Outpatient Rehab: How Does it Work?

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Treatment for substance abuse or mental health disorders can be delivered in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Most severe addictions benefit from residential treatment, with access to around-the-clock clinical and emotional care, as well as medications to streamline the detox and ongoing recovery. But, what happens after residential treatment?

Moreover, not everyone grappling with drink or drugs has a severe addiction, though, and not everyone can pack their bags and head to rehab for a month or more. This is where outpatient rehab centers play a vital role for many in recovery.

What is Outpatient Rehab?

According to Treating addiction: a guide for professionals, outpatient rehabs for drug and alcohol addiction provide access to the same range of treatment services you find in residential facilities. There are some notable exceptions, with outpatient programming unable to provide continuous medical support or to perform medical procedures.

If you still find yourself asking “what is outpatient rehab“, these are the most common types of outpatient rehab:

A PHP is sometimes referred to as a day program. Ideal for anyone requiring robust medical and clinical support without needing 24-hour monitoring, PHPs deliver up to 35 hours of intensive weekly therapy sessions. Between therapy sessions, you return home or to a sober living community. Partial hospitalization programs are the most intensive form of outpatient programming, just one step down from residential rehab on American Society of Addiction Medicine’s continuum of care.

An IOP is a more intensive form of programming offering more clinical and medical support than a standard outpatient program, but less than a PHP. With an IOP, you’ll attend therapy sessions for between 12 and 15 hours weekly. Benefit from the intensive interventions used in inpatient rehab but without the cost or the restrictions. Of all these forms of outpatient rehab, IOPs offer the ideal balance between intensive treatment and the flexibility to remain anchored to everyday life.

Standard outpatient programs are intended to help you achieve the behavioral changes required to discontinue substance use. This level of care provides minimal medical services, instead connecting patients with more intensive levels of care as required. Treatment consists of a few hours of weekly therapy sessions. Outpatient programs are typically indicated for those stepping down from more intensive outpatient rehab programs.

Outpatient Alcohol Rehab

For many people struggling with alcohol use disorder, a structured outpatient program can be beneficial.

In addition to MAT with FDA-approved medications (disulfiram, acamprosate, and naltrexone), an outpatient program for alcoholism can provide the following:

  • Relapse prevention training
  • Relapse management
  • Psychotherapies
  • Counseling
  • Experiential therapies
  • Holistic therapies


Outpatient programs are inadvisable for those with severe alcohol use disorder, or for those who require a supervised medical detox.

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an image of people in an outpatient drug rehab

Outpatient Drug Rehab

Everyone will have a different experience of drug addiction and outpatient programs can be highly personalized according to the substance in question.

For heroin use disorder and opioid use disorder, you can take advantage of FDA-approved medications to minimize the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. For other substances like cocaine and meth, by contrast, there are no approved medications currently utilized for treatment, meaning your focus will be on combating drug addiction through psychotherapy and counseling.

As long as your addiction to drugs is not so severe it demands a supervised medical detox and inpatient treatment, outpatient programs deliver the benefits of residential rehab in a more affordable and less restrictive form.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab

When looking at inpatient vs. outpatient rehab, they both have their benefits and drawbacks, and the choice between them will depend on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

Inpatient rehab, also known as residential rehab, involves staying at a treatment center for a set period of time. Inpatient rehab programs usually last for 30, 60, or 90 days, and offer continuous medical and emotional support. Inpatient rehab provides a highly structured and supportive environment that is designed to help individuals overcome addiction or mental health conditions. It allows individuals to focus solely on their recovery without the distractions of daily life.

Outpatient rehab, by contrast, involves attending treatment sessions at a facility while continuing to live at home. Outpatient programs can range from a few hours per week to several hours per day, depending on the individual’s needs. Outpatient rehab provides greater flexibility and allows individuals to continue working or attending school while receiving treatment.

The choice between inpatient and outpatient rehab will depend on factors that include:

  • Severity of the addiction or mental health condition
  • Level of support required
  • Personal and professional responsibilities and commitments

In general, inpatient rehab is recommended for those with severe addictions or mental health conditions, while outpatient rehab may be more appropriate for those with mild to moderate conditions or those who have strong support networks at home.

How do outpatient rehab programs work, then?

What is Outpatient Rehab Like?

When you participate in an outpatient program at a drug and alcohol rehab center, you can expect access to the following evidence-based therapies:

  • MAT: Most of the medically-assisted treatment available in inpatient rehab can be prescribed to patients on an outpatient basis. In the case of alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder, MAT can be highly effective. MAT is always delivered in combination with psychosocial interventions like CBT and counseling.

  • All psychosocial interventions: Any of the psychotherapies available in residential rehab are also offered for outpatients. From evidence-based treatments to alternative and complementary therapies, the specifics will vary from treatment center to treatment center.

  • Psychoeducation: Psychoeducational services that fall outside normal therapy and intervention can be provided on an outpatient basis just as easily as in a residential setting.

  • Support services: From transportation to and from rehab centers to educational and mentoring services, all of these and more are available in most outpatient programs.


In addition to the benefits of direct interventions – medications and therapy – you could also find powerful peer support if you engage with group-based outpatient programming for addiction.

Outpatient Rehab in Southern California

While Gratitude Lodge does not offer, we work with other treatment centers in the Southern California area to help anyone who needs it. Following treatment at our inpatient rehab facilities, clients can stepdown to lower levels of care including intensive outpatient program and outpatient rehab.

If you need help finding an outpatient program, call our team today and we can provide some recommendations based on your specific situation.

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Outpatient Rehab FAQS

Due to the significant treatment gap in the United States, the ACA (Affordable Care Act) was enacted in 2010 with three main goals in mind:

  1. Expanding the Medicaid program.
  2. Increasing accessibility to affordable and effective health insurance.
  3. Supporting innovative treatment delivery methods like virtual rehab to further reduce the costs of healthcare.

All insurance plans, whether individual or group plans, most now offer coverage for ten essential health benefits. Treatment for substance use disorder (addiction) and mental health disorders is deemed essential.

The ACA also mandates that health insurance providers offer the equivalent coverage to that offered for surgical care or general medical care. 

Some insurance plans may meet the full cost of a supervised clinical detox followed by 30 days in an inpatient treatment facility. Other plans may only provide partial coverage for outpatient therapy. The extent of coverage will depend on many variables, including the severity of your addiction and the specifics of your health insurance plan.

The cost of outpatient rehab can vary depending on the location of the facility, the type of treatment program, the length of the program, and the services offered.

On average, outpatient rehab programs can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000.

The cost of outpatient rehab is generally lower than inpatient rehab because you do not need to pay for room and board. Additionally, some facilities may offer sliding scale fees or financial assistance to make the cost more affordable for those who need it.

If you engage with outpatient rehab, you will attend sessions at any of the following:

  • Addiction treatment center
  • Hospital
  • Mental health clinic
  • Behavioral counselor’s office


Sessions are held regularly at specific hours on weekdays. Occasionally, outpatient rehab programs offer evening or weekend therapy sessions, making it easier to engage with treatment around your professional commitments.

The length of outpatient rehab programs may vary according to the severity of the addiction or mental health condition, your personal treatment needs and goals, and the specific program structure at the outpatient rehab center.

Typically, outpatient rehab programs can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Most programs are designed to be flexible and offer treatment for as long as you need to achieve your goals.

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