Detox | 4 min read

Outpatient vs. Inpatient Drug Detox: Which Is Best for You?

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On September 5, 2022

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On February 4, 2019

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When escaping from drug and alcohol addiction, the first decision is to get sober. The second decision is likely to be how and where to get the help that is needed. Modern treatments for substance detoxification include various options, ranging from intensive inpatient regimens to check-in facilities.

Before deciding which treatment option is best for you (outpatient vs. inpatient detox), note the type and severity of withdrawal symptoms from the particular substance being recovered. Different substances produce different withdrawal effects; some are more severe and incapacitating than others. In addition, the risks associated with the specific type of withdrawal can affect the amount of care. The following is a list of benefits associated with outpatient and inpatient drug detox approaches.

Inpatient Drug Detox

For those needing intensive support, inpatient drug detox is the best choice. Advances in treatment methods have resulted in environments that allow for the intravenous delivery of assisting medications while simultaneously providing an atmosphere of peace and serenity. In addition, the physical and psychological needs of a recovering patient can be addressed at an inpatient facility.

Inpatient drug detox and rehabilitation exist in both short-term and long-term structures. In longer-term treatment, participants are immersed within a new culture and one that is intended to assist in the resetting of thinking patterns. In addition, the longer-term treatment provides a space for those who will benefit from relief from the stresses of home and work life while combating their addiction. In shorter-term treatment, the focus is on helping the participant overcome the acute symptoms of withdrawal, enabling the former addict to progress with recovery from the comfort of home.

Several official agencies recommend that those recovering from addiction take part in the intensive form of treatment that inpatient facilities offer. Many addictions are considered chronic, meaning the cravings tend to return following detoxification efforts. The ongoing support of an inpatient program can work as a defense against returning to substance abuse as a response to these recurring cravings.

Outpatient Treatment

Even with all the listed benefits of inpatient treatment, someone seeking recovery may not find the commitment necessary for such to be feasible. Inpatient treatment requires time away from jobs, family, and friends. It can also be more expensive than outpatient treatment, which can be a concern for someone who is already struggling to make financial ends meet. If these factors are a hindrance in receiving inpatient services, take heart. There are also many benefits to detoxing in an outpatient setting.

There have been positive research results in applying behavioral therapy during addiction treatment. Compared to those who do not receive reinforcement during treatment, those who receive intermittent feedback during recovery have been shown to better maintain their sobriety over the long run. These results support the idea that periodic outpatient services can be utilized as effective resources in recovery.

Outpatient services can include developing a comprehensive recovery plan and providing limited access to assisting medications. It is emphasized that successful outpatient treatment is related to the conditions of the participant’s personal life, as the struggle to overcome addiction is more difficult in the context of stressful life conditions. To maintain sobriety, it is further recommended that participants in outpatient programs persist with the treatment for at least a year.

Weighing Your Options

  • Work Schedule: Taking extended time off of work can mean that monthly bills cannot be paid. Missing too much work can also mean an employer has grounds for dismissing the employee. Both of these scenarios decide what type of detoxing treatment to pursue. Thankfully, employers are increasingly becoming aware of the detriment to their businesses when an employee is struggling with substance abuse. Many companies have responded by implementing employee assistance programs (EAPs.) Under EAP regulations, an employee can safely request to take time off work to treat substance-related issues.
  • Family Obligations: Families don’t function the same way when one family member is absent for a long time. The decision to commit oneself to inpatient treatment means you will be absent from the daily family activities and interactions for a while. When considering the possibility of this absence, it can help examine the effect of substance abuse on family members. If the effects of substance abuse are harmful while you are at home, it may be worth it to spend a short amount of time away to return to your loved ones in a much better physical and mental state.
  • Insurance Options: While many health insurance providers recognize the benefits and importance of supporting their subscribers through funding recovery efforts, they still have limitations on what they will pay for. In an attempt to address the drug abuse crisis in our nation, government agencies are currently working to ensure that insurance companies support more mental health and substance abuse treatments. The treatment program of your choice should be able to assist you in determining whether your insurance coverage is a good fit for the program.
  • Length of Treatment: All of the above factors can be addressed in light of the length of the program that is being considered. For those concerned about the length of stay, intensive inpatient treatment programs can be completed in just a few days, allowing the patient to return to normal life as quickly as possible. This intensive treatment can be followed up with outpatient services, permitting a speedy return to work and loved ones. Short-term inpatient treatment, followed by longer-term outpatient treatment, maybe a way to combine the benefits of both approaches.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and seeking substance use disorder treatment in Connecticut or New York, reach out to Ascendant. Our rehab and detox programs can help create a healthy foundation for lifelong sobriety.

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Amanda Stevens


Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. Read more

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