How does Intensive Outpatient Treatment for addiction work?

Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP) for addiction lasts for several weeks and requires a commitment of about 10 hours per week. More on how IOP works and its efficacy here.

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Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) for addiction is at least – if not more – effective than residential addiction treatment. So, how does it work? And what can you expect?

Here, we review the main process and protocols for Intensive Outpatient Treatment for addiction. Then, we invite your questions or comments at the end.

Is Intensive Outpatient Treatment successful?

Yes, intensive outpatient clinics can be successful for certain people. Before a person begins IOP, a thorough evaluation and assessment are done to see if this type of treatment would be beneficial. Although IOP may not be suitable for every addict in recovery, those who qualify may benefit greatly from it. (Note that Intensive Outpatient Treatment is not recommended for people who have a chronic history of drug abuse and require a higher level of medical supervision.)

Intensive outpatient programs have proven to be successful part of continued care. IOP is designed to provide psychological, behavioral, and social support therapies to people while they continue to live at home. How long does IOP rehab last? Clients typically attend the Intensive Outpatient Treatment sessions on regular basis, usually about 3 times per week and are engage in individual or group therapy. IOP facilities usually offer sessions during the day and in the evening. At the beginning sessions last several hours, and they can be held three or five times per week. The main highlights of IOP include:

  • 3-5 times per week
  • 10 hours per week
  • can live at home
  • need own transportation to outpatient clinic
  • day and/or evening sessions

Is Intensive Outpatient Treatment effective?

Yes, many people have benefited from Intensive Outpatient Treatment programs. Here, we explain the effectiveness of each activity in IOPs:

1. Group Therapy – Therapy is at the heart of intensive outpatient programs. In group therapy, in presence of a counselor, people gather to discuss and share the issues they face and will learn how to maintain a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t include substance abuse. A part of the process is becoming more self-aware, which is essential for recovery and long-term sobriety. Plus, individuals who struggle with addiction see that they are not alone and can share experiences and thoughts with people who are going through the same.

2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This type of psychotherapy is effective in helping people develop new ways of thinking and learn skill which will help them refrain from negative thoughts and activities. You can get a better understanding of how your emotions and thoughts influence choices and actions directly. Goals include how to successfully divert former patterns towards positive and drug-free activities.

3. Individual Therapy – One-on-one counseling is especially effective in the early stages if IOT, since it allows you to focus on personal issues and particular needs. Individual therapy allows the counselors to devote their full attention to you and this allows more individualized care and in-depth personal discussions. When you have resolved individual issues and obstacles and are ready to move on, you join group sessions.

4. Workshops – Workshops and seminars are an effective way to keep recovering addicts focused on maintaining their sobriety. Workshops are organized around different subjects, such as understanding addiction, how to prevent relapse, how to cope with old behaviors, developing good coping skills, how to get in touch with your emotions, etc. These workshops include art therapy, music therapy, creative activities, nature hikes, exercising, doing yoga, performing community service and other activities.

5. Setting Goals – Goal setting is an emphasized part of IOT. It is effective because it empowers addicts and keeps them moving forward. You determine the steps you need to take during treatment as well as steps that will keep you safe after treatment is over. The counselors in IOT programs help you write down realistic goals and also come up with a plan to help fulfil these goals. The completion of goals brings positive and rewarding feelings and motivation.

6. Family Therapy – Family therapy can play a huge role in the recovery of a loved one from substance abuse. That’s why family members have an opportunity to participate in IOT and give moral support. Family therapy is effective because it provides the person in an intensive outpatient program with encouragement and support from close friends, family members and loved ones.

7. Drug Testing Who needs periodic drug testing? Standardized drug testing is an effective tool used in IOT. Drug tests can motivate individuals who participate in an IOP to avoid substance use. Clients know they can be tested randomly, without previous notice and this method can help establish accountability in the recovery process.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment process and procedures

Stage 1: Treatment engagement and getting started

The initial stage of treatment engagement is a crucial point in addiction treatment and may last from a couple of days up to a few weeks. At this point, many people drop out of treatment only after a few sessions. The goals of this early stage of IOT are:

a) to specify the treatment goals and client’s responsibilities such as attending group sessions, maintaining sober, submitting urine sample,s etc.
b) to resolve any acute crisis
c) to form a patient-counselor relation and engage in a therapeutic alliance
d) to prepare a treatment plan that will fit the clients’ needs best

Stage 2: Early recovery

This stage of Intensive Outpatient Treatment evolves over the course of 6 weeks, but may last up to 3 months. It’s structured with different kinds of services suitable for a person’s individual needs. Activities include educational sessions, group therapy, psychotherapy, family counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, etc. These services help addicts in recovery to develop skills, address the underlying reasons that compel substance abuse, implement new and positive changes in life and build an addiction-free lifestyle. Goals of the second stage of IOT are:

a) help and encourage maintained abstinence
b) eliminate drug-using lifestyle and replace it with drug-free activities
c) identify triggers and relapse prevention strategies
d) sustain behavioral changes and practice treatment-related routines
e) getting to the root of personal problems and working to resolve them
f) active participation in a mutual-help program

Effectiveness of Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs

Besides being effective in helping people stay sober and concentrate on preventing relapse, IOT is also good for the budget in the long run. You can see it as an investment that is less costly that sustaining the addiction and treating health problems that may follow as a result of substance abuse.

Questions about IOP for addiction

Do you still have questions about IOPs? Please leave your comments and questions in the section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NCBI: Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment
NCBI: Chapter 2. Principles of Intensive Outpatient Treatment
NCBI: Efficacy of an intensive outpatient rehabilitation program in alcoholism: predictors of outcome 6 months after treatment
NIH: What helps people stay in treatment?
NCBI: Chapter 7. Clinical Issues, Challenges, and Strategies in Intensive Outpatient Treatment
About the author
Debbie has been in the field of addiction for 20 years and represents Stepping Sober, an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) with recovery residence located in South Florida. In addition to being a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Debbie is certified in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Trauma Therapy.
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