If you are living with a substance use disorder, there are various levels of treatment available to you. You may have only pictured rehab as living in a residential facility for several months, but that isn’t the only treatment option. Many people recover from substance abuse with outpatient treatment, in which they receive treatment locally but continue to live at home. One such form of treatment is an intensive outpatient program (IOP).
What is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
An IOP is a form of treatment in which you live at home while receiving services for several hours a week in their community. It is more involved than a traditional outpatient program. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), research shows IOP treatment typically provides three to five sessions per week, with each session lasting three to six hours. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines intensive outpatient programs as offering nine hours of services per week. On the other hand, a standard outpatient program typically has one or two weekly sessions, each lasting for an hour or two.
Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Treatment
There are several benefits associated with intensive outpatient treatment. Clients who engage in this type of treatment can continue to live at home, so rehab is less disruptive to family life. For example, if a mother requires treatment for a substance use disorder, she can live at home and receive treatment while her children are at school. This can be less disruptive to her family than leaving home to complete residential treatment. In addition, IOPs allow individuals who are living with addiction to continue working. You may be able to receive services in the evening while continuing to work during the day.
Another benefit of intensive outpatient programs is a high degree of support. A traditional outpatient program may provide only one relatively brief weekly session, whereas some IOPs meet almost daily. This frequency can keep you on track with treatment more so than a weekly outpatient program.
Types of Treatment in IOP
Intensive outpatient programming includes multiple types of treatment. A typical intensive outpatient program provides many substance abuse counseling services, including:
- Individual Therapy: Clients spend time with a counselor one-on-one to develop strategies for remaining sober. They may engage in specific types of counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to help them overcome unhealthy thinking patterns and learn new ways of coping with stress.
- Group Counseling: Groups of peers in recovery work alongside each other to overcome addiction, led by one or more counselors.
- Drug and Alcohol Education: Clients learn tools to understand their addiction. For example, they may learn what happens chemically to the brain of an addicted person.
- Relapse Prevention Services: Clients work with their counselor or another addiction specialist to develop strategies to reduce the risk of relapse. For example, they may learn about relapse triggers and how to process or avoid them.
Who Qualifies for IOP
An intensive outpatient program is appropriate for people who are living with addiction but do not require inpatient or residential programming to be successful. For example, clients who have a job, stable housing and supportive family members tend to qualify for IOP. They can remain sober in their home environments if they have intensive services readily available. This level of care is appropriate for people who find that addiction is severely impacting their lives, to the extent that they require more than a weekly outpatient appointment.
On the other hand, IOP is not appropriate for people who are homeless or who live with others who are struggling with substance use disorders. Treatment is more difficult when the client is living with people who are still using drugs and alcohol. For example, if you attend IOP during the day for support, you may still be at risk of relapse if you return home to find a roommate using drugs.
According to SAMHSA, there are three points at which a person likely qualifies for IOP:
- When they initially seek treatment for addiction: After an assessment, clients who request addiction treatment may be referred directly to IOP if the professional conducting the assessment determines this is the most appropriate level of care.
- After completing an inpatient or residential program: Ongoing treatment is necessary after transitioning out of a residential program and back into the community. Clients are often referred to intensive outpatient services for substance abuse so they can continue to maintain their sobriety after completing inpatient or residential care.
- After a traditional outpatient program did not meet their needs: Some clients may begin with a less intensive, traditional outpatient program and find that they need services more than once or twice per week to be successful. In these cases, they may transition up to IOP.
Pros & Cons
Those who are considering treatment for substance abuse may wonder about the pros and cons of choosing IOP vs. residential or inpatient rehab. One of the pros of intensive outpatient programs is that clients can remain at home, so they can continue to work and participate in family life. Also, being at home allows clients to practice their abstinence skills in a real-life setting. In an inpatient program, they do not have the same access to illicit drugs and stressors as they do in the community.
Another pro of IOP treatment is that it is cheaper than residential programs providing 24-hour care. With a residential or inpatient program, a client pays not only for treatment services but also for the cost of food and housing. Intensive outpatient programs also tend to last longer than inpatient programs. Insurance companies may restrict residential treatment programs to 30 days, while intensive outpatient programs are ongoing. Removing this limitation can make treatment more effective.
While there are certainly advantages to intensive outpatient programs, there are disadvantages to consider. These services may not be sufficient for people who do not have supportive, sober friends and family members in their lives. People who do not have safe housing may not be successful in an IOP. Because intensive outpatient programs require clients to participate in sessions up to five days per week, people living in rural communities or who lack reliable transportation may not be able to benefit fully from these programs.
Why Choose an IOP Over Residential Treatment?
As discussed above, there are numerous advantages of IOP vs. residential treatment programs. You may have a job you’d like to maintain, a safe place to live and a family you do not want to leave. These are valid reasons to choose IOP in favor of residential treatment. If you do choose IOP over residential or inpatient treatment, you can rest assured that you will still receive quality care, as research shows that IOP and residential programs are equally effective.
Some insurance plans cover IOP, but each plan is different. While not all plans cover addiction treatment, those that do provide coverage must cover addiction treatment to the same extent that they cover medical and surgical services, per the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. You will have to contact your insurance provider to verify your substance abuse insurance coverage.
Rehab costs will vary based upon the type of insurance you have, whether or not it covers addiction treatment and the copay for services. If you have questions about what treatment will cost for you, reach out to your insurance plan provider or the treatment facility offering the IOP. Some IOP providers develop payment plans to meet the budget of the client if they do not have insurance.
The recommended duration of IOP is a minimum of 90 days. After completing IOP, it is often helpful for clients to transition into a less intensive outpatient program.
You can likely locate an IOP program in your area by contacting your local mental health board or community mental health clinic. You can also speak with your primary care physician as they are often knowledgeable about local addiction treatment and mental health services. You can also contact us and we can help you find the treatment that you need.
If you are seeking intensive outpatient services in New Jersey, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers treatment that can meet your needs. Reach out to us today to discuss treatment options, insurance and more.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA).” October 27, 2016. Accessed May 3, 2020.
McCarty, Dennis, et al. “Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence.” Psychiatric Services, June 1, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (Alcohol, Marijuana, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Nicotine).” January 2018. Accessed May 3, 2020.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Chapter 3. Intensive Outpatient Treatment and the Continuum of Care.” 2006. Accessed May 3, 2020.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.