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Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

Intensive outpatient care is designed to help recovering addicts stay sober and improve their overall mental well-being through therapy, peer support, and additional life skills education. An intensive outpatient program (IOP) may be recommended for those with a less severe addiction or recovering addicts who have just completed a residential program.

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What Is An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)?

An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is one of the available addiction treatment options available when recovering from substance abuse.

An IOP program can be recommended to a recovering addict who has a mild to moderate addiction. Alternatively, IOP offers a continuum of care for people who have recently completed a residential treatment program.

The recovering addict will visit the treatment center for a minimum of 10 hours each week. The patient’s level of care will vary based on their treatment plan; your IOP experience can be customized to fit your unique recovery needs and goals.

In some cases, telehealth appointments are available for online-based intensive outpatient treatment.

The main outpatient services offered at an IOP include:

  • One-on-one therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Life skills education and practice
  • Medication management (when applicable)
  • Specialized therapies (e.g., art therapy, music therapy, etc.)
  • Access to 12-step programs (i.e., Alcoholics Anonymous)
  • Information and resources for aftercare programs, such as sober living

Note: An IOP does NOT offer detoxification services. However, an IOP clinician or medical staff member can usually refer patients to a nearby detox facility.

Intensive Outpatient VS Partial Hospitalization Programs

When seeking outpatient treatment services for substance use disorder, you will discover that there are two main types of outpatient treatment options:

  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

The main difference between these two outpatient treatment types is the level of care provided. Overall, a Partial Hospitalization Program offers a higher level of care to the recovering addict, with a focus on physical healthcare and treatment.

A PHP may be the better option for someone struggling with a dual diagnosis (i.e., substance use disorder plus a mental health condition) or in need of medical assistance alongside addiction recovery.

Alternatively, an IOP is an excellent option for those with a lesser addiction or individuals who have already completed a more thorough program and would benefit from a stepping stone before leaving rehab entirely.

While both types of outpatient programs allow the patient to visit a facility for treatment services and return home each night, they also differ in time commitment requirements and services offered.

An IOP requires roughly 10-15 hours per week, whereas a PHP can require an average of 25-30 weekly hours.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment VS Residential Drug Rehab Programs

The major difference between intensive outpatient and residential treatment is the level of care provided and the time commitment required.

An intensive outpatient center—sometimes called “day treatment”—allows patients to return home at the end of each day. A residential treatment program is a type of inpatient program where the recovering addict will live for an average of 30 days or more.

An intensive outpatient program is sometimes recommended after a person completes a residential program. The IOP will act as a step down from inpatient care as the recovering addict adjusts to life without the structure of inpatient rehab.

What Type of Therapy to Expect in an Outpatient Program

Mental health is a major focus of intensive outpatient programs or IOPs. However, different IOPs may vary in the specific types of therapies offered. It’s a good idea to check ahead to see what types of therapy an IOP offers or specializes in, particularly if you have any preferences.

Substance use disorder often accompanies mental health issues and/or diagnosed mental illness. With that in mind, these different types of therapy are aimed at helping recovering addicts improve their overall behavioral health.

Individual Therapy

One-on-one therapy sessions will make up a decent part of the day in intensive outpatient treatment. These individual counseling sessions will focus on helping the patient develop better coping skills and lifestyle habits.

The two most common types of individual therapy offered are:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A type of talk therapy that assists the patient with identifying negative thought patterns and replacing them with better coping strategies. CBT may include “homework” as self-led activities for the patient to work on outside of these sessions.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): A specific type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, DBT is designed to work with high-risk patients to help them first acknowledge the circumstances that contributed to their addiction. DBT may also include outside “homework” as the patient works through thought patterns and establishes better habits.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a broad term that covers a few different types of counseling that will occur in a group setting. While an IOP will also offer individual counseling, group therapies can provide peer support and help patients feel less isolated in their recovery experience.

Some common types of group therapy include:

  • Basic group therapy: Takes place in a small group of recovering addicts, guided by one mental health professional. Group therapy sessions are common at IOPs and are intended to provide a support system for the patients as they work through their treatment programs.
  • 12-step programs: Organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provide a structured, step-by-step approach to recovery. These specialized support groups meet regularly and are available outside an intensive outpatient program.
  • Family therapy: Sometimes, broken family dynamics can be a contributing factor in substance abuse. Likewise, working through issues with family members can provide a more solid support system for the addict as they work on their recovery.

