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:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Motivational enhancement
- Contingency management interventions
- Matrix model
- Relapse prevention
- Life skills
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.
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.