Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Drug Rehab

Treating an addiction isn’t a straightforward process, as people with addictions may differ from one another in many ways both large and small. It’s reasonable, however, to assume that people who have longer histories of addiction and more complex physical and mental health issues will need more intensive care. Those who have issues that aren’t quite as severe might not need such powerful help. It’s reasonable, but unfortunately, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that there are no explicit guidelines that could help parents to understand when their children need intensive inpatient care and when less stringent outpatient care might be better. Learning a little more about how the two programs work might help parents to understand all the options available for teens, and with this knowledge, they might be in a good position to help.

Outpatient Drug Rehab

Parents might assume that all children who use drugs or alcohol are addicted to them. In fact, a study published in the journal Addiction found that of those who entered a treatment program for addiction, only about half met the criteria for addiction. The rest might be dabbling in substance abuse, and they might very well move on to addiction later in life if they don’t get appropriate help, but these teens might be in the early stages of the disease process, and outpatient care might be just right for them.

In an outpatient program, the teen continues to live at home and interact with school, friends and family, all while working on the substance abuse issue. Teens might go to group therapy, support group meetings, so their work is complete. It’s likely to be strenuous, but they’ll have the consistency of home standing behind them. Since they’re living at home, they won’t be charged for room and board, either, so these programs might be less expensive than inpatient programs.

Outpatient programs like this might rely on the family to ensure that the teen doesn’t relapse to drug or alcohol abuse. There is no around-the-clock monitoring in a program like this, since the teen goes home at night, so parents will be asked to be on alert for signs of abuse in their children. If they spot this abuse, the teen might need to move to a more intensive level of care.

Inpatient Drug Rehab

In a program like this, the teen lives within the walls of the treatment facility and has access to nursing staff, medications, treatments and sober peers 24 hours per day. It’s a very significant form of intervention, as the teen is completely removed from the environment that once fostered the addiction, and it can be a powerful way to change behavior and help the teen see how life could be different if the addiction wasn’t in place. In general, this is a form of care that’s considered ideal for teens who have both mental illnesses and addictions, as they’ll have intensive help and supervision in a program like this, but it could also be helpful for other teens with addiction. For example, the Treatment Episode Data Set found that 56 percent of all people who entered treatment programs for addiction used more than one drug at a time. Poly-drug addictions like this can be hard to beat, as the combined substances can do a significant amount of damage to the cells of the brain. Teens who have addiction histories like this may face temptation on all sides, and they might need an inpatient program in order to get better.

Inpatient programs might also be good choices for teens who:

  • Have used outpatient programs before and have relapsed
  • Live with siblings or parents who abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Live in communities where addiction is rampant
  • Have poor support at home

Teens like this have many barriers standing between them and a sober life, and an inpatient program might allow these teens to escape the trauma of home for long enough to allow them to recover.

Making the Choice

When a teen is assessed for an addiction and underlying mental illness, the treatment team often makes a recommendation about where that teen should get help for the issue. Sometimes, inpatient care is recommended. Other times, outpatient care might be best. Listening closely to the treatment team’s recommendations is always a good idea, and parents can interject with their own opinions and preferences, to ensure that the child obtains just the right level of care for the problem at hand.

If you’d like to start the admissions process for your son, please download our packet or call our counselors. We’re happy to help.