man sitting on a couch talking to female therapist during intensive outpatient therapy

Drug addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a significant challenge. However, once an individual living with substance use disorder has come to terms with their addiction, as well as the fact that they need professional help, finding the right treatment program is the next step. For some individuals, an inpatient program is the right fit, as it allows them to live at the treatment facility full time and receive round-the-clock treatment. 

Many people either cannot afford an inpatient rehab program or cannot spend that much time away from their homes. In cases like this, the individual may find that an intensive outpatient program is the best method to get the treatment they need on a schedule they can live with.

What is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

Taking part in an intensive outpatient program, or IOP, as part of a person’s continuum of care can give them the attention they need along with a schedule that still allows them to be home on a daily basis. This is because an IOP combines the significant advantages of an inpatient or residential program with the flexibility and scheduling of an outpatient program. 

Taking part in an intensive outpatient program has many considerable advantages over outpatient programs, although they also have some disadvantages that may affect the individual’s recovery as well. Despite any drawbacks that may be experienced during IOP, it is still widely recognized as an effective and successful treatment for drug addiction, especially if the individual has a robust support system in place outside the treatment facility.

How does an IOP work?

An intensive outpatient program is one of the more common ways that people living with addictions can get help, either for substance abuse or for dual diagnosis with co-occurring mental illness. They offer a highly-intensive way to get the help the individual needs while also offering incredible amounts of flexibility that help the individual continue to meet their obligations outside of treatment. Intensive outpatient programs allow the individual to get a comprehensive addiction treatment without a major disruption in their schedule.

When the individual first begins their intensive outpatient plan, they will frequently have to meet at the treatment facility with therapists, clinicians, support groups, and other medical support staff. These meetings will also take a significant amount of time, up to 8-9 hours per day, at least 3-5 days a week. This is what makes the IOP intensive while helping to fight feelings of isolation.

One of the major benefits of an intensive outpatient program, however, is that it is still considered “outpatient.” This means the individual will be able to return home daily, sleep in their own bed, and wake up in their own home. Living at home is what differentiates the IOP from residential or inpatient programs.

Even though there is an outpatient component to the treatment, an IOP is still a highly structured program that helps reinforce abstaining from substance use. They help build a routine, and while the routine contains elements like counseling, group sessions, and psychotherapy that help the individual learn more about their addiction and how to cope effectively, the routine itself takes up a significant portion of their time, leaving them little time to allow the temptation of usage to affect them.

The Benefits of an Intensive Outpatient Program

The benefits of outpatient rehab are significant and create a very robust potential for long-term recovery in most individuals. Some of the largest benefits of intensive outpatient include:

  • The structure of the program provides an adequate deterrent to use, nearly identical to inpatient programs, while still giving a degree of flexibility to the individual to continue to live their day-to-day lives.
  • Since the program isn’t residential, the individual will still be able to participate in work or school in most cases. 
  • For those who have financial concerns, the lower costs are easier to manage than the higher costs of inpatient or residential facilities. This is particularly significant if the individual is using insurance to pay for the recovery treatment.
  • For those that have never been a part of a recovery program, the IOP can be an easy introduction to what is involved. They will gain exposure to group therapy, family therapy, and life-skills discussions that can prove valuable in maintaining their recovery.
  • Intensive outpatient programs are much more effective than conventional outpatient treatments.
  • The individual will have a greater responsibility in maintaining their own recovery, helping them to feel a greater degree of control over their own progress.
  • Since intensive outpatient programs allow a greater degree of privacy than inpatient programs, they can help the individual feel more comfortable overall in their participation.

Are There Different Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs to Choose From?

In general, intensive outpatient programs will be largely similar. They will often differ from one individual to the next since each person will need their own treatment plan tailored to their needs. While one person may have a greater need for therapy and life-skills coaching, another may need a much heavier group therapy component or longer or shorter days.

If the individual is having difficulty with scheduling, for example, they may be able to change their program’s format to have longer sessions at the facility fewer times each week. This can allow them to keep their job or not fall too far behind in school.

What is the First Step to Getting Started with an IOP?

If you or someone close to you is struggling with addiction and has finally decided to get help, it’s not uncommon to be unsure where to start. The best first step to gaining the benefits of intensive outpatient programs is contacting a professional to discuss IOP options in your area. 

This can help them get on the path to recovery quickly, and when addictions are at work, time is of the essence. The individual can discuss treatment options with local recovery experts and can begin building an intensive outpatient program that is tailored to their needs, creating a strong foundation for a successful recovery.