Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment: Which Is Better?

Inpatient and outpatient treatment provide similar services. The primary differences are the amount of supervision and the treatment hours involved. Understanding these differences can help you find the appropriate level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment programs are two broad categories that help to describe different levels of care.

While both categories include a range of therapeutic treatments and holistic approaches to recovery, inpatient care requires participants to live on-site for the duration of care.

Understanding the differences between the various levels of care within these categories is crucial to choosing the best treatment option for long-term recovery.

Defining Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient care is defined as a person living at a hospital or inpatient rehabilitation facility for the duration of their care.

While short-term care can be as short as a few days, inpatient care often extends to a whole month or several months.

In the case of substance abuse, people who have severe dependence and those who have not had success with outpatient care are the most likely to be recommended to an inpatient program.


There are a variety of benefits to inpatient treatment, including around-the-clock support.

Inpatient treatment offers round-the-clock support while maintaining structured and predictable days. This helps keep the person engaged in recovery and minimizes distractions.

The number of daily treatment hours is about the equivalent of a full-time job, providing ample time for several treatment approaches to address addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders.

Additionally, participants tend to spend their free time with other people in the program, providing the opportunity to create a new, sober community that they can stay connected with after treatment.


There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Despite the benefits of inpatient treatment programs, there are also drawbacks to consider.

Inpatient treatment requires people to spend time away from friends and family. This can be a problem for someone who can’t commit that much time to treatment.

Inpatient rehabilitation centers can also be expensive compared to outpatient care if you don’t have insurance coverage or are ineligible for financial assistance.

Defining Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is a spectrum that can range from meeting just an hour a week to spending most of each day in treatment. In each case, participants will return each night to their own residence.

There are three types of outpatient treatment.

The most intensive is a partial hospitalization program (PHP), which essentially takes the place of a full-time job and may be ideal for those with severe substance use disorders who have pets or older children to care for in the evening.

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) usually has clients meet for several hours three to five times per week and works well for people with more extensive responsibilities who need frequent therapeutic support.

A standard outpatient program may meet as little as one hour per week. This option works best for those with mild addiction and those who are transitioning out of a more intensive program.


There are various benefits to outpatient rehabilitation. One of the most significant benefits is that you have control over how often you go and when.

These treatment programs can also be customized to meet your individual needs. Outpatient treatment programs are often less expensive than inpatient rehabilitation programs.

Some outpatient services also allow you to keep your job while getting treatment and make it easier to continue caring for children, pets, and other dependents.


While outpatient rehabilitation centers can be convenient in many ways, there are concerns with this type of treatment center.

For outpatient rehab programs to succeed, the client requires a safe living environment that will reduce their exposure to stress and other common triggers for relapse.

The primary concern with outpatient treatment is that the client will not have the appropriate space or time to focus on learning coping mechanisms to protect their sobriety, but many people thrive in an outpatient setting when they have supportive family and friends.

Considering Your Unique Needs

When choosing an alcohol or drug rehab program, you need to consider your unique needs, including the severity of your addiction, your support system, your living environment, and whether you have co-occurring mental health disorders that require additional care.

When possible, you should choose your level of care based on your condition, but there are real life factors that may cause you to adjust the kind of program you consider.

Asking For Clinical Guidance

If you aren’t sure where to start in determining the type of treatment you need, ask for clinical guidance from a substance abuse counselor or clinician at a treatment facility.

You may also refer to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) to compare your experiences with the ASAM criteria to see what level of care is recommended.

When you begin treatment at a rehab center, you will often undergo a similar assessment to determine your addiction severity, evaluate your support system, and discuss comorbid conditions and other factors.

Based on this assessment, a clinician can help you determine an appropriate level of care.

Learn How To Start An Assessment At Spring Hill

If you or a loved one are looking to attend a drug or alcohol rehab program, we can help. Contact Spring Hill Recovery Center to learn how to start an assessment and treatment.

  1. National Library of Medicine: Bookshelf
  2. National Library of Medicine: Bookshelf
  3. National Library of Medicine: PubMed
  4. New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS)
  5. National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

Published on: January 23, 2024

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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