Taking Control: What to Expect From Intensive Outpatient Drug Treatment

Last Updated: Jan 2nd 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Over 20 million American adults struggle with a substance use disorder. Substance use disorders can lead to severe physical and emotional consequences for both the individuals and their loved ones. When left untreated, they can result in death.

Professional treatment allows individuals to recover from their addiction and gain appropriate coping strategies to reintegrate into society. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) provides structured care while allowing clients also to manage work-life responsibilities.

Let’s get into what you need to know.

What Is Intensive Outpatient Treatment?

Intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment refers to a mode of treatment that provides professional structure and support for addiction recovery.

Many people first start their sober journeys via medical detox and residential treatment. These levels of care provide initial stabilization and address acute medical needs. They mandate 24/7 supervision and extensive group and individual counseling.

IOP often represents a ‘step-down’ from those more intensive levels of care. While individuals do receive clinical services, they do not receive 24/7 monitoring. Instead, they typically work, attend school, and reside on their own. 

Why Is IOP Important?

IOP offers clients a valuable opportunity to balance daily responsibilities while also receiving professional support.

For many people, the real world is overwhelming. Perhaps they’ve been self-medicating with substances for so long that they don’t feel comfortable at work or school. Maybe they haven’t learned how to entirely distance themselves from potentially toxic people or situations.

Even though many people leave detox or residential care with good intentions, the real world can be a harsh slap in the face. Unable to cope with this stress, many people relapse.

IOP offers a safe and supportive environment to mitigate the transition back into the real world. Individuals meet with counselors, therapists, and group facilitators regularly. They also typically receive random breathalyzing and urine analyses to promote accountability for sobriety.

Research continues to show that long-term treatment is one of the best choices an individual can make for sustained recovery. IOP offers long-term care without the client needing to sacrifice other responsibilities.

What to Expect in IOP 

While every facility provides different services, most IOP programs consist of a combination of individual therapy, case management, and groups. Groups focus on a variety of topics including:

  • relapse prevention
  • self-esteem and self-worth
  • life skills
  • psychoeducation
  • trauma
  • expressive therapies (i.e. art, writing, yoga)
  • meditation and relaxation
  • healthy relationships
  • stress management

Like with anything in your recovery process, the more effort you put into your treatment, the more you will likely receive. If you are open to learning new information and applying new skills, you will receive the tips you need for long-term success.

IOP programs vary in length. The length depends on different variables, including the following:

  • history of past treatment
  • co-occurring disorders 
  • motivation and willingness for treatment
  • financial means
  • extraneous circumstances (i.e., work obligations, dependents, etc.)

That said, the length often ranges from about 3-6 months. 

Choosing the Right IOP Program

Finding the right program can be overwhelming. With so many available options, how do you guarantee that you’re making the best choice for you or your loved one?

Location

Location naturally plays a major role in considering the best program. It’s not unusual for people to travel out-of-state for detox or residential care. This may be the recommended course of action, especially when clients live in environments with rampant drug use.

However, the location can become more complicated when considering an IOP program. Ideally, you want somewhere that accommodates your work or school schedule. 

Quality of Staff

The staff can make or break any treatment center. Competent and qualified staff know how to support you in your recovery. They have the experience and credentials to offer you the evidence-based treatment and tools you need.

When going about your intake process, inquire about the on-site staff. Will you be meeting with a licensed therapist? Will you have access to a medical doctor or psychiatrist? What kinds of credentials do the group facilitators hold?

Values and Approaches to Addiction Recovery

Recovery is a broad term, and not all treatment centers have the same definition for what it entails. Some centers value medication-assisted treatment to support their clients. Others emphasize a more holistic approach.

Of course, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. However, the treatment center’s approaches should also align with your values. If you can’t stand behind their beliefs, you’re likely going to resist and rebel the treatment altogether.

Support for Co-Occurring Disorders

The majority of individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorders also meet criteria for other mental illnesses. These illnesses may include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Psychotic disorders

If you have a co-occurring disorder, it is essential that you receive the appropriate care. Unfortunately, getting sober does not “fix” other issues. In fact, sobriety can exacerbate other symptoms, which can increase the likelihood of relapse.

You should ask about how these programs accommodate co-occurring disorders. Do they offer different types of therapy? Provide medication and psychiatry referrals? Offer groups focused on mental health?

Final Thoughts

Intensive outpatient treatment allows you to focus on both your recovery and your real-world responsibilities at the same time. It may be one of the best choices you make for your sobriety.

Best of all? You’ll be surrounded by both professional and peer support to encourage you throughout your care. You’ll learn a new way of living, and you’ll give yourself the valuable gift of healing.

At 1st Step Behavioral Health, we’re here to support you through your recovery. No matter where you are in your journey, we can help! Contact us to speak to one of our addiction professionals today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.