Intensive Outpatient Programs and Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder - Intensive Outpatient Programs DFW

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is a comprehensive form of treatment for mental health disorders and substance use disorders. It is a higher level of care than individual counseling. Such programs may be specific to treating addictions, mental illness, or a combination of both. Substance abuse IOPs are very helpful for treating alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use disorder refers to problem drinking that becomes severe and leads to negative consequences. It is characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not drinking.

About 15 million people in the United States have alcohol use disorder. A diagnosis of this condition can only be met when you meet the criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

According to the 2018 NSDUH study, 86.3 percent of people ages 18 or older reported drinking at some point in their lifetime. About 70.0 percent reported drinking in the past year. Also, 55.3 percent reported drinking in the past month.

For many people, alcohol consumption can very quickly become a problem. Over time, tolerance can develop. Eventually, dependence on alcohol and addiction can occur. Treatment is, however, possible, and many people are currently in recovery. Intensive outpatient programs can be instrumental in sobriety.

What is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)?

An intensive outpatient program is a structured therapeutic environment for substance abuse rehabilitation. As the name implies, it is an outpatient treatment. People visit a treatment center several days a week for a few hours at a time. IOPs are, however, more time-intensive than other standard outpatient programs. Unlike an inpatient program, it does not require living in the facility.

Intensive outpatient programs typically meet three to five times a week. Most programs meet three times weekly. These sessions are usually about 3-4 hours each day. The duration of IOP treatments vary but most run for about five to eight weeks.

IOPs may be a good treatment option for people who cannot go to a residential treatment facility. It is also helpful for those who were inpatient but need to continue treatment on an outpatient basis. Additionally, people in weekly counseling who need more support can step up to this higher level of care.

Typically, meetings are on weekdays in the mornings or evenings. Some programs offer multiple daily sessions. Treatment primarily consists of group therapy. In some cases, they may also provide individual counseling, medication management, case management, and even employment assistance. Drug testing is usually a component of many programs.

Goals of an Intensive Outpatient Program

Heavy alcohol consumption has many adverse effects. These include damage to the liver, brain, and other body organs. There are also legal, social, and financial issues with excessive drinking. In addition, secondhand drinking is a well-known complication of alcohol use disorder.

The primary goal of an IOP is to help individuals attain recovery and maintain their sobriety. These programs can do this while the participants still live in their homes. Thus, people can attend an IOP without disrupting their work, routine, or relationships. One huge advantage of an intensive outpatient program is that it helps people stay sober in a real-life setting. It is also much cheaper than an inpatient program.

In general, intensive outpatient programs aim to:

  • Encourage and maintain abstinence
  • Improve problem-solving skills
  • Help with a change in behaviors
  • Manage cravings
  • Develop a support system
  • Address stressors such as employment, housing, and legal issues
  • Aid participation in support system such as 12-Step groups

IOPs can provide unique personalized treatments. Groups usually have 6-12 people in each session. People are exposed to various evidence-based treatment methods. Some of these include:

Detoxification (detox) is the first stage of substance abuse treatment. This process involves safely eliminating alcohol and drugs from the body. Following detox, treatment can commence. Most IOPs do not offer services for detox. For people who require this level of treatment, referral to a detox program is needed.

Bottle, Beverage, Wine, Drink, Alcohol, Alcoholic

Differences Between an IOP and Inpatient Treatment

The primary difference between an IOP and inpatient treatment is residence. In an inpatient program, people live in a facility where they receive care. Thus, residential programs offer housing, meals, medical care, and recreation.

People with longstanding and more severe addictions tend to benefit more from residential inpatient treatment. One reason for this is that such people need to be in a different environment, free from alcohol or drugs. In some cases, home environments can be a big trigger for substance use. Hence, the need to stay away from such a situation to get proper treatment.

As much as inpatient treatment has its advantages, there are also some drawbacks. Firstly, the cost is usually higher. The time commitment can also be an issue. Most programs require at least 30 days. Some residential treatments can be as long as 3-12 months. As a result, individuals have to contend with being away from family and work for long periods.

