When a person decides to overcome their addiction or substance abuse problem, the best choice is detox followed by a rehabilitation program. Detox involves ending the body’s physical dependence on the substance, while rehabilitation typically involves professional and social support through therapy and group meetings. Family and friends are also often involved in the rehabilitation process.

Finding the Best Outpatient Treatment Program


Many people assume that drug rehabilitation means a long stay in a treatment facility. While inpatient rehabilitation programs, also sometimes called residential treatment programs, are very helpful for many people, not everyone is best suited for this type of treatment plan. Outpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs were developed in response to clients’ needs around family or work commitments. There are several types of outpatient rehabilitation programs, which allow individuals entering the program to maintain their work, school, and family commitments, as well as live in the comfort of their own homes.

There are two basic types of outpatient treatment programs, with numerous spinoffs. Standard outpatient treatment involves group therapy sessions at least once per week, sometimes 2-3 times per week. This type of treatment should, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), last for at least three months, and often, counseling sessions are recommended for a year or more. This is in part because the individual receives therapeutic help for their struggle with addiction for a few hours every week, allowing the person to mostly focus on their work and personal lives. Intensive outpatient treatment, however, requires counseling for 10-20 hours per week, spread across three days in the week. This type of program lasts only 1-3 months, but requires more individual focus on the recovery program. Some form of ongoing counseling or aftercare should also continue after intensive outpatient programs.

Various Options


Each state, city, and healthcare facility provides slightly different options for outpatient treatment services. For example, Medicare can cover up to 80 percent of the cost of outpatient rehabilitation services, such as:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Patient education around diagnosis of their addiction and treatment
  • Follow-up care after hospitalization
  • Prescription drugs except for methadone
  • Structured assessment of extent of substance abuse
  • Brief intervention
  • Screening and prevention services

Whether the individual enters a specific hospital treatment program, a group support program, or a nonprofit or private program, other activities involved in outpatient treatment may include:

  • Peer support activities
  • Individual therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Group therapy guided by a social worker or counselor
  • Acupuncture, guided meditation, or other complementary therapies

Daily or Weekly Schedule at an Outpatient Treatment Program


Outpatient programs will vary in time requirements and how they are structured, based on where the individual receives treatment and whether the program was self-appointed or involuntary. If a person is incarcerated for drug abuse, for example, the court may require an intensive outpatient program that involves meeting for several hours a day, three days per week, so the individual’s primary focuses is their treatment. However, voluntary programs can involve a wider variety of structure. New York state, for example, notes that outpatient programs can either be half-day (2-4 hours) or full day (over four hours). The minimum duration of an outpatient program, which is a half-day program, involves either:

  • Meeting on a one-on-one basis with a counselor for at least 25 minutes
  • One hour of counseling in a group session

This requirement does not include other possible aspects of treatment, such as medical follow-up appointments, prescriptions, peer services, and complex care services.

For example, a typical day in an intensive outpatient program could include:

  • At least one hour of intensive therapy with an individual counselor
  • Multi-hour group therapy sessions at least one day per week, typically multiple days (might take up the whole day)
  • Skills development sessions
  • Drug or alcohol refusal training
  • Training in relapse prevention techniques
  • Assertiveness training
  • Stress management exercises
  • Support groups (not led by a therapist)
  • Family or special interest groups

Intensive outpatient treatment programs offer more hours in a shorter timeframe, so more can be accomplished over a day or a week. Standard outpatient treatment programs may consist of a few of these offerings, but they are not likely to occur in a single day or week.