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Inpatient vs Outpatient Treatment: An Honest Comparison

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inpatient treatment Some inpatient treatment centers offer private rooms and baths.

Choosing between an inpatient vs outpatient treatment program for substance abuse, alcoholism or other addictive behaviors often depends on the severity of the condition, finances and time constraints.

What is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment, or outpatient rehab, is conducted at a treatment center; clients normally participate three times a week for two to three hours each session and sessions are often in the evening or on weekends. Outpatient treatment typically combines individual counseling, group therapy, informative lectures and family sessions and is generally more suited for patients who have less severe symptoms, require a lower cost option or have work-related time constraints. The vast majority of outpatient treatment programs are based on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps program, which teaches coping skills and relapse prevention.

Outpatient treatment is an option and can be helpful to patients who must continue to work or have other commitments. Outpatient treatment allows people to go home for the evening.

What is Inpatient Treatment?

Inpatient treatment, also known as residential rehab, is when patients live on-premise for periods ranging from two weeks to a year. An inpatient treatment center should have individualized treatment programs and include 24-hour supervision and access to clinical detoxification care if needed. Residential inpatient treatment includes meals, housing, therapies, and on-site activities.

Like outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment includes a mix of individual counseling, group therapy, and informative lectures. Alternative therapies and enhanced medical supervision may also be part of the program for patients with more severe conditions. Most inpatient treatment programs are also based on the Alcoholic Anonymous 12 Steps program, which teaches coping skills and relapse prevention. There are, however, alternative programs available that utilize a variety of counseling strategies to support an individual’s specific needs.


Which Treatment Approach is Best For Me?
Both inpatient and outpatient treatment can be beneficial, depending on an individual’s circumstances. The decision to go to outpatient treatment vs. inpatient treatment is based on the severity of the condition, financial constraints, work commitments, and the individual client’s personal situation.

Benefits of inpatient treatment:

  • 24-hour care
  • Meals and housing included
  • More intensive treatment
  • Time away from stressful environments and drugs of choice
  • Patient health, progress and challenges are more closely monitored
  • Secure, controlled environment
  • Better focus on treatment


  • Best option for severe cases

Trade-offs of inpatient treatment:

  • More expensive
  • Requires extended time commitment
  • Requires time away from work, family and friends

Benefits of outpatient treatment:

  • Lower cost
  • Allows one to maintain daily commitments
  • Allows more contact with family and friends

Trade-offs of outpatient treatment:

  • Less intensive treatment
  • Participants remain in their home environment, which may have contributed to their condition
  • Participants are open to distractions
  • Not a good option for severe cases


The guiding factor, when all things are considered, is which level of care gives the participant the highest probability of recovery?

While outpatient treatment care can be effective in some circumstances, in most cases a higher rate of recovery can be secured through choosing the appropriate inpatient treatment program.

We know it’s a crucial decision and hope this information is helpful as you evaluate your choices. If you have questions, please call or contact us today. At The Clearing, we’re here to help.

About The Clearing

The Clearing is a residential treatment center located on beautiful San Juan Island, Washington. We created The Clearing in response to the pervasiveness of treatment centers that focus more on luxury than modern, evidence-based therapy.

Our approach is based on healing the underlying core issues that cause addiction. If you'd like to learn more, contact us, or download our free eBook:

Download eBook:

Healing Underlying Core Issues

  Download eBook:  Healing Underlying Core Issues
Gregg Makuch

This post was written by Gregg Makuch

Gregg helps get the word out about The Clearing. When he’s not riding his bike and enjoying the beauty of the San Juan Islands, Gregg loves to cook and spend time with his family.

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