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Intensive Outpatient Programs: Is IOP Therapy Right For You?


Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 9/23/2022

There are many treatment modalities for alcoholism and intensive outpatient therapy (IOP) is one of the best options for severe cases of alcohol withdrawal. IOP treatment centers provide recovering alcoholics with between 6 and 30 hours per week of therapy sessions for addiction recovery. The program’s flexibility and combination of 1-on-1 and group therapy make IOP ideal for patients who need hours of care but don’t have time to commit to inpatient treatment. 

IOP also has a similar structure as outpatient care because it focuses on therapy. The key difference is that intensive outpatient programs are designed to help people with co-occurring disorders and more severe cases of alcohol addiction. There are many differences between IOP and other modalities, so it’s important to know if intensive outpatient treatments are right for you.

What is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

Intensive outpatient programs are outpatient rehab centers that dedicate more time to patients. An intensive outpatient program is for people who need to have frequent communication with addiction professionals but without living at a rehabilitation center. Intensive outpatient programs offer many of the same services as inpatient treatment services and function as a mixture of both outpatient and inpatient practices. That said, IOPs are not suitable for people who need to detox from alcohol. For those cases, partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are the best option.

People who need treatment for alcoholism without abandoning their responsibilities benefit the most from intensive outpatient programs. This is because intensive outpatient programs can provide patients with anywhere from 5 to 30 hours per week of counseling. Intensive outpatient programs are also more likely to include group sessions and encourage people to join alcoholism support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

It’s also important to note that IOPs require a safe home environment to be successful. If someone is around people who consume alcohol or people who are not encouraging treatment, the program will not be sufficient.

How Do Intensive Outpatient Programs Work?

Intensive outpatient programs work differently than inpatient and outpatient programs. The foundation of intensive outpatient care is communication and human interaction. It’s for this reason that many therapy sessions are group sessions. Ultimately, the program works by helping people become functioning members of society again. This applies to alcohol addiction and other addictions.

Aside from helping people integrate into society, intensive outpatient programs can help with co-occurring disorders and detox if needed. Only some programs over detox options for alcoholism, so you’ll have to check the rehab centers in your area for more information. On the other hand, most intensive outpatient programs offer treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Intensive outpatient programs also have an individual component. People can have a direct line of communication with professionals and access to 1-on-1 therapy sessions. Individuals can also be prescribed medication for alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal. In these cases, intensive outpatient programs can manage their medication needs. For example, some programs can provide patients with Naltrexone to help with alcohol cravings.

How Much Does an Intensive Outpatient Program Cost?

Intensive outpatient programs cost between $1,500 and $15,000. The range is high because some intensive outpatient programs offer more services than others. IOPs that treat co-occurring disorders, prescribed medication, and meet with patients 30 hours per week, can cost upwards of $10,000 to $15,000. However, IOPs that only include one or two therapy sessions each week can cost less than $3,000 over one month.

Ultimately, intensive outpatient programs are more affordable than inpatient treatment but more expensive than regular outpatient programs. The cost of intensive outpatient programs can be similar to detox programs. Overall, it’s an affordable option for people who need a level of care that’s similar to residential rehabilitation without having to live at the rehab center.

How Long Does an Intensive Outpatient Program Last?

Intensive outpatient programs last for between 90 and 180 days. On average, people have the highest success rates when they spend at least 90 days in intensive outpatient programs. Some IOPs can be shorter but it depends on the needs of the patient. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for people to spend up to one year in an intensive outpatient program. It all depends on the individual’s situation.

Intensive outpatient programs can also be used as a bridge between inpatient treatment and support groups. In these cases, patients who are transitioning from inpatient programs into outpatient programs can spend time in IOP first. In these cases, intensive outpatient programs last for about one month. The goal is to develop social skills with others.

What are the Components of Intensive Outpatient Programs?

Intensive outpatient programs come with many components. For treatment to work effectively, IOPs use treatment methods from inpatient and outpatient programs. The combination of these treatment modalities helps IOPs with flexibility and resources.

Below are some of the key components found in intensive outpatient programs.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Medically-assisted detox (MAT)
  • Group therapy
  • Peer-to-peer counseling and communication
  • Encouragement to engage with support groups
  • Family sessions
  • Treatment for co-occurring disorders 
  • Flexibility in scheduling 
  • Longer time commitments (3-30 hours per week)

Depending on the needs of the individual and the type of intensive outpatient program, the components can change.