Note, though, that treatment can be stepped down or up, depending on the case. Thus, an individual may attend an intensive outpatient program after residential treatment. Also, if an IOP is not the right fit, residential inpatient treatment is an option.

With alcohol dependence, the important thing is to get the necessary help. Depending on several factors, such treatment may be outpatient or inpatient. In either case, addiction treatment requires a comprehensive approach. Following treatment, it is crucial to have ongoing care. As we know, recovery is a journey.

Is Alcohol a Drug?

Yes, alcohol is considered a drug and has a variety of short-term and long-term adverse effects.  It enters your bloodstream as soon as it is consumed.  As you drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream.  The higher your BAC, the more impaired you become by alcohol’s effects. 

Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?

Alcohol is classified as a depressant, meaning that it slows down brain functioning and neural activity – resulting in slurred speech, unsteady movement, disturbed perceptions and an inability to react quickly.  It also reduces the functioning of various vital functions in the body.  This is due to the increased production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. 

However, although alcohol is classified as a depressant, the amount consumed can drastically impact whether the user experiences depressant or stimulant effects.  In small quantities, alcohol is more likely to act as a stimulant, resulting in increased talkativeness, overconfidence, increased heart rate and improvements in mood.  But if a person consumes more than the body can handle, then he or she is more likely to experience alcohol’s depressant effect. 

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

Alcohol can actually cause physical changes in the brain’s chemistry and functioning, which also plays a major role in the development of alcohol dependence.  When a person consumes alcohol regularly, the brain reward and pleasure centers become overloaded with increased levels of dopamine.  This “high” users experience keeps them hooked, causing them to repeat their drinking habits and behaviors. 

In addition, alcohol also can compromise one’s ability to make decisions, as well as impact one’s impulse control.  Often times, this results in a compulsion to drink.  This also makes relapse more likely when one attempts to quit drinking.  What may begin as recreational alcohol consumption can easily transition into an alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence – all due to the fundamental changes caused in the brain.

But, the brain isn’t the only place in the body that alcohol can negatively affect.   Alcohol consumption can cause problems with the heart – leading to high blood pressure and stroke and the liver – leading to cirrhosis and steatosis (fatty liver).  It can also cause serious issues within the pancreas.  More specifically, regular alcohol consumption can cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

Everyone is different, and though there is no litmus test to determine whether a person is drinking too much, there are signs to look out for that could signal you need to seek help.  These include:

  • You have health problems associated with your drinking.  If your doctor has shared his concerns that your drinking has caused tangible effects on your health, take heed of his advice.  Your body is telling you loud and clear that alcohol has taken its toll and it’s time to seek help.
  • Your friends and family have told you they’re concerned about your alcohol use.  When those closest to you notice your drinking, it’s time to take note.  After all, it’s easier to see the changes in your life from the outside.  If those close to you are concerned, you should be, too.  After all, they have your best interests at heart.  
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms. These can range from anywhere to headaches and nausea to cramps, insomnia and irritability.  These withdrawal symptoms signal there’s a bigger problem at bay and show how much addiction has taken hold on your mind and body.  
  • You’ve suffered consequences associated with your drinking.  This can include having lost your job, having been kicked out of school or having lost your marriage.  Either way, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate your alcohol intake.  Getting help now is imperative if you want to stop the consequences you’ve already experienced from getting any worse. 
  • You’ve lost your freedom.  Incarceration is the ultimate rock bottom, and there’s nothing like sitting in a jail cell to force you to reevaluate your life and all your past choices.  If you’ve found yourself in this humbling situation recently, don’t brush it off like it’s nothing.  Get the help that you need and start moving forward with your life. 

If you are concerned about alcohol’s role in your life and would like to learn more about your recovery options, click here to connect with one of our team members. Arise Recovery Centers is an Intensive Outpatient Program that is conveniently located in Dallas, Fort Worth, McKinney, Southlake and Sugar Land. We offer individual, family, and group therapy to help those struggling with alcohol addiction recover and grow.