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Does Outpatient Alcohol Rehab Work?

Based on a 2015 report, as many as 10 percent of Americans have had to suffer through an addiction at some point. However, only about 25 percent of those people got treatment for it. One of the main problems with treating an addiction is that each person is different. While inpatient or residential treatment programs may be the best way to treat alcohol addiction for some, not everyone can drop everything to get help. Outpatient rehab is another option, but does outpatient alcohol rehab work?

6 Minute Read | Published Sep 05 2023 | Updated Mar 01 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
Amber Asher
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
Amber Asher
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A Closer Look at How Outpatient Rehab for Alcoholism Works

Outpatient vs. Inpatient Rehab – Statistics and Influential Factors

Does outpatient alcohol rehab work? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, intensive outpatient programs can offer the same level of care that residential programs do as far as their effectiveness and provided services go. However, they go on to say that low-intensity programs often do little more than educate the addict about addiction.

So, does outpatient alcohol rehab work? According to a publication by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the answer to the question “Is outpatient rehab effective?” is yes – depending on a patient's needs. It was found that addicts with severe psychiatric conditions, as well as poor support systems, were expected to get better results in an inpatient facility. However, in low-psychiatric severity cases and where there is an adequate support system at home, there was no difference in the use of an outpatient rehab over an inpatient facility.

The main problem, according to the study, is that people in outpatient rehab are more likely to terminate their treatment too early and thus negate the full effects of what would otherwise be an effective treatment.

Does outpatient alcohol rehab work? Another study on NCBI confirmed that for most people, the answer to the question “is outpatient rehab effective?” is yes. Based on the study’s findings, which looked at several studies, there was a significant reduction in alcohol and drug use in addicts after using intensive outpatient programs.

Factors That Alter Treatment Effectiveness

Now that we’ve answered the question, “Do outpatient rehab programs work?” we will discuss the factors that can influence the effectiveness of treatment. When we previously examined the studies that looked at do outpatient rehab programs work, one of the factors that affected the results of outpatient treatment was psychiatric factors. The following looks at all of the factors that can influence treatment and may cause either outpatient or inpatient treatment to be the preferred recovery method.

  • Self-efficacy – The trust in the person’s ability to overcome challenges.
  • Readiness to commit to treatment – While addiction treatment doesn’t require that the addict be whiling, a person who is ready to commit to treatment finds better results as far as outpatient treatment goes.
  • Whole-patient approach – Addiction treatment shouldn’t just focus on the substance-abusing part of the person’s life. It must treat the addict through a whole-patient approach, which aims to assist a person to find new meaning and purpose in their life.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions – One of the previously mentioned factors that play a major role in the success of outpatient rehab is the presence of co-occurring mental disorders or other possible mental concerns. If the outpatient rehab does not address psychological issues outside of alcohol use disorder, then an addict with psychiatric disorders is better suited to residential or inpatient programs.
  • Social support – The level of social support that the addict has in their group of friends and within their family can change the outcome of “do outpatient rehab programs work?” If the patient has ample social support, outpatient rehab is as effective as inpatient program counterparts for specific individuals.
  • Expectations – Another factor that can influence the effectiveness of outpatient rehab for alcohol use disorder is what the addict’s expectations are. How satisfied the addict is with the results they expect can alter the results of treatment. One of the first things that addicts often learn is that addiction has no cure; however, it is a disease that can be managed.
  • Incomplete programs – According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an addict must undergo at least 3 months of treatment for addiction before optimal results can be reached. Of course, this can be done through outpatient, inpatient, and aftercare services such as sober living environments or support groups. If the addict were to terminate their program early, then treatment cannot be expected to be successful.
  • Previous relapses after treatment – If a person has been through an outpatient rehab program and subsequently relapsed, then their success in another outpatient rehab is expected to be diminished. In such cases, a person is usually advised to seek a residential program to ensure that relapse during the early stages of recovery is impossible since no alcohol or drugs are allowed on the property.

What Does Outpatient Rehab Consist Of?

So, what does outpatient rehab consist of? Firstly, an outpatient program has various therapies that are employed to help addicts. They include the following:

  • Intensive family systemic therapy: This type of therapy is aimed at treating the family unit, which is often strained by the addict’s abuse of alcohol. In this therapy, family communication and bonds can be strengthened. It can also allow families to work through issues that would otherwise be difficult to talk about.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – This is perhaps the most common form of addiction therapy. It works by replacing negative feelings and behavioral patterns with positive coping skills and behaviors that assist in breaking the pattern of alcohol abuse.
  • Motivational interviewing – This type of therapy is centered on the addict, working through issues at their pace. Its goal is to motivate a person to change their behavior by themselves.
  • Contingency management – Instead of discussing problems and offering alternative solutions, this therapy promotes good behavior through various small rewards.

Along with these forms of therapy, which are cornerstones to addiction recovery, alternative treatment programs are also used, such as equine therapy, music or art therapy, biofeedback, and more. Addiction education and relapse prevention techniques are also a large part of beating addiction; by understanding how addiction works and how to prevent a relapse, long-term sobriety can be achieved.

Detox Programs

As long as a person’s withdrawal symptoms from their addiction are not expected to be severe, such as delirium tremens, which can be life-threatening, then detox programs can be safely employed in an outpatient setting. A partial hospitalization program (day rehab) will be used in cases where the person needs to be monitored to ensure a safe recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call connecting you to a professional drug treatment center. Your call may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at (800) 429-7690.


bullet PubMed
"Inpatient vs outpatient treatment for substance dependence revisited"
Retrieved on October 01, 2018
bullet PubMed Central
"Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence"
Retrieved on October 01, 2018

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