What Is the Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Detox Programs?


Getting treatment to help overcome drug and alcohol addiction is an intensely personal journey and there are no two patients alike. Detox is the first major step towards recovery although, for many people, it can seem to be such an overwhelming challenge that they can be deterred from seeking help altogether. This is why it is so important to demystify the detox process and make more people aware of the flexible options available to them that make recovery achievable at whatever pace a patient wants to set.

The main choice for someone entering drug and alcohol rehab is whether to attend as an inpatient or outpatient program. Here we outline the differences between the two types of drug and alcohol treatment and how to choose between the two:

First, What Happens In Detox?

Taking the decision to detox is huge and marks the first step towards sobriety. Before detox can start at a drug and alcohol treatment center, it is essential to undertake complete assessment and evaluation of a patient’s physical, mental and emotional health and also what substances are involved in their addiction. The main goals of detox are the same whether attending as an outpatient or inpatient: to provide immediate relief for initial withdrawal symptoms after abstinence and treat any medical or psychiatric issues that are concurrent.

However, the ultimate goal of the detox process is to lay the foundations for rehabilitation, which can only be commenced when someone is no longer influenced by drugs or alcohol in the body.

Although the recovery period after detox is short and patients feel much better about themselves, they will still have to learn how to manage cravings and cope with the stressors and triggers they may face in recovery. The next mandatory step towards sobriety is drug and alcohol rehab.

Inpatient Detox Treatment Programs

Inpatient detox involves around-the-clock medical supervision with the availability of a physician and constant monitoring by a registered nurse. Residential detox also ensures access to specialized equipment such as heart monitors to provide immediate treatment should the more serious symptoms of withdrawal present during the process.

Inpatient detox is more appropriate for people with severe or chronic addiction to drugs and alcohol that have developed a heavy dependence on substances. This is because the likelihood of severe withdrawal is heightened after prolonged use and medical supervision is recommended throughout detox.

A residential detox is also a good option for people who may be suffering physically from the effects of substance abuse, particularly as suddenly not using drugs and alcohol can cause serious issues like seizures (or even death), some of which can be life-threatening. For example, alcoholics may be suffering the effects of long-term dehydration and people using drugs may be extremely underweight and in both cases, supervised detox is the best way forward.

Outpatient Detox Treatment Program

Going through residential detox is not for anyone and there is no drop in the quality of care received from outpatient detox programs at drug and alcohol treatment centers. Outpatient detox is less intense than a residential program and can last anything from just a few days to a week or more, depending on the patient’s progress. Individualized care is still offered to outpatients and a program created that addresses substance dependence through regular check-ins with physicians and therapists. Outpatient detox treatment is commonly supplemented with active therapies like CBT and psychotherapy, which continue once the body has been cleansed of drugs and alcohol.

The primary focus of outpatient detox is on supporting patients through early withdrawal. They may experience symptoms such as a headache, nausea, and anxiety. Outpatient detox is available to them to provide the necessary medical support. Patients in outpatient detox also take part in regular individual and group therapy sessions to build a solid support network for a successful life in sobriety. Outpatient detox also provides patients with nutritional support with vitamins together with other medications to ease the symptoms of withdrawal.

Making the Choice: Inpatient or Outpatient?

Ultimately it is down to the individual with an addiction to choose the best way forward with treatment, as they need to be 100% on board with the process for it to be effective. That said, outpatient detox is often more suited to those with milder addiction issues who are fortunate enough to be surrounded by strong family support. The environment of treatment is essential to its effectiveness and so this is not something that works for everyone, although outpatient detox is much more viable when a patient’s home life is conducive to them making a change.

 Inpatient detox is something that is more of an important issue for people who have been using substances such as heroin and cocaine or have a history of chronic alcoholism. In more severe cases of addiction, there is much more likelihood of an adverse reaction to cessation and inpatient detox ensures full medical support is available to them 24/7. For many people seeking treatment, removing themselves from everything familiar to them and placing themselves in the hands of specialist medical staff in a residential facility is a positive benefit of inpatient treatment at a drug and alcohol rehab center.

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