Treatment for substance abuse can be categorized in several different manners. The most basic categorization is the designation between inpatient and outpatient treatment. In inpatient treatment, sometimes referred to as residential treatment, the client remains within the treatment facility 24 hours a day (although there may be periods when the person can leave the treatment center for short durations), whereas in outpatient treatment, the individual attends the facility only during the process of treatment and returns home, to work, or otherwise continues to engage in their normal daily activities.

During the inpatient treatment process, the person will take their meals, sleep, and perform numerous activities within the facility. They will not attend work, school, or spend a great deal of time socializing with friends and family, although there may be brief periods of time where family and friends can visit.

Why Inpatient Treatment?


There are several reasons why someone would be better off in an inpatient treatment program for an alcohol use disorder (at least in the initial phases of treatment). According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, these include:

  • The most obvious reason is that inpatient treatment allows for a much more thorough and successful detoxification period from alcohol, and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be much better managed in an inpatient unit compared to an outpatient unit. Managing withdrawal from alcohol is a crucial factor in the early success of the recovery program because:
  • Many individuals will relapse during the often difficult withdrawal period from alcohol. Nearly every person with a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder will experience some withdrawal symptoms. When an individual is being supervised 24 hours a day, their needs can be met much easier and any difficulties can be addressed on the spot.
  • Being in the inpatient environment allows for some level of control for the treatment providers. It is much harder for the person to acquire alcohol in an inpatient environment than it is for them to procure alcohol as an outpatient (although it is not impossible for an individual in inpatient unit to get drugs or alcohol). The harder it is for the person to get alcohol, the less likely it is for them to relapse in the initial stages of treatment.
  • A structured withdrawal management program also helps to distract the person with the alcohol use disorder from other issues that may induce them into considering relapse. Since the person is busy most of the day, every day, there is less time for them to get bored or want to use alcohol.
  • The withdrawal process from alcohol can be potentially fatal, and any of these potential issues can be addressed immediately in an inpatient unit.

  • Other potential issues can also be addressed on an as-needed basis. Individuals who experience other psychological disorders, such as depression or anxiety disorders, can be observed and treated on the spot.
  • Inpatient treatment programs allow individuals with similar problems to spend quite a bit of time with one another. These relationships can be extremely powerful in helping individuals maintain their recovery.
  • Typically, individuals who begin treatment in an inpatient setting are more likely to be successful in the long run in addressing their alcohol use disorder.
  • Because they are highly structured, inpatient treatment programs include elements of psychoeducation and therapy. This results in a comprehensive treatment plan.
  • Inpatient treatment programs are serviced by multidisciplinary teams that can address the individual’s issues from a number of different angles. Often, clients who participate in outpatient treatment only participate in one mode of treatment. Inpatient treatment allows for participation in individual therapy, group therapy, support groups, psychoeducation, life skills workshops, and more.
  • Inpatient treatment programs allow for a tailored approach to assist the individual as they confront their personal issues.
  • For people who live in conditions that may jeopardize their recovery, being in an inpatient program can isolate them from conditions that may foster early relapse, such as abusive relationships, family members who also use alcohol, being homeless, etc. Even if the person does not have a toxic home environment, the isolation from the outside world provided by inpatient rehab can allow them to focus on the recovery.
  • Often, individuals with alcohol use disorders will have legal issues that also need to be addressed. The legal system often looks favorably on individuals who commit to and are successful in an inpatient treatment program.
  • When a person makes a commitment to entering inpatient treatment, they are making a very important commitment to their recovery. Such a commitment may help to encourage and motivate them during the inevitable times when the recovery process is difficult. This includes assisting individuals who lack confidence in themselves in committing to the specifications of a treatment program. When these individuals are in residential treatment programs, they are often more committed to being successful.
  • Often, individuals with alcohol use disorders have tried several times to overcome their addiction. Committing to an inpatient treatment program allows individuals to recommit themselves to recovery and develop a solid foundation for success.

Other Important Considerations


Getting involved in an inpatient treatment program is an important commitment for someone with an alcohol use disorder. It is important to understand that all inpatient treatment programs are time-limited programs in that they are not designed to be used for the long-term. The length of an inpatient program can vary, depending on the needs of the individual, the circumstances involved (e.g., if there is a legal decision that the person must remain in treatment for a specific period of time), and the individual’s ability to pay or their insurance coverage. These programs typically last between four weeks and 12 months, depending on the circumstances.

Most insurance companies will pick up a good proportion of the cost of inpatient treatment for substance use disorders; however, there are typically out-of-pocket costs involved. Individuals interested in treatment in a residential unit should discuss all financial issues with the intake advisors before making commitment so they understand what options they have regarding payment for services and also understand in general the entire cost of the treatment.

It is also important for individuals who commit to inpatient treatment for alcohol use disorders to understand that in order for their recovery to be successful over the long-term, they must engage in an aftercare program once they are released from the inpatient treatment unit. The aftercare program will most often be conducted on an outpatient basis. This program should include some type of therapy, medication-assisted treatment as long as it is needed (e.g., being followed by a psychiatrist or addiction medicine physician), and some form of social support group involvement, such as involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Getting involved in an inpatient treatment program is a strong commitment to recovery; however, it is not sufficient to realize long-term success in recovery from an alcohol use disorder. Individuals must continue to engage in treatment for many years and often must engage in some form of treatment participation, such as a 12-Step group or other support group, for life.

Long-term Recovery


There are number of advantages to becoming involved in an inpatient treatment program for an alcohol use disorder. Inpatient treatment can build a solid foundation for a program of recovery; however, it is not sufficient to ensure recovery from an alcohol use disorder. People completing an inpatient treatment program should continue treatment on an outpatient basis following completion of an inpatient treatment program.