggling with substance abuse.