Differences Between Outpatient and Residential Treatment Programs
by Steven Gifford
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For patients needing drug and alcohol treatment, outpatient and residential treatment programs can provide an essential level of care to achieve long-term recovery. But how do you know whether you or a loved one would best benefit from a residential or outpatient program? Both types of treatment have distinctions which make them more or less appropriate for a patient's needs, depending on the patient's level and length of addiction.
It is important to first note that this is a general overview of the major differences between residential and outpatient treatment programs. In order to truly understand which type of program is most appropriate for you, a friend, or a family member, an in-person diagnostic assessment with a qualified professional is needed.
Residential Treatment Programs
Residential treatment programs are 28-day minimum programs in which patients voluntarily enter a safe, secure facility in which intensive drug and alcohol treatment programs are the cornerstone of the patient's daily activities. Often, patients who have attempted outpatient treatment programs but have ultimately relapsed back into drug and alcohol use, or have found outpatient programs difficult to complete, achieve success in a residential program. Patients who require detoxification services due to concerns about withdrawal also benefit from residential programs, as detox services can be included as a part of residential treatment programs. After detox (if necessary), patients undergo an intensive, daily drug or alcohol treatment regimen to learn about the disease of addiction in a supportive, immersive environment.
Residential programs are safe, structured environments in which patients are removed from stressful circumstances that promote or fuel the urge to use. Because negatively influencing factors are removed from a patient's daily experience, participants in residential treatment programs can begin to work on building life skills that had been interfered with due to addiction. Because of this intensive level of care, residential treatment programs are ideal for people who have unsuccessfully attempted to overcome addiction in outpatient programs, or for people who have identified that they need drug or alcohol treatment and want to "do it right" the first time. As previously stated, the level of care necessary for a patient should be determined by an in-person assessment with a qualified medical or counseling professional. Most often, patients who have attempted outpatient programs without success do require residential care, but some patients who have not yet undergone outpatient treatment may not require this high level of care.
Some patients are wary about voluntarily beginning a residential drug or alcohol treatment program because of the intensity, but residential programs are highly emotionally supportive and focus on helping the whole body and mind through treatment. For this reason, many residential centers encourage family participation, including evening family education programs and weekend programs. In addition to immediate family, patients benefit from having a "therapeutic community" in residential treatment programs - a community of patients who support one another through treatment by encouraging others to stay on task. In addition to the other differentiators of long-term residential care, it is this camaraderie gained through empathy and shared experience that often helps patients overcome addiction while completing drug or alcohol treatment.
Outpatient Treatment Programs
Outpatient drug and alcohol treatment programs share many similarities with residential treatment programs, but in a differently structured environment. Outpatient programs provide patients with more freedom of movement which allows them to maintain a regular commitment to family, work, and educational responsibilities. Because of the ability to go home after a daily or evening program, patients are able to have a greater level of privacy and anonymity as they often do not need to explain a prolonged residential absence to friends, coworkers, or family members.
But unlike residential treatment programs, patients are not provided with the safe, secure environment that isolates them from negatively influencing factors. Patients return to their own environments after outpatient drug or alcohol treatment, and must voluntarily abstain from drug or alcohol use, which requires a greater amount of diligence. However, the benefit of this is that outpatient programs (like residential programs) provide a support network for patients in the form of official support groups, individual counseling, and family counseling so that patients are never alone in their recovery. Patients are provided with a strong support network of non-using peers and sponsors. Outpatient drug and alcohol treatment requires a component of group therapy and support groups like NA and AA, which provide a new, positive element of social change in a patient's life and facilitates long-term recovery.
Like residential treatment programs, outpatient programs also focus on family support and involvement, and an immediately positive element of outpatient treatment is that patients can automatically apply the lessons learned from outpatient treatment programs to their daily experiences.
Which Type of Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program is for You?
You and your medical or counseling professional are best equipped to know which type of treatment is ideal for your situation. Be honest with yourself about how independently dedicated you can be in an outpatient program. Do you feel like the temptations to use based on daily stresses, friends and acquaintances, or lack of social support would be an issue in successfully completing outpatient treatment? Have you tried and been unsuccessful time and time again at stopping your drug or alcohol use by yourself or in outpatient treatment? Are you physically addicted to drugs or alcohol and absolutely require a medical detox prior to receiving treatment services? When you speak with a specialist about voluntarily entering drug and alcohol treatment, talk about your personal circumstances in order to figure out which aspects of outpatient or residential treatment programs would best suit you. Outpatient and residential drug and alcohol treatment programs both have life-changing benefits, and understanding which program will best help you achieve long-term recovery is one of the first steps toward becoming sober.
About the Author
Steven Gifford, LICDC, LPC, currently serves as Senior Counselor at The Ridge, a residential treatment center in Ohio. Since 1998, he has worked in the Licking Memorial Hospital -- Shepherd Hill treatment center located in Newark, Ohio. Mr. Gifford's areas of competence include individual counseling, assessments, group counseling, diagnosis and treatment, children and adolescents, marriage and family therapy, addictions and smoking cessation. He is a member of the Ohio Counseling Association and is a LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LICDC (Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor), CTTS (Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist) and has a Masters Degree in Education in Community Counseling. For more information about the Ridge, please visit www.theridgeohio.com.
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