Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment

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People struggling with addiction or a co-occurring disorder—substance abuse along with another mental illness—require treatment as soon as possible. The path of healing and recovery almost always requires professional support.  

The two main treatment options available for such individuals are inpatient and outpatient treatment. The differences between inpatient and outpatient care are sometimes misunderstood, by patients and their loved ones. 

For people looking for mental health treatment in Orange County, California, this post provides vital information about inpatient and outpatient treatment options—to help them make the best choice.

Inpatient Mental Health Treatment 

People receiving inpatient care—staying overnight in a hospital or a residential treatment center—tend to have serious (perhaps even life-threatening) conditions. 

Receiving inpatient care for mental health treatment is similar to receiving inpatient care for physical injuries. It’s not that different from going to the hospital for a medical emergency. When a person is experiencing a substance abuse or mental health crisis, inpatient treatment is simply the most appropriate level of care.

In an inpatient facility, mental health professionals can offer essential therapeutic interventions in a closely monitored setting. When a person’s mental health and/or substance abuse symptoms have become too severe to safely manage on their own, then inpatient mental health treatment is often the best option.

Conditions and procedures that often require inpatient mental health care include:

  • Manic episodes
  • Severe depression
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Suicidal ideation or planning
  • Severe substance use disorders
  • Medical detox or medically assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Psychotic disorders (delusions and hallucinations)
  • Escalating reckless or impulsive behavior

Outpatient Mental Health Treatment 

Most people receive some type of outpatient care at least once a year. Having blood drawn, getting an x-ray, getting an annual physical, undergoing cataract surgery, or going to the hospital for a colonoscopy are examples of outpatient procedures.

Receiving outpatient care for mental health treatment is similar. It doesn’t refer to a particular type of treatment—only that the care is given in a clinical setting (e.g., an office, hospital, or treatment center) that doesn’t require an overnight stay. Once the procedure has been completed, the patient returns to their own home.

Outpatient mental health treatment may include a variety of therapeutic modalities, for instance:

  • Individual or group counseling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychiatric medication
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • 12-Step Program meetings
  • Stress management skills
  • Biofeedback therapy
  • Addiction aftercare
  • Family therapy

Key Differences Between Inpatient & Outpatient Treatment 

The essential difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment programs is that inpatient care requires a person to stay overnight in the hospital or treatment center—while outpatient treatment does not.

An individual receiving inpatient care for a substance use or mental health disorder will be monitored closely by a team of counselors, psychiatrists, and other mental healthcare professionals. Someone receiving outpatient care will participate in one or more treatment sessions during the day but return to their own home at night.

Another difference between inpatient and outpatient programs is the average cost of care. Typically, inpatient care is more expensive because it includes the cost of room and board—residing at the treatment center 24/7; eating meals there; and receiving ongoing, intensive, specialized treatment.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient: Which Is the Best Option? 

Both are valid treatment methods that can effectively support a person on a path of healing and recovery. However, different people—each with their unique life circumstances—may respond better to one treatment option than the other. So, it’s important to explore the pros and cons of each.

Pros of Inpatient Treatment 

The main advantage of inpatient treatment is that the individual recovering from a substance use or mental health disorder can devote an extended period to focus exclusively on regaining their health and sobriety. In the absence of any of the usual distractions of daily life, the healing process is given priority.

This kind of highly structured and intensive treatment can be particularly effective for people with severe mental health and/or substance use disorders who have attempted to get sober on their own but have failed. Such individuals can benefit from days that are filled—from sunrise to sunset—with individual and group therapy sessions along with ongoing monitoring of their physical and psychological condition.  

People struggling with addiction often feel out of control. The structure provided by inpatient treatment can help them feel more safe and secure, especially while going through the detox/withdrawal process. Being under the constant care of doctors and mental healthcare professionals provides safety, comfort, and stability.

Cons of Inpatient Treatment 

The cons of inpatient treatment are twofold: (1) Practical arrangements; and (2) Cost.

People opting for inpatient treatment may need to make arrangements to be away from their families and/or jobs for days, weeks, or months. This may require arranging for children to be cared for by friends or relatives. It may mean taking a leave of absence, vacation time, or sick leave from work. Making such arrangements is possible for some people—and may be more difficult for others.

Another reason that inpatient care might not be the right choice for everyone is its cost. Inpatient mental health care is almost always more expensive than outpatient care. And while some insurance plans cover it, many do not.

Pros of Outpatient Treatment 

The primary advantage of outpatient care is that it allows the person receiving treatment to continue to engage with their daily responsibilities. With treatment sessions available at various times—both during the week as well as on weekends—people with regular working hours can choose what fits into their schedule. And parents don’t have to worry about finding childcare while they undergo treatment.

The level of care won’t be as intensive as it is in an inpatient program. However, skilled therapists and the peer support of others who are also recovering from a substance use or mental health disorder can make it a very effective option.

Outpatient treatment also allows an individual to maintain a connection with their existing support networks. And, as the healing work progresses, the person can actively integrate their new coping skills into their daily living.

A final “pro” of outpatient treatment is that it tends to be much more affordable. And insurance plans are more likely to cover outpatient treatment than inpatient treatment.

Cons of Outpatient Treatment 

The main disadvantage of outpatient treatment is that the individual doesn’t have the safety net of intensive and ongoing care. Recovering from an addiction or serious mental illness can be extremely challenging. A person in an outpatient program may experience setbacks because they still have contact with friends who use alcohol or drugs; or other people who enable their illness.  

A related disadvantage to outpatient care is that the individual doesn’t have 24/7 access to mental health professionals. If they’re in crisis and could benefit from speaking immediately with a therapist—this may not happen. The person may need to wait hours or days before their next session.

Individuals receiving outpatient treatment also don’t have the same opportunity to cultivate deep bonds with people who are experiencing similar challenges—as they would in an inpatient program.

For those struggling with a substance use disorder or other mental illness, getting help is vitally important. And choosing the right type of support can make the difference between a successful recovery and a relapse. Knowing the pros and cons—the benefits and disadvantages—of inpatient and outpatient treatment options, allows each person to make the decision that’s right for them.

Resources for Those Seeking Treatment 

The best treatment programs are those that work for a given individual. Whether it’s an inpatient or outpatient setting, skilled and compassionate providers can help their clients achieve optimal mental health and wellness.

Turning Tides is a residential drug and alcohol detox facility that offers inpatient rehab for substance use disorders, including medical detox and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

The highly trained team of mental health professionals at Turning Tides also treats co-occurring disorders for people who struggle with both substance abuse and mental health disorder. Counselors and psychiatrists offer individual and group therapy with therapeutic modalities such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • EMDR therapy for trauma
  • Family therapy

At Turning Tides, we are committed to treating each person with the care and compassion that they deserve. To learn more about our addiction and mental health treatment programs, please feel free to contact us.

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