Inpatient Vs Outpatient Alcohol Rehab – The Key Differences

Last Updated: August 7, 2019

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Alcohol Rehabs

Are you considering alcohol rehab but want to know which one to choose? In this article we will explore the difference between inpatient and outpatient drug rehab facilities to help you make an educated choice

What is the difference between inpatient and outpatient rehab?

The difference between inpatient and outpatient rehab is that inpatient rehab requires admission into a treatment facility. Inpatient rehab is for alcoholics whose health and employment is already compromised by severe alcohol addiction. Outpatient rehab, on the other hand, is for functioning alcohol addicts who can still manage their jobs.

Inpatient and outpatient are terms used to describe the type of Alcoholic Rehab that is available for the person seeking alcohol addiction treatment. Inpatient alcoholic rehab can be in a hospital setting, a combination of a hospital and treatment facility, or on a ranch or group home facility. Outpatient alcoholic rehab treatment is located at a therapy center and the patient lives at their own home. The programs can both be effective, depending on the commitment of the alcoholic and the level of resolve they have to get sober. In order to assess which program might be most beneficial for the alcoholic, each of these treatment options should be carefully evaluated and compared.

Benefits of Inpatient Alcohol Rehabs

Is inpatient alcohol rehab effective?

Inpatient alcohol treatment center can be very effective depending on the commitment of the alcoholic and their level of motivation. This treatment is done in a hospital setting, a group home facility, or the coordination of both.

Inpatient – has a severe addiction that has compromised health and employment.

  • Treatment is residential, inside a secure facility; leaving the facility and contact with outsiders are severely restricted so the individual has no opportunities to receive contraband or sneak out and drink. The patient has to follow the typical rehab schedule.
  • The patient receives medically supervised withdrawal from the effects of alcohol abuse 24/7. Vital signs are taken hourly and the patient is constantly observed and attended to by medical professionals.
  • Counseling is directed towards tools and a foundation for sobriety, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and expression of feelings and emotions.
  • The alcoholic is involved in every aspect of treatment and designs the individual program that would be most effective, with the help of the staff.
  • Detoxification takes a minimum of three days while the alcoholic is heavily medicated.
  • The patient is expected to stay 3-14 days within the medical sector, depending on the severity of the withdrawal symptoms and then transitioned to the therapy program.
  • Individual, group and family therapy are required components of the program to address the broken and damaged relationships. Family dynamics, patterns of communication and confrontational behaviors are addressed with all of the family members.
  • Attendance is required for all lectures, groups and therapy sessions for a minimum of eight hours a day. The patient has very little free time and none is unsupervised.
  • The employer is notified of treatment and the length of the expected treatment, which may be immediate cause for termination of employment.
  • The alcoholic is strongly encouraged to attend a support group meeting immediately upon discharge. Aftercare appointments will be booked for a follow-up visit 7 days after treatment ends. Additional appointments will be scheduled by the staff before the patient leaves the facility.
  • The cost of inpatient treatment is more than twice that of outpatient and lasts twice as long. Many patients will have a financial hardship when they are expected to pay the costs associated with treatment and rehabilitation.
  • The alcoholic receives intense counseling regarding the importance of sobriety, recognizing addictive behaviors, avoiding difficult situations, and unhealthy social relationships.
  • There is a higher rate of completion of alcohol detoxification when the inpatient program is utilized, as the patient is required to stay at the facility at all times.
  • Even though the success rate is higher for detoxification, the artificial environment of a controlled setting can increase the alcoholic’s dependency on residential treatment for a safety net, instead of utilizing the counseling suggestions about behavioral changes and increasing coping skills.
  • While the therapy and interaction are only scheduled for an 8-hour day, the inpatient is really being rehabilitated 24/7 through conversations with other patients, staff and community members that are allowed limited access like ministers and AA group leaders.

Benefits of Outpatient Alcohol Rehabs

What is outpatient alcohol rehab?

An outpatient alcohol rehab is a type of alcohol treatment wherein the client travels to the facility where the sessions are held. He or she does not stay at the treatment facility following the treatment sessions.

Outpatient – patient has alcoholic addiction but has managed to stay employed and functional

  • The alcoholic continues to work and stays at home, unsupervised, with no limits on the amount of social or family gatherings and situations. The patient is more comfortable and feels less threatened.
  • The individual undergoing treatment receives medically supervised withdrawal for one day, on the day of the intake, and may be required to stay only one overnight in the outpatient rehab for alcoholics in the case of severe withdrawal symptoms.
  • The client is only lightly medicated and may suffer more discomfort than the individual that is inpatient. The individual will feel the effects of withdrawal while working, which can be embarrassing and debilitating.
  • The alcoholic visits the counselor three to four times a week for two weeks, and then tapers the meetings at the alcoholic’s discretion, instead of the length of therapy being supervised by the therapist. The patient is responsible for booking appointment times, deciding the frequency of visits, and the length of continued therapy with no supervision from the staff. The alcoholic may choose to terminate the therapy sessions abruptly if the counseling becomes uncomfortable or too confrontational.
  • Employment responsibilities continue while undergoing treatment, increasing the stress level for the alcoholic and the opportunities for social drinking and relapse.
  • The employer may not know nor be informed of the treatment, depending upon the employee. The employer has no understanding of the physical and mental effects of withdrawal and could terminate the employee for unstable performance issues.
  • The alcoholic is not as deep into addiction so may already have a social structure; the counseling is directed more towards identifying self-destructive behaviors, triggers for relapse and dangerous situations that could compromise the rehabilitation process than building a support system.
  • Costs are much less expensive for the outpatient treatment, the length of treatment is shorter, plus the client has the advantage of a continued income to pay bills.
  • The newly sober alcoholic may be tempted to relapse much more quickly because of the lack of clear boundaries and structure during the recovery. Left alone to their musings and damaged thinking patterns, the alcoholic may revert to previous habits.
  • Only 35% of alcoholics in the outpatient treatment programs even complete the detoxification process as they are allowed to go home at night and can drink immediately. Many use the outpatient treatment program for an opportunity to safely “dry out” and then abandon the rest of the program.
  • The alcoholic has the opportunity to practice the newly acquired skills from therapy in the home environment, and then return to the counselor for discussion and suggestions on improvement. This improves the communication skills and the conflict management skills of the patient, because of the “real-life” environment.
  • The Intensive Outpatient Program has three-hour blocks of counseling and therapy, allowing for decreased anxiety, and increased personal time. Employment is not in jeopardy or threatened by a lengthy leave of absence.
Both the inpatient and the outpatient alcohol rehab and treatment can be the impetus to healthy and sober living. All that is needed is a commitment to sobriety from the alcoholic and the right treatment situation can be established.



Gregory Okhifun

Dr. Gregory Okhifun

Medical Reviewer

Dr. Okhifun is a passionate medical doctor, with over five years’ experience as a general practitioner. His passion for medical education led to his journey in medical writing. He has a wealth of experience writing for hospitals and medical centers, health organizations, telemedicine platforms, wellness organizations, medical tourism publications, addiction websites, and websites focused on nutrition and nutraceuticals.
He also serves as medical coordinator and content writer for Gerocare Solutions, for which he also volunteers as a health advisor/consultant for the elderly.
Dr. Okhifun enjoys traveling, meditation, and reading.

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