Substance use disorders (SUDs) cost the U.S. millions of dollars per year. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the harmful use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medicines cost the U.S. more than $420 billion per year, with more than $120 billion in healthcare costs. However, the consequences of SUDs are not just limited to the financial burden it incurs. SUDs also cripple the nation’s health, education, and social systems and cause disabilities and untimely deaths due to drug-related violence and overdoses. It also opens the door to various personal and professional consequences for individuals with addiction and those around them.
While people have realized the seriousness and the cost of substance abuse, science has initiated and implemented a range of effective interventions, treatment medications, behavioral therapies, and recovery support services to help people with SUDs make a full recovery. Since overcoming addiction requires more than a detox, rehabilitation is recommended as the more viable solution to maintaining long-term recovery. Addiction rehab helps people overcome substance abuse through medically supervised detox, comprehensive therapies, counseling, and aftercare programs.
Addiction rehab is available in two main forms, namely, inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient rehab requires patients to reside at the treatment facility to receive treatment, while outpatient rehab allows patients the flexibility to receive treatment on a part-time basis. An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is a more intensive level of outpatient care available for patients who wish for a more comprehensive treatment without compromising on the flexibility of maintaining routine life.
What Is an Intensive Outpatient Program?
Intensive outpatient programs are treatment programs that help patients overcome substance use disorders while also maintaining their everyday life. IOPs typically schedule treatment sessions for a few hours, several days a week, to help patients address the root causes of addiction, learn relapse prevention techniques, change maladaptive behaviors, and participate in support groups. Such programs also assist patients in addressing psychosocial issues such as housing, employment, and meeting probation requirements. IOPs are more rigorous and time-intensive than most standard outpatient treatments. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), most IOPs require nine to 20 hours of participation per week.
IOPs generally last anywhere between 6-12 months, with most programs meeting 3-5 days a week. The sessions per week decrease gradually over time when patients meet milestones and show significant progress.
Group therapy is the key component in most IOPs. However, the programs also include:
- Individual counseling
- Medication management
- Case management
- Introduction to support groups
- Vocational training
- Psychiatric screening
How Do IOPs Work?
Most IOPs start with an assessment to ensure the eligibility of a patient. The assessment will also consider the patient’s condition, and their treatment needs to help customize a treatment plan that achieves the desired recovery goals. Once the patient is deemed eligible to undergo IOP treatment, the patient will work with a therapist to decide on a schedule that conveniently fits their everyday routine.
Most programs meet in the morning or evening during weekdays for three hours each day. The sessions mainly revolve around group counseling as it helps participants improve communication, socialize without alcohol or drugs, and experience discipline and structure. However, IOPs also include individual therapy sessions to provide patients with a more private environment to address and discuss issues of sensitive nature. Groups in IOPs are usually small, with around 8-15 members. Private IOPs may have even smaller groups to provide a more individual focus.
Individuals gather in groups to participate in:
- Relapse prevention
- Skills development
- Codependency support
- Family therapy
- 12-step programs
- Addiction education
Drug testing is also a significant component of an IOP. IOPs conduct regular drug testing to ensure that the patients adhere to the program rules and safeguard other group members from patients that use drugs.
After completing an IOP treatment, the patient and the therapist will decide on the next course of action. If the patient has met all set goals, the therapist will recommend a less intensive level of care to continue with treatment. Some of such less intensive care options are weekly individual meetings with the therapist, alumni meetings, and participation in 12-step programs.
Benefits of IOP
One of the most apparent benefits of intensive outpatient treatment is its flexibility. As IOPs don’t require patients to reside at the facility, they provide patients with the flexibility to tend to their personal needs and family life without compromising the structure and intensity of addiction treatment. The flexibility also allows patients to strengthen relationships with family and friends and to implement the skills learned through therapy in real-time. IOPs are also less expensive than residential treatment and provide patients with a greater level of privacy to continue addiction treatment.
Another cited benefit of IOP is greater patient responsibility. Since IOPs do not remove patients from their familiar environment like residential treatment, maintaining recovery falls solely on the patient. This responsibility provides patients with a deeper sense of achievement. IOPs also provide patients the opportunity to build a strong community of peers in recovery.
Is IOP Right for Me?
IOP treatment may not be ideal for everyone battling an addiction to alcohol or illicit drugs. However, since the program doesn’t detach patients from the outside world during treatment, it may only suit individuals with:
- A mild to moderate SUD that doesn’t require medically supervised detox or round-the-clock care and supervision.
- No major mental health disorders or physical health complications.
- Strong support base at home.
- Positive, trigger-free home environment.
- Strong commitment and discipline to maintain recovery.
IOPs are also ideal for individuals looking for a step-down program after an inpatient program and for those who have unavoidable work or family obligations to fulfill. While IOPs may seem like a more flexible treatment option, it would be best to opt for a higher level of care such as PHP if you need more support in overcoming your addiction. Patients are highly advised to consult their physician or addiction specialist to help them decide on the best course of treatment.
IOP Vs. PHP
Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are intensive outpatient rehabs that provide patients with the flexibility to receive treatment while maintaining their routine life. However, the main difference between IOP and PHP is their time commitment. PHPs are more time-intensive than IOPs and require patients to dedicate a considerable portion of their week to treatment. PHPs usually take place Monday through Friday every week, for six to seven hours each day. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recommends that PHPs provide 20 hours of treatment per week.
The other major distinction between IOP and PHP is their treatment services. Unlike IOP, partial hospitalization programs are highly structured and designed to provide treatment services similar to inpatient rehabs. PHPs may also offer limited medical detox services under the supervision of a licensed medical practitioner, depending on the needs of the patients. PHPs are also more restrictive than IOPs.
How to Find an IOP Near Me?
It may take a significant amount of time, research, and determination to find an intensive outpatient program that best meets your unique needs and requirements. Since there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all IOP for substance abuse, it’s always advisable to consult an addiction specialist to assist you in your search. Assuming you want to join an IOP after you’ve completed a residential treatment program. In that case, you can ask your treatment center for referrals to IOPs in your area. Next, double-check that your health insurance covers the treatment program you’ve chosen.
If you don’t have health insurance, ask behavioral health and substance abuse treatment centers if they offer IOP or can recommend you to one. If money is a concern, see if the IOP provides financial aid, such as scholarships or a sliding scale based on income. If your income is low and you cannot work, you may be eligible for Medicaid, a state-based program that provides medical help to low-income families.
Participating in an IOP can be a crucial step toward resolving alcohol or illicit drug addiction. However, to get the most out of IOP, you must first decide if it’s right for you.