Outpatient program: How long?

How long does outpatient treatment last and what determinates the duration of the program? Here we explain what you can expect.

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Outpatient program: How long does it take?

An outpatient program for drug or alcohol addiction can be successful, especially when willingness for change is high. Unlike inpatient programs, outpatient programs do not require participants to reside in a treatment facility for several weeks. Instead, program participants travel to addiction rehab facilities to attend treatment sessions.

An average stay in an outpatient rehab program is about 10 weeks. Outpatient programs usually offer a step-down approach to attendance…with more intensive treatment occurring in the first months of engagement, which then tapers off as needed. So, depending on your individual situation, the number of times you’ll travel to an outpatient treatment facility and the duration of each session will vary.

For example, individuals diagnosed with more severe cases of chemical addiction usually attend an outpatient program several days each week and stay for several hours each day. This is called an “Intensive Outpatient Program”, or IOP. Those with mild diagnoses of addiction, however, may only be required to travel to a facility a couple times each week for an hour or two each visit.

Outpatient program duration

Anyone considering an outpatient program should understand that the length of time spend in the program will vary based on a number of different factors. First of all, the worse an addiction is, the longer a person will spend in treatment. Outpatient program duration will also largely depend on the type of program. A list of some of the more common outpatient programs and their durations are listed below.

1.   Partial inpatient program duration – Partial inpatient programs do not require recovering addicts to reside in a treatment facility, but they do require them to attend daily treatment sessions that last several hours each day. The duration for these types of programs is usually several months or weeks.

2.   Intensive outpatient program duration – A typical intensive outpatient program is sometimes used to treat mild to moderate addictions. These programs typically last three to four months.

Aftercare outpatient program duration- When a person completes an inpatient, partial inpatient, or outpatient addiction program, they will typically continue to attend outpatient therapy sessions for several months up to a year afterwards.

Outpatient program timeline

The majority of outpatient programs are quite similar, and most will offer the same types of services and treatment methods. A typical outpatient program timeline is outlined below.

First, screening and assessment

Before entering an outpatient program, you’ll first need to undergo an initial screening and assessment. You will have to have gone through detox and withdrawal so that no drugs or alcohol are in your system at the time of entry into an outpatient program.

The screening an assessment usually consists of standardized tests and interview questions. The process helps addiction specialists identify some main clinical issues and to create you an individualized treatment plan. A typical screening and assessment will usually take at least an hour, but can sometimes take longer.

Then, the psychological and behavioral treatments

The majority of time spent in an outpatient program is spent in psychotherapy. Recovering addicts in outpatient programs will typically spend several hours each week in individual therapy and group therapy. Depending on the specific program and your needs, this stage of treatment can last several weeks to several months or longer.

Note here that medications that address addiction may also complement therapy at this stage of treatment. However, pharmacological interventions are usually not prescribed by the outpatient clinic directly. Instead, you may need to visit a specialist doctor or program to receive this kind of care.

Finally, aftercare

After completing an outpatient program, recovering addicts will typically spend several weeks in an addiction aftercare program. This requires recovering addicts to attend regular weekly therapy sessions in order to cope with everyday stressors and maintain their abstinence.

Additionally, those who have completed a rehab program will generally have access to several different supportive services. Typically, these supportive services will be offered for several months or years after a person has completed treatment.

Outpatient program: Short-term vs. long-term

The length of time spent in an outpatient program will vary from person to person. The outpatient program short-term vs long-term decision will be made based on a number of factors. These include:

  • cross addiction diagnosis
  • dual diagnosis cases
  • individual motivation for change
  • intensity and number of life responsibilities
  • personal need for psychological support

An addiction specialist such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, specialist, MD or a licensed clinical social work can help you determine which type of outpatient program – long-term vs short-term – is right for you.

Outpatient program average time

One of the most common types of outpatient program is the intensive outpatient program. Addicts who participate in this type of program will typically travel to an outpatient facility several times each week. They will then spend a few hours each day attending individual therapy, group therapy, and education sessions.

Intensive outpatient programs often last from 12 to 16 weeks, on average. More long-term outpatient programs, however, may be needed for individuals with more serious addictions. For instance, some outpatient programs may last for several months, and others may require longer periods of time for each visits or a higher number of visits each week. This allows participating addicts to undergo more intensive treatment, which is usually necessary in order to treat more severe addictions successfully.

Outpatient program time

If you or a loved ones is considering an outpatient program, time is most likely a large concern. You probably have questions about how long you’’ll have to spend in treatment, what is outpatient rehab exactly, as well as how long each day in therapy will require.

Let’s verify your coverage for treatment at an American Addiction Centers location. Your information is always confidential.


If you still have additional questions regarding outpatient program time that we haven’t answered here, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. We work hard to respond to you personally. We want to help all of our readers start down the road to recovery.

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Reference Sources: NIDA: Principles of drug addiction treatment
Utah State Department of Health and Social Services: Substance Abuse Treatment
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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