Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehabilitation: Which one is for me?

Written by: Lisa Juris
Last Updated: Jan 19, 2023


Inpatient rehabilitation is often the first step in any effective drug and alcohol treatment experience.  The first 30 days of an addict’s recovery journey are crucial to the long-term success of his or her program. The early days are fraught with feelings of anxiety, low self-worth, sickness, and shame; therefore, physical stabilization and minimization of risk are critical components of the rehabilitation experience.

In an inpatient setting, clients have 24-hour access to the appropriate medical care to help manage withdrawal symptoms and rebalance the hormonal system.  Through a combination of evidence-based therapies and 12-step principles, impatient rehabilitation addresses physical and psychological symptoms of addiction simultaneously.  This holistic approach is essential for enduring transformation.

In addition to the physical manifestations of addiction, a person’s emotional, mental, and spiritual state become deeply affected.  Inpatient treatment affords the care team ample time and opportunity to assess co-existing disorders and build a treatment plan that aims to heal the whole person.  While sequestered in a supportive, caring environment, clients can immerse themselves in recovery, build relationships with addiction professionals and their peers, and avoid the temptations of the outside world while they embark on the healing process.

Understanding the science behind addiction is another goal of inpatient treatment.  Intensive exposure to the theories behind the disease model give clients the education they need to surrender to their powerlessness, the first building block of 12-step programming.

A typical 24-hours in inpatient rehab may consist of shared meals; group, individual, family, and/or recreational therapy; medical consultation; yoga and meditation; recovery education seminars; 12-step meetings, and leisure activities.

When clients form a solid foundation in recovery, they are better prepared to step down to a partial hospitalization or outpatient model of care. Inpatient care is the bedrock upon which strong life and recovery skills are built.  Inpatient treatment generally lasts anywhere from 30-90 days before clients have acquired the skills necessary to move to the next level of care – partial hospitalization (PHP) or intensive outpatient (IOP).


Any reputable PHP or IOP rehabilitation program has the same outcome goal as an inpatient program – long-term abstinence and development of the tools necessary to manage one’s emotions without relying on mood-altering substances.  For many, this lower level of care is sufficient to elicit the essential changes for life in recovery.

For those with financial considerations or family responsibilities that would prohibit them from committing to the inpatient experience, PHP or IOP programs offer hope and healing in a less immersive, more flexible environment.  PHP programs offer clients the option to reside off-campus in sober-living accommodations affiliated with the facility as a convenient, added layer of protection against the triggers of their home life.  Clients in PHP receive the same level of clinical care as do their peers in inpatient rehab, but on a 9-5 weekday schedule.  Accordingly, the costs associated with a PHP level of care are lower than that of a residential program.

The focus of the PHP level of care is to impart a firm understanding of addiction and acquire the life skills required to manage daily tasks and emotions so that one may gain independence and gradually transition back to a work and home life outside of treatment.

Statistics prove that the most effective length of stay in a PHP program is a minimum of 90 days.  Many clients choose to stay for six months to a year, as for some it takes that long to undo the physical, mental, and emotional damage of years of habitual drug and alcohol abuse.


Upon completion of a residential or IOP rehabilitation program, clients are ready to transition to outpatient care, which is a part time program designed to keep people connected to the message and principles of recovery while pursuing employment, school, or hobbies.  With rare exception, outpatient rehabilitation is not recommended as a primary method of addiction recovery.

Lisa is a Certified Recovery Specialist and Case Manager/Alumni Coordinator in our Bucks County location. Prior to joining Avenues, Lisa enjoyed a long career as a Corporate Event Planner and graphic designer. Her battle with alcoholism led her into treatment in 2014 where she surrendered to the process and was inspired to help others achieve their recovery goals. In 2018 she returned to school at Purdue University for a degree in psychology with a concentration in addiction counseling. Lisa runs a weekly art and recreation group at Avenues where she brings her passion for art, writing, acting, and singing to her clients to nudge them out of their comfort zone and help them experience fun in sobriety. She can be counted on for daily smiles, hugs, encouragement, notebooks, and safety pins. Lisa has a wonderfully supportive husband, 3 beautiful grown daughters, a few pets, and in her spare time, is a master level cake decorator.

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