An Overview of Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Young addict with counselorChoosing the right treatment program is a crucial step toward potential success in rehab for anyone facing an addiction. If the program is too intense or too brief, the person might not learn the right skills to be successful in staying abstinent. She or he may feel overburdened by unnecessary treatment. Families searching for care for someone they love can feel overwhelmed with too many options and too little direction.Inpatient care might seem much too stringent while a standard outpatient program might seem too lax.

For many individuals, an intensive outpatient treatment program, or IOP, might be the right fit. These programs provide a significant amount of help in the fight against addiction, but they allow a person to continue to live at home during treatment. They are a great middle-of-the-road approach.

What Makes an IOP Unique?

There are many different types of addiction treatment programs that can help a person struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues. In traditional outpatient treatment programs, patients continue to live at home while receiving addiction treatment. In many cases, there is a lower time commitment which allows the patient to maintain most daily obligations while continuing to work toward a healthier life. Although standard outpatient programs may be more common,for those who have needs that fall outside the boundaries of a standard addiction program, an IOP could provide remarkable help.

Addiction causes intense emotional and physical harm—it can even lead to depression, anxiety and desperation. Overcoming these issues means learning more about why the abuse began, and what can be done to keep it from recurring in the future. Intensive outpatient programs tend to have more significant investment in patients involving the following:

  • Mental health – They may have a mental illness that prompted their drug use, or they may have developed mental health concerns due to their drug use.
  • Relationships – Difficulty relating to others, or expressing emotion, could be a part of what keeps these people using drugs.
  • Employment – Finding a job and keeping it might be difficult for people with intense forms of addiction.
  • Cognition – The homework and private study involved in a standard outpatient program might be difficult for some people, and they might need assistance in order to understand the complicated concepts that underlie an addiction.

The nature of a person’s addiction is a key factor in choosing the best rehab. People who have long patterns of abuse and habits that are hard to break will likely need more help in order to get better. This is another reason that an IOP may be the best decision.

Intensive Addiction Care

Since intensive outpatient treatment programs are designed to help with serious addiction situations, there is a strong time commitment. Most programs require nine to 30 hours of care per week, and the programs tend to last at least 90 days. Those who enroll in an IOP will be devoting a significant portion of their lives to getting better, and the schedule necessitates that this remain a priority.1

Individual therapy plays an important role in an IOP as therapists work on a one-on-one basis with clients, ensuring that they understand the specifics of their particular addiction history and the things they’ll need to do in order to get well. Individual therapy can also help people to develop skills that can help them to resist the urge to relapse when they’re facing persistent temptation. SAMHSA also suggests, however, that intensive outpatient treatment programs rely heavily on group therapy. In these groups, people have an opportunity to focus on the following:

  • Addiction education
  • Skill development
  • Emotional support
  • Interpersonal communication2

Groups typically contain eight to 15 members, and the people who attend these meetings tend to fluctuate over time. Some people learn the concepts quickly, and they move on to other groups so they can strengthen other weaknesses. Other people need more time to heal. The benefit of frequent transition in group members allows patients to see the progression of healing as it takes place in many different people. Those who are advanced in recovery might be inspiring while those who are new to recovery might provide a warning about the dangers that lurk behind a relapse.

Some people find it difficult to discuss their feelings in talk therapy, and they want to tap into nonverbal ways of healing. Some IOPs provide recreational opportunities, such as team sports, hiking or rope climbing. Other IOPs provide art therapy, yoga or meditation lessons. These alternate forms of therapy provide people with new outlets for their feelings as well as healthy, ongoing hobbies once treatment is complete.

Do They Work?

Spending hours in therapy might not sound appealing, but evidence suggests that those who do take an intensive outpatient treatment program seriously have a significant amount of improvement to show for their efforts. They learn how to cope with their cravings and get through the day without using drugs, and they develop the skills that can allow them to build a healthy and happy life without developing new and dangerous replacement addictions. Patients with co-occurring disorders also learn to manage their mental health diagnosis in appropriate ways without abusing drugs.

IOPs often require aftercare through 12-step groups like AA and NA. Groups like this allow addicted people to come together to support one another and learn from one another. When fighting cravings, individuals have the support of peers in their to continue in their sobriety. Sponsors can also provide peer support on an impromptu basis, whether or not a meeting is available.

Finding Out More

Lissa found hope in a combination of treatments of residential treatment and intensive outpatient treatment. She says, “As soon as I made recovery my life, I began to live.” There is hope available for you too.

If you are considering an intensive outpatient treatment program but would like more information, we’d like to help. At The Oaks at La Paloma, we provide a variety of different treatment programs for addiction, including inpatient, outpatient and IOP. We’re happy to discuss the specific issues facing your family and provide you with some advice on the right program for you. Our caring admissions coordinators can talk you through the entire process and even begin it over the phone. Please call us at our 24 hour, toll-free helpline to find out more.


1Chapter 3. Intensive Outpatient Treatment and the Continuum of Care.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006. Accessed 13 November 2017.

2Chapter 4. Services in Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006. Accessed 13 November 2017.