Inpatient vs. Outpatient Alcohol Rehab: Timelines for Recovery

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Alcohol Rehab: Timelines for Recovery

When deciding on your alcohol treatment facility, you might be at a bit of a crossroads. According to the National Directory of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment Facilities 2016, there are over 1,000 facilities in the United States alone that provide alcohol detoxification services. Within these numerous options are more specific characteristics that might make your decision a little easier. The first thing you’ll need to decide on is whether you want inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Scientists have studied both inpatient and outpatient treatment extensively and found them both to be effective for people suffering from alcohol addiction. However, because the programs are different from one another and every patient has individual needs, neither is recommended as the go-to for addiction treatment. Depending on your personal addiction history, you may find that one, or a combination of the two, is your best choice.

What is Inpatient Alcohol Rehab?

Inpatient alcohol rehab is where you receive 24/7 care in a specialized recovery facility. Inpatient treatment can be both long-term and short-term in nature. Generally, long-term residential treatment lasts anywhere from 6 to 12 months, while short-term treatment is typically between 3 to 6 weeks. Both methods are intense and will allow you to be completely isolated from the outside world. Your peers in recovery, along with the recovery staff, will be your new community.

Treatment at inpatient facilities is usually very structured, with scheduled therapy sessions and rules for maintaining in-house living. This gives you the chance to get back on a daily schedule and establish a routine that does not involve alcohol. While in inpatient care, you’ll deal with any damaging beliefs that might be contributing to your alcohol use, as well as the destructive patterns of behavior that led you down that path.

What is Outpatient Alcohol Rehab?

Outpatient treatment is a type of rehab that allows you to continue living in your current residence. Rather than being isolated in the facility and receiving 24/7 care, you’ll go home each night. This allows you to maintain a job, care for your family, and continue to see to your other social obligations. Because you’ll receive less intensive care, it’s important for those seeking outpatient therapy to have a solid social support base. Because it’s less intense, outpatient therapy can last for several months.

Like inpatient therapy, there are two kinds of outpatient therapy – intensive and low-intensity. In the intensive programs, you’ll receive dedicated care during the day, including therapy and education. Low-intensity programs, on the other hand, provide you mainly with education, meaning you’ll have to seek therapy elsewhere. With most outpatient programs, group therapy is highly utilized, as it allows you to talk with others who are going through similar issues and brainstorm ways to combat them together.

Inpatient and Outpatient Detoxification

Generally, both inpatient and outpatient facilities both start with detoxification. In detoxification, you’ll be weaned off of alcohol in a medically supervised setting to help you manage any dangerous withdrawal symptoms. It’s not safe to detox from alcohol on your own, as many people can experience seizures within the first 48 hours. Even worse is the possibility of developing delirium tremens, a serious effect of alcohol dependence that leads to death in as many as five percent of patients.

During detox, medical staff will monitor you constantly to make sure that any of these symptoms are promptly addressed. They’ll also administer medications to help the process go smoother and alleviate as many symptoms as possible. By the time detox is complete, your body will have gotten over the physical hump of addiction, and now you’ll be ready to manage the social, psychological, and behavioral aspects of addiction.

Outpatient detoxification usually requires you to travel to the facility for a one- to two-hour treatment, then return on the following days for 15- to 30-minute visits. Typically, this method takes 3 to 14 days, with the average being 6.5 days. Inpatient detoxification, on the other hand, requires you to be admitted to a hospital or other medical facility and typically lasts 5 to 14 days, with a 9-day average.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Inpatient and Outpatient Therapy

Regardless of which type of alcohol treatment facility you choose, there are advantages and disadvantages. The largest disadvantage with inpatient care is the cost, which is far higher than outpatient care. If you don’t have viable insurance, this might automatically rule out inpatient care as an option. Additionally, many experts make the argument that living in an inpatient care facility robs patients of personal responsibility, making them reliant on others to take care of them.

However, inpatient care has the benefit of monitoring for serious complications, as well as preventing any access to alcohol, which prevents relapse. Because outpatient care provides you with far more freedom, you’ll have access to alcohol at any given time. Another downside of the freedom of outpatient care is the ability to simply skip your appointments. This significantly increases the risk of not successfully completing your rehab treatment.

As you can see, both have their positives and negatives. But perhaps the most important thing to take away is the fact that they are both effective. In a study that followed detoxification patients six months after their treatment, about half of the group was still abstinent, regardless of the treatment program they were in.

Generally, the timeline for recovery from alcohol addiction will be the same, regardless of which alcohol treatment facility you choose. There’s no magic method to simply curing your disease; you will have to work hard to change your habits and give your body time to heal. Many people consider the minimum length of time for addiction treatment to be a year. Still others insist that treatment never really ends, as you’ll always be struggling with relapse on some internal level. While you won’t be in treatment for years, you still might be attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or other group therapy sessions to manage your issues and help others.