What are the Advantages of an Intensive Outpatient Program?

Intensive outpatient programs come with several advantages. First and foremost, IOPs give recovering alcoholics the ability to recover from addiction without leaving responsibilities behind. This is because individuals don’t have to live at the treatment center and can continue to work. The flexible scheduling allows alcoholics that live in supportive homes to recover at their own pace.

Another advantage of intensive outpatient treatment is that the time commitment can be larger. Outpatient programs typically meet once or twice per week for a few hours. With intensive outpatient programs, sessions can be held up to five times per week. Moreover, recovering alcoholics can spend up to 30 hours per week between peer counseling, family counseling, and therapy.

The last major advantage of intensive outpatient care is its peer-to-peer focus. One of the foundations of IOPs is to help people become more comfortable with social interaction. Recovering alcoholics may struggle to interact with people without alcohol as a social tool, which is something intensive outpatient programs can help with. Lastly, intensive outpatient programs can feature treatment for co-occurring disorders and detox.

Plus, intensive outpatient programs are more cost-effective than inpatient programs for people that need to work.

What are the Disadvantages of an Intensive Outpatient Program?

Intensive outpatient programs are useful for many individuals but they don’t work for everyone. One of the disadvantages of intensive outpatient programs is that they don’t work for people who aren’t in supportive homes. People that come from families of alcoholics, for example, may struggle to find success with these programs because of the temptations around them. 

Another disadvantage is that each program varies. So, some IOPs don’t include treatment for co-occurring disorders or medically-assisted detox. Furthermore, IOPs don’t work well for people with severe cases of alcohol. People who have been abusing alcohol for decades have a better chance of success within inpatient rehab programs.

While Intensive outpatient programs have disadvantages, the disadvantages don’t mean it’s a bad treatment modality. Instead, it means that intensive outpatient treatment is not the right fit for everyone.

What is the Difference Between Intensive Outpatient Programs and Outpatient Programs?

Outpatient treatment programs and intensive outpatient programs are similar but come with many differences. Primarily, intensive outpatient programs focus more on peer-to-peer recovery than one-on-one therapy. While one-on-one therapy is a core component of intensive outpatient programs, people often spend a few hours each week working in groups with other recovering alcoholics.

Another key difference is that intensive outpatient programs can have a larger time commitment than outpatient programs. On average, outpatient programs only have a few therapy sessions each week. In fact, some outpatient programs only have one cognitive behavioral therapy session each week, which can last about 90 minutes. For intensive outpatient programs, the time commitment is much larger. Aside from a few one-on-one sessions, there are also family sessions and peer sessions. With all of these sessions combined, some IOPs require 30 hours per week from recovering alcoholics.

The last key difference to mention is the cost. Outpatient programs are affordable because recovering alcoholics only need to spend a few hundred dollars per month on therapy sessions. For example, a few hours of CBT sessions each month can cost less than $1,000. On the other hand, most intensive outpatient programs cost more than $3,000. In fact, some IOPs can cost upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 depending on how long someone gets treatment.

What is the Difference Between Intensive Outpatient Programs and Inpatient Programs?

Intensive outpatient programs and inpatient programs share many treatment methods. That said, there are a few key differences that recovering alcoholics should understand before enrolling. 

The most notable difference is that inpatient programs require recovering alcoholics to live at the rehab facility. Additionally, people living at inpatient rehabilitation centers have limited communication with the outside world and are not always permitted to leave. On the other hand, intensive outpatient programs don’t require recovering alcoholics to remain at the treatment center.

Inpatient programs are also different from intensive outpatient programs when comparing the cost. Some inpatient programs can cost more than $10,000 per month; luxury centers can cost even more. Intensive outpatient programs, however, can cost $10,000 for the entire length of treatment. With a more affordable price and flexible schedule, IOPs are a better choice for people that need to continue to work. 

Another key difference is that intensive outpatient programs don’t have the same resources as inpatient rehab centers. Inpatient rehab centers can provide recovering alcoholics with access to nutritional education, fitness, yoga, mediation, and other leisurely activities. Because intensive outpatient programs don’t require patients to live at the rehab center, access to these amenities is limited.