When Outpatient Approaches Just Aren’t Enough

Outpatient Rehab

Americans make choices every day, choosing what to wear to work, what kind of lunch to get, and what kind of route to drive home when the day is done. Making choices is a natural, daily part of our lives, just as natural as the air that we breath is.

However, some choices are harder to make than others are. The choice on what kind of recovery program to go to, for example, when one is struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction, might perhaps be one of the most important choices that an individual ever makes.

Let’s take a look at the two, primary approaches that Americans have to choose from when it comes to addressing drug and alcohol addiction, namely inpatient addiction treatment and outpatient addiction treatment.

What is Outpatient Addiction Treatment?

Outpatient addiction treatment refers simply to a rehab modality that is delivered on an outpatient basis, i.e. without the patient or recovering addict actually having to live at the recovery facility while receiving services. This is more of a form of addiction treatment where the individual attends classes or counseling sessions a couple times a week, for an hour to two or three hours in each session.

Outpatient drug and alcohol rehabs tend to be very accessible, very affordable, and relatively easy to get into. Such programs usually offer comfortable and amicable settings. Recovering addicts can come and go as they please, and the environments are usually pretty welcoming.

One of the problems with outpatient drug and alcohol rehab is the lack of security and safety from substances. At an outpatient rehab center, there is nothing stopping the individual from continuing to use substances before or after his or her outpatient sessions. At an inpatient treatment center, the individual lives at the rehab, protected by support staff and security. They will not be able to use any drugs or alcohol while they are in rehab.

Knowledgeable Experts and Savvy Journalists Discuss Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Jane E. Brody
 Jane E. Brody

In a blog from The New York Times, author Jane E. Brody contributes a brief but thought-provoking segment on drug and alcohol addiction, the struggle of addicts in modern-day America, and how one goes about finding effective addiction treatment. We’ve included two quotes from her piece below, both of which cite a very insightful research study:

“A groundbreaking report published last year by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University concluded that, ’The vast majority of people in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything that approximates evidence-based care.’ The report added, ’Only a small fraction of individuals receive interventions or treatment consistent with scientific knowledge about what works.” (NYTimes)

Mrs. Brody goes on to discuss the implications of such a report, suggesting that giving drug addicts and alcoholics outdated, no longer effective addiction treatment borders even on medical malpractice:

“The Columbia report found that most addiction treatment providers are not medical professionals and are not equipped with the knowledge, skills or credentials needed to provide the full range of evidence-based services, including medication and psychosocial therapy. The authors suggested that such insufficient care could be considered, ’A form of medical malpractice.” (NYTimes)

Big words, but true words nonetheless. Next up, we’ll take a close look at what some of the experts in the addiction treatment space are saying about the importance of drug and alcohol rehab, and the importance of addicts picking the right drug and alcohol rehab.

Beth Kane-Davinson
Beth Kane-Davidson

Beth Kane-Davidson, a director of the behavioral health department at a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland said that:

“Perhaps the most critical factor in treating a substance use disorder is finding the right treatment center. Does the treatment center have the services that match what the person needs?” (USNews)

Cardillo Mark
Mark Cardillo

Mark Cardillo, a program director of a behavioral health and the detox unit in Tampa, said that:

“Explore all options. Not everyone needs residential treatment; an intensive outpatient program or attendance at 12-step meetings might be the right fit for the patient. These approaches can be as successful as a stay in a 90-day residential treatment program.” (USNews)

Anne Fletcher
Anne M. Fletcher

Anne M. Fletcher, author of Sober for Good and several other acclaimed texts, writes that recovering addicts need far more time than most treatment centers are giving them:

“People with serious substance abuse disorders commonly require care for months or even years. The short-term fix mentality partially explains why so many people go back to their old habits.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the thousands of expert opinions that are available on the internet on the subject of addiction and rehabilitation. We could go on for several pages in citations of addiction experts, but the main focus is that things like quality of services rendered, longer time spent in treatment, a variety of services offered, and plenty of other factors are what make a treatment experience successful.

It is very unlikely that one will have access to all of those factors in an outpatient addiction treatment program, hence why recovering addicts need to seek the help of an inpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.

The True Benefit of Inpatient Addiction Treatment

Narconon New Life Detoxification - inpatient

The first and most obvious benefit of any in-patient treatment is the change of environment. The stresses and strains of day to day survival are left at home along with the drug using friends and environmental triggers. This change of environment alone produces huge benefits.

We’ve seen now why outpatient drug and alcohol rehab centers are not that effective, so now let’s take a look at why inpatient drug and alcohol rehab centers do work. The disparity in polar opposites between these two approaches could not be more clear. Below are some of the most prominent reasons why inpatient long-term drug and alcohol rehab centers do work.

Inpatient rehab works, first and foremost, because of the direct intensity of services that addicts are able to avail themselves of. Inpatient rehab centers allow for multiple styles and modalities of addiction treatment, while outpatient programs usually only offer one or two treatment techniques.

When a recovering addict goes to an inpatient rehab, they are able to access several treatment techniques, like one-on-one care, group therapy, spiritual services, educational courses, life skills, relapse prevention, coping strategies, detox services, physical therapy, dieting, nutrition, etc. Inpatient programs can offer variety in addiction treatment, and utilizing multiple services in tackling addiction is always better than just using one or two approaches.

When a person has been struggling with drug and alcohol addiction for an extensive period of time, they will usually need an extended period of treatment to overcome those habits. While most outpatient rehab approaches are only offered on a bi or tri-weekly basis for a few hours and for perhaps a few weeks or a month or so, inpatient long-term addiction treatment centers offer intensive services in a residential setting for several months. This gives recovering addicts a much greater chance of overcoming their habits.

Narconon Graduate

Inpatient rehabs offer more services, for longer periods of time, and in a setting that is safe and secure from the threat of relapse. A powerful, highly negative habit that one has had for some time is simply going to take a considerable amount of work to overcome. It is not a matter of complexity or intricate constructs of the mind that determine this. It is simply a matter of logic. In the long fight that is one’s conquest for sobriety, an inpatient treatment center is clearly the correct choice.

Each individual should be assessed by a trained and licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor to determine the proper level of care required to assist in successful treatment.


Clinical Review by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, ICAADC, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.