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What Is Outpatient Alcohol Rehab?

Outpatient alcohol rehab is addiction treatment that is provided at scheduled appointments on a regular basis while you live off-site.

Outpatient alcohol rehab is treatment that is provided at scheduled appointments on a regular basis while you live at home or off-site, allowing individuals to engage in their normal daily routines with minimal disruptions.1,2 Outpatient programs vary widely in intensity and duration, depending on your needs, with some programs offering daily sessions and others only meeting 1 to 3 times per week.3

While some outpatient programs require fewer than 9 hours per week, other outpatient programs are relatively time-intensive such as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs).4

Regardless of the level of care, outpatient programs typically involve therapy provided by licensed clinicians and medication-assisted treatment may be offered by physicians with oversight by nursing staff.1,3 Group counseling sessions can also be a major component of many outpatient treatment programs.2 Family counseling sessions are also commonly offered.5

Outpatient programs are sometimes utilized after finishing an inpatient program as a way of easing the transition back to society. Yet, this isn’t always the case; some outpatient programs may serve as a person’s first experience with rehab.

What Types of Outpatient Programs Are There?

Outpatient programs vary widely and selecting the right type of program depends on the severity of your alcohol use disorder (AUD) and your unique needs in treatment.4 In general, outpatient program participation works best when a person’s home environment is stable, safe, and supportive.4

There are 3 broad types of outpatient programs, although treatment is flexible within each. It’s also possible to transition up or down in intensity of care as needed or recommended by your care provider.4

  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) provide the highest level of outpatient treament.3,4 PHPs are sometimes used as a step-down from inpatient detoxification or treatment. You will generally attend sessions for at least 20 hours a week, spread over the course of 5-7 days.3,5 These sessions typically involve a combination of group, individual, and family therapy, as well as psychiatric care as needed.5
  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are typically less intensive compared to a PHP but offer more support and care than a standard outpatient program.5 IOP treatment generally involves at least 9 hours of care weekly.3,5 This is most commonly broken up over several days throughout the week.3,5 IOPs provide a combination of group, individual, and family counseling, and may offer psychiatric care as well.3,5
  • Standard outpatient programs offer the least structured and intensive form of care and may require attending treatment sessions once or twice per week.3 Group and individual counseling sessions are commonly available at night or during the weekends. As you reduce your days in treatment, you may be encouraged to receive sober support, such as attending self-help meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or another mutual help program such as SMART recovery.3

Who is A Good Candidate for Outpatient Treatment?

A number of factors go into determining whether outpatient treatment is a good fit for you. You may meet with an intake counselor, admissions advisor, or other members of the treatment team prior to the start of any new treatment program for a thorough assessment of your needs to determine the appropriate level of care.1

You will likely be asked questions about your alcohol and other drug use, mental and medical health histories, and may undergo other lines of screening and assessment to determine your needs.3

People who are good candidates for outpatient treatment typically have:

  • Access to reliable transportation.3 Outpatient treatment requires active participation and consistent attendance, so you will need to be able to get to and from those appointments. If you do not have reliable transportation, whether this is a car or public transportation, you will not be able to attend your appointments.
  • Employment, school, or other responsibilities that they can’t take time away from.3 Outpatient care may allow you to continue attending school or work while receiving treatment, making it ideal if you are limited in your ability to take time off. This also applies to parents with children, since it can be difficult to arrange childcare while attending inpatient treatment. Some outpatient programs provide assistance in finding and ensuring appropriate childcare for patients.
  • Stable home environments.1 If you do not have stable housing, access to food, are experiencing domestic violence, or are exposed to alcohol or drugs in the home, inpatient or residential treatment may be a better fit.
  • Strong support groups.3 It is important to have family and peer support during your treatment. Engaging with substance-free friends and family or attending self-help or mutual support group meetings can be a vital part of your recovery.

Is Detox the same as Outpatient?

