Inpatient vs. Outpatient Alcohol Treatment
Inpatient treatment means that clients check into an inpatient alcohol rehab center and stay there around the clock until they complete the program. Inpatient treatment is also called residential treatment. Since clients live at the treatment facility, inpatient treatment offers a more immersive approach to the recovery process.
Whereas people who participate in outpatient treatment may still work, care for family members, or attend to other daily responsibilities, those in inpatient treatment wholly focus on their recovery, free from other distractions.
When Is Inpatient Alcohol Treatment Needed?
Alcoholism is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Every year between 2006 and 2010, alcohol abuse contributed to almost 88,000 deaths, per Preventing Chronic Disease. While alcoholism is a serious health condition, it is highly treatable.
If a person is suffering from an alcohol use disorder, professional treatment is needed. While any kind of treatment inpatient alcohol rehab centers – inpatient or outpatient – will benefit the individual, inpatient treatment provides a more comprehensive approach that is often recommended in cases of alcohol use disorders. If a person is suffering from a severe alcohol use disorder, one that has been in existence for years, inpatient care is recommended. In addiction, inpatient treatment is preferable in cases of co-occurring disorders or if the person has attempted outpatient treatment in the past and been unsuccessful.
What Does Inpatient Alcohol Treatment Entail?
Alcohol can lead to physical dependence, and in cases of alcohol use disorders, this physical dependence is common. Those suffering from alcohol addiction should never attempt to just stop drinking on their own, as this can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. For alcohol withdrawal, medical detox is always required.
Alcohol Addiction Assessment
Generally, inpatient treatment will begin with an assessment to determine the severity of the alcohol use disorder and the presence of any medical issues or mental health disorders. This initial assessment will help to structure the initial treatment plan.
Detox for Alcohol Abuse
If a physical dependence is present, as is generally the case with alcohol use disorders, treatment will commence with medical detox. Since alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, continual medical supervision is required. Even if a person opts to continue with outpatient alcohol rehab, they will generally be required to start with an inpatient medical detox protocol to ensure safety throughout the withdrawal process. Oftentimes, medications, such as certain benzodiazepines, may be used during alcohol withdrawal to manage symptoms.
Alcohol Treatment Therapy
After detox, the client will begin the bulk of the treatment program – therapy. Alcohol treatment therapy comes in many forms, but most treatment centers employ the use of traditional talk and behavioral therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Per the National Alliance on Mental Illness, CBT explores the connection between a person’s thoughts and behaviors. In essence, this therapy will address the underlying issues that led to alcohol abuse in the first place. By changing the thought patterns related to alcohol, the behavior – drinking – can be changed as well.
In addition, other therapies may be used as part of the recovery process. Those in inpatient alcohol treatment will likely participate in both individual and group counseling. Individual counseling takes place in a one-on-one environment with the client and therapist, whereas group therapy involves several clients in one meeting with a therapist (or sometimes multiple therapists). In group therapy, clients learn from each other’s experiences as well.
Peer support meetings, such as 12-Step meetings, may also be part of the daily schedule in inpatient alcohol rehab. These meetings may take place onsite, or clients may travel together to off-site meetings.
In addition, clients may participate in alternative therapies while in rehab, such as equine-assisted therapy, adventure therapy, art therapy, or music therapy. The inclusion of specific therapies is determined on a case-by-case basis by the individual client and the treatment team. Other activities in inpatient treatment may include skill-building workshops, exercise and fitness activities, yoga, meditation, or journaling.
Is Inpatient Treatment Really Better?
In an inpatient treatment program, clients are kept busy, with every minute filled with treatment programming, educational classes about substance abuse, field trips, and recreational activities, according to the University of Connecticut. As a result, temptations to drink are minimized, if not eliminated altogether.
Relapse is significantly less likely with inpatient treatment since the entire focus is on recovery, and there is no alcohol present. When people participate in outpatient treatment, they are faced with daily temptations to drink – walking pass local bars, wine at family dinners, and alcohol in the grocery store. This can make relapse more likely in outpatient care.
In addition, inpatient drug and alcohol rehabs generally offer more intense treatment programming than outpatient programs. This ensures a more comprehensive treatment approach than therapy that only takes place for a couple hours per day.
That being said, there are some instances in which inpatient alcohol treatment doesn’t make sense. If a person has a job that they can’t take a leave of absence from, a family to care for, or other daily responsibilities that can’t be put on hold, outpatient alcohol treatment may be the best course of action. While it isn’t as immersive or comprehensive in nature, outpatient treatment can be just as effective as inpatient care in many instances. It simply requires a strong support system at home, a safe and sober living environment, and a commitment to ongoing care.
How Long Does Inpatient Alcohol Rehab Take?
The specific length of stay at an inpatient alcohol treatment program will vary according to the particular individual and the severity of the addiction. Other factors, such as co-occurring mental health disorders, poly-substance abuse, and medical issues, may also complicate treatment and affect the treatment length.
While people often associate inpatient rehab stays with the timeline of 28 or 30 days, longer treatment stays are often found to be more beneficial.
As a general rule, the longer the treatment program, the more likely the person is to remain in recovery on a long-term basis, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Per NIDA, treatment that lasts at least 90 days is recommended.
Some people aren’t able to reside in an inpatient treatment center for three months or more. In many instances, people may begin with an initial inpatient stay of a month or so, and then transition to ongoing outpatient care that continues for several more months. In these instances, the total length of care extends to several months even if the initial residential stay is shorter.
Aftercare comes in many forms, and it must be part of any long-term recovery program. Whether aftercare involves biweekly therapy sessions, regular attendance at 12-Step meetings, residence in a sober living home, or daily meditation sessions, it should be part of each person’s life after exiting a structured inpatient treatment program.