What Is Outpatient Drug Rehab?
Residential rehab is perhaps the most well-known form of addiction therapy, largely due to its portrayal in the media, but many people suffering from addiction find that outpatient treatment suits them better.
Being an outpatient means that you are not admitted to a hospital or treatment centre, and so you can continue your everyday routines and remain in the comfort of your own home throughout.
What Is Outpatient Addiction Treatment?
Outpatient addiction treatment comprises a number of different types of therapy, counselling, and medical treatment to guide you along the road to recovery.
Rather than moving into an inpatient facility, those who seek outpatient treatment are largely able to stick to their usual routines and, most importantly, can continue to live in their own home.
The aim of outpatient treatment is to support your recovery from addiction while causing minimal disruption to your everyday life.
Outpatient Vs Inpatient Treatment
Outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment are both effective, but they each have their own advantages.
- Cost: outpatient treatment is typically much more affordable than going to residential rehab, and many outpatient treatments are covered by the NHS
- Time: while inpatient programmes tend to last around 28 days, outpatient addiction treatment is a process that will often take many months, even over a year. Outpatients will typically need to reserve around 10-12 hours a week for their treatment, as opposed to 24 hours a day in residential rehab
- Long-term effectiveness: for some, inpatient treatment has been found to be more successful in the long run1, but it all comes down to individual mentality, and having a support network can make all the difference
- Age: while there are specific residential rehabilitation centres that will accept teenagers, it is not guaranteed that you will find one locally. Teenagers are typically referred to outpatient treatment as it allows them to remain with family and continue to attend school
- Access to care: inpatient treatment gives you access to support 24/7, which is why the cost can be so high, whereas most outpatient treatment will only be available during typical office hours (8am – 6pm). There can also be a delay in getting access to outpatient treatments – particularly those covered by the NHS – due to limited appointments and long waiting lists
Is Outpatient Treatment Right for Me?
Outpatient treatment is usually recommended for those with mild to moderate addictions, or who have not been abusing drugs or alcohol for very long, as they might not be at the point where a medical detox is required.
If you have tried to stop using drugs or alcohol in the past and experienced physical withdrawal symptoms, then you will need to go through detox, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to enter residential rehab.
There are many outpatient addiction treatments that can support you through detoxification and ensure that you remain healthy both mentally and physically.
Many outpatient addiction treatments are patient-led, meaning that you choose the treatment that best suits you, and make appointments that work around your daily schedule.
Because outpatient treatment is led by you and relies on you being able to stick to appointments, you need to be dedicated to your recovery.
One of the biggest benefits of being treated as an outpatient as opposed to an inpatient is flexibility. However, this can be a double-edged sword, as more flexibility may make it tempting to take a more casual approach to the treatment.
Whether you are seeking help for your addiction as an outpatient or inpatient, your recovery needs to be taken seriously, and appointments need to be kept.
If you have tried outpatient treatment in the past and found it difficult to stick to, or just didn’t feel like it was working, then it might be best to raise this with your GP and see if there is a particular treatment option that they recommend.
Outpatient Treatments: Physical Wellness
When undergoing addiction treatment as an outpatient, it is important to schedule regular medical appointments with your GP or addiction specialist.
They will monitor your physical health during detox and prescribe any necessary medications. They may also refer you to nutritionists or recommend complementary treatments.
In most cases, before mental health therapies can begin, you will need to completely detox from any substances you are addicted to. This is more complicated than simply going “cold turkey”, as withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs can be devastating and, if not managed properly, can even be fatal.
As an outpatient, your medical detoxification would be fully supervised by your GP and specialist, and you might be prescribed certain non-addictive medications to ease your symptoms.
2. Medication-Assisted Treatment
Medication-assisted treatments (MAT) combine mental health therapies and counselling with supportive medications. These treatments help to ease withdrawal symptoms and encourage safe detox, and can be continued long-term in order to help maintain recovery.
The medications used are often chemically similar to the abused substances but are much safer2, so that brain chemistry is steadily rebalanced and withdrawal symptoms are improved.
3. Nutrition and Fitness
As an outpatient, you won’t be given a strict daily routine to stick to, as you would if you were living in residential rehab. However, regular exercise and a balanced diet can make a huge difference to your recovery.
Many people with substance addictions neglect some of their basic needs, particularly regarding a healthy diet and water intake, and it may be that you have become deficient in certain vitamins or minerals. In this case, you might be prescribed vitamin supplements or be referred to a dietician.
Overall physical wellbeing will bolster your resolve and confidence, making recovery more achievable, and the detox phase more manageable.
Outpatient Treatments: Mental Health Therapy
There isn’t a “one-size fits all” addiction treatment plan, and the therapies you are referred to will be fully dependent on your preferences and needs. Being open and honest with your GP or specialist from the get-go will ensure that you start off on the right foot.
For example, if you don’t think you’ll feel comfortable in a group therapy session, you won’t be pressured into going down that route. Similarly, if you have attended therapy in the past, share with your GP what did and did not work for you.
1. Mental Health Assessments
You’ll most likely be attending a variety of different counselling or therapy treatments, and so the first step is to have a mental health assessment and figure out what they’ll be.
Many people with substance use disorders also have co-occurring mental health problems, and to give you the best chance at recovery, treatment will focus on all issues as a whole.
2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
A key element to addiction treatment is getting to the root cause of addiction and correcting the thought patterns and behaviours that trigger the addiction.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a popular form of talking therapy that teaches you how to break the vicious cycle of negative self-talk that often tempts people to repeat harmful and addictive behaviour, such as taking drugs, shopping, or gambling.
CBT makes recovery more manageable by breaking down complex problems into their simple components and has been found to be particularly effective for people with addictions and co-occurring mental health issues.
3. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) was originally developed to help those with a borderline personality disorder to repair past trauma and make them more emotionally resilient3.
It has recently been adopted by addiction specialists to help those on the road to addiction recovery. During DBT, patients are shown how to reframe negative thoughts in order to avoid destructive behaviour.
4. Mutual Support Groups
Something that can make a big difference to your addiction recovery is building a support network.
One of the best ways to do this is to join a mutual support group, where you will be among other people who are battling an addiction. While attending group meetings, you will have the opportunity to share your experiences and benefit from the shared experiences of others.
12-step meeting groups are probably the best-known type of mutual support group, as groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are extremely popular and effective.
12-step groups will quite involve religious and spiritual elements, which can be an additional comfort to those who attend.
5. Family Therapy
Many people find that involving their family in their recovery helps to keep them more focused and motivated. There are therapy options that will allow your family to join you at counselling sessions, and your family can also opt to attend therapy separately so that they can become more educated about addiction and the journey you are on.
Family therapy is a great stepping stone between one-to-one and group therapy for those who are unsure about joining a mutual support group.
6. Mindfulness and Spiritual Wellbeing
Yoga and meditation are popular mindfulness exercises that promote a positive mentality and have therefore been found to help those on the road to recovery.
As many 12-step groups have religious grounding, people going through addiction treatment may find that they are able to forge a closer relationship to their religion and feel more spiritually connected during treatment.