While detox is the first phase of treatment, it simply helps you get through withdrawal and doesn’t address the deeper issues associated with an alcohol use disorder.1 Detox isn’t considered complete outpatient treatment, although it can be done on an outpatient basis in cases that aren’t severe.1 Since severe alcohol withdrawal  can be dangerous and potentially fatal, it is recommended you speak to a physician prior to any detox attempts.1 In some cases, medical professionals are required to monitor and treat your withdrawal symptoms, addressing any potentially severe complications that you may experience to keep you safe as you detox.1

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when you have consistently been drinking heavily and stop suddenly or significantly reduce your alcohol intake.6 The higher the frequency or greater the amount you drink, the more likely you are to develop alcohol withdrawal symptoms when stopping or reducing use.6

Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include depression, feeling anxious or irritable, fatigue, mood swings, and nightmares.6 Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as seizures and delirium tremens may be life-threatening and can cause dangerous complications such as trouble regulating involuntary body processes, including body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.1,7

What Does Outpatient Treatment Involve?

Effective treatment for alcohol use disorder involves a variety of therapies to help you learn important coping skills to manage difficult or stressful situations, maintain sobriety, and improve your ability to function in a variety of areas of your life.2

During treatment, patients will undergo evidence-based behavioral therapies to identify and help change the behaviors that may have led to addiction in the first place.8 These therapies include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to change problematic behaviors by identifying certain types of maladaptive thoughts related to alcohol abuse.3 The idea is that thoughts and behaviors are learned, and thus can be unlearned and better coping mechanism cans be adapted.3,9 CBT teaches people to learn new ways to cope and avoid relapse as well use better strategies to deal with triggers that may lead to drinking.3,9
  • Contingency Management (CM) uses increasingly valued incentives to reinforce clean toxicology results and other positive, recovery-oriented behaviors.2
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI) works to examine and reduce levels of ambivalence about treatment and help individuals improve their confidence in their own abilities to make positive changes in their life.10
  • Twelve-step facilitation incorporates the principles of 12-step meetings into treatment, placing special emphasis on working through the 12 steps and actively attending 12-step meetings and fellowship activities.2
  • Family therapy involves setting goals and being held accountable for those goals, while also incorporating family members into the treatment process, and rewarding progress towards those goals.2

Along with behavioral therapies, medications may be administered during the detoxification phase and while in treatment. Long-acting benzodiazepines are the medication of choice used to manage symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, with chlordiazepoxide and diazepam being the most commonly used treatments.1

There are 3 FDA-approved medications for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.2,11,12 Antabuse (disulfiram) is a medication that impairs the body’s ability to break down alcohol, causing unpleasant and uncomfortable effects when alcohol is consumed, including chest pain, nausea, and palpitations.2 Campral (acamprosate) works by changing levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, reducing some of the long-lasting symptoms of withdrawal, including cravings, lowering the likelihood of relapse, and reducing the severity of any relapses that may occur.2 Naltrexone works by blocking opioid receptors and reducing alcohol’s reinforcing effects and cravings you may experience, as well as the severity of any relapses you may experience.2,3,11,12

How Effective is Outpatient Treatment?

Multiple studies have shown that outpatient treatment can be just as effective as inpatient care in treating alcohol use disorder and other substance use disorders.5 However, outpatient treatment may not be appropriate for people who aren’t a good candidate for treatment, such as those who don’t have stable housing, are exposed to alcohol or drug use in the home, struggle with reliable transportation, have severe alcohol or substance use disorders, do not have sober support systems, or experience co-occurring mental illness.3

Regardless of setting, no matter how severe the problem may seem, treatment has been shown to be beneficial for most people struggling with an alcohol use disorder.13 Research shows that about 1/3 of people who are treated for alcohol problems show no further symptoms 1 year later, with many others substantially reduce their drinking and having fewer alcohol-related problems.13

Outpatient Treatment With AAC

Alcohol.org is a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers (AAC), a nationwide provider of addiction treatment centers. If considering outpatient treatment with AAC, you’ll first speak with an admissions navigator who will gather information about any mental or physical health issues you have, your current patterns of substance use, your substance use history, any other issues that you may have that contribute to or result from alcohol or drug use, and your insurance information. These factors are all used to determine the appropriate level of care to meet your needs.

The information gathered by the admissions navigator and during your medical screening will be used to develop a treatment plan. Your personalized treatment plan will take into account any issues that you may be facing, including co-occurring mental health issues and medical health issues. AAC offers specialized treatment tracks designed to meet the unique needs of groups and communities such as first responders, Christians, veterans, and LGBTQ+.

To learn more about our outpatient programs, call our addiction hotline 24/7 at to speak with an admissions navigator about your options. Or, fill out the form below to see if your insurance covers treatment with AAC.

Additional information on what a general admissions process entails can be found on our how to get admitted to rehab page.