Complementary Therapies

Your selected intensive outpatient program may include additional therapies designed to improve behavioral health.

Such additional therapies might include:

  • Mindfulness and yoga
  • Faith-based therapy
  • Fitness and nutrition counseling
  • Creative media (e.g., art therapy, music therapy, etc.)

If you are interested in a specific amenity or service with your intensive outpatient treatment, ask the facility beforehand what additional therapies they might offer.

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What Is the Average IOP Experience Like?

While the recovery process and day-to-day structure may differ between treatment facilities, the overall experience within intensive outpatient treatment will be similar.

Intensive Outpatient Therapy Admissions Process

Every facility has its own set of guidelines, so specifics may vary.

You will usually begin with paperwork and then receive an orientation. You may also be assigned to a primary clinician or medical professional who will be your main contact during your experience.

Additionally, you may be invited to participate in individual or group counseling sessions as you get acclimated on day one.

Your first day can feel a bit overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to ask any questions that might come up. The entire staff is there to support your recovery and provide you with adequate treatment. Be sure to speak up if you are unsure about anything.

A Typical Day in an Intensive Outpatient Program

Daily life for someone attending an IOP will be much less regimented than the schedule for someone in a residential program.

An example of an IOP treatment schedule may include:

  • 3 to 5 days each week
  • 3 hours of treatment for each visit (may occur daytime or evenings)
  • Individual and group therapy sessions
  • Medication management
  • Additional participation in bonus therapies, such as 12-step programs, creative clubs, life skills courses, etc.

How Long Does an Intensive Outpatient Program Last?

Most intensive outpatient programs last between 8 and 12 weeks. The patient will attend sessions anywhere from 3 to 4 days each week throughout the program, for roughly 2 – 5 hours each time.

IOP can be highly individualized to accommodate patients’ needs, from their specific treatment plans to work schedules and family responsibilities.

The length of time and intensity of your IOP experience will depend on your level of addiction, history of substance abuse (if any), and any additional needs that are specific to your overall treatment plan.

Find the Right Intensive Outpatient Program IOP

If you think an intensive outpatient program sounds like the right choice for yourself or a loved one, take a look at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) online treatment locator—or call them at 1-800-662-4357 for free, confidential referral information.

You can also speak with your doctor or mental health provider to see if they can offer any recommendations for IOP treatment near you.

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Frequently Asked Questions About IOPs

What is an IOP?

An IOP stands for Intensive Outpatient Program, and it is a type of rehabilitation service available for recovering alcoholics or drug addicts.

The main goals of the IOP are to help you…

  • Stay sober and avoid relapse
  • Create better, healthier habits and behaviors
  • Participate in support groups
  • Develop or strengthen your support system
  • Improve life skills

What are the differences between Inpatient and Outpatient facilities?

The main difference between inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities is the overall level of care offered between the two.

Inpatient programs are typically residential. Inpatient facilities typically offer much more structure than outpatient care and provide daily medical treatment and behavioral therapies. Inpatient facilities also offer detoxification services.

An outpatient facility allows the recovering addict to visit multiple times a week for medical care and behavioral therapy, but patients can resume normal activities such as work and return home after their sessions. Some, but not all, outpatient programs offer detox services.

How successful are Intensive Outpatient Programs?

Intensive outpatient programs are considered just as effective for treating substance use disorder as inpatient treatment.

Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) determined that Intensive Outpatient Programs are an essential part of ongoing addiction treatment, stating:

“IOPs have emerged as a critical facet of 21st-century addiction treatment for people who need a more intensive level of service than usual outpatient treatment, and they allow participants to avoid or step down successfully from inpatient services.”

How can you prevent relapse during or after an IOP?

Relapse prevention is an important focus of intensive outpatient programs. Through therapy, medication management, and additional support groups patients will establish better life habits to help them maintain their sobriety.

In addition, IOPs help recovering addicts build or strengthen their support systems and learn better ways to cope with stressors that might have led to drug use in the past.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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