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The needs of those in recovery are varied and complex. No two recovery paths will be the same and making the right decisions about your personal recovery process is important. Often the first thought when someone decides to recover is if they need specific treatment. Inpatient vs outpatient treatment for substance use disorder can be a difficult decision to make but having some knowledge about what they both offer can be a good place to start.

The difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment requires the person to remain at the treatment facility for a specific length of time depending on the individual’s needs. These treatment durations can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months and even longer depending on the severity of the addiction. Sometimes a medically managed detox is required which allows safe removal of substances from the body under medical supervision.

During inpatient treatment, recovery-based activity is the sole focus of a person’s day. Inpatient addiction programs offer talk therapy, education and family therapy which help and encourage the person to recover. Often things like art and music therapy are implemented to help with emotional distress and encourage expression.

Outpatient treatment for substance abuse disorder happens for a period of time daily with the person returning home afterwards. Treatment typically offers the same addiction recovery programs including education, group therapy, and family therapy but takes place less frequently than inpatient treatment.

Outpatient addiction programs often run for a longer period of weeks or months than inpatient addiction programs without the intensity of a residential stay at a facility.

Which program is right for you?

It is always advisable to speak with your healthcare professional to help you make the right decision about what addiction treatment program is right for you. The right program for you will depend on your circumstances. Here are some considerations to take into account when choosing inpatient or outpatient treatment for substance abuse disorder.


  • Helpful if you need to remove yourself from triggers or situations that may cause relapse
  • Offers 24-hour care and support
  • Provides a highly structured environment
  • Can provide treatment for other co-occurring mental health issues
  • Introduces healthy recreational activities to substitute unhealthy ones
  • Not always affordable for everyone
  • Time off work or school will be necessary
  • You may have to travel to another state


  • Allows for a more flexible approach regarding work and family life
  • Can be more affordable with similar program options
  • Some kind of program is more likely to be available in your locality
  • Skills learned can be applied immediately in your daily living
  • Online options may be available
  • Harder to avoid triggers and stressors which may make it harder to stay sober
  • Less daily structure and support from a professional team

Choosing the right recovery option for you can be hugely beneficial to your long-term recovery. It may be a good idea to research some addiction recovery centers and what they offer. Both inpatient and outpatient programs can really boost your motivation to be well, however, regardless of which you choose it is the work you put into your recovery and the desire you have to succeed that will matter most.


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