What Are the Tenets of an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)?


Looking into the proper care channels for a loved one with addiction is challenging. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) is only one option but it provides an intensive level of care that inpatient programs do not provide with flexibility. People who want to work a little and remain close to home often enjoy this as part of their outpatient treatment program. An IOP is not going to work for everyone, but knowing what to expect can help a person plan for their experience in treatment.

How IOP Works

An intensive outpatient addiction program (IOP) allows people to find freedom and flexibility to stay home while also going to school, working, or receiving other services. Being local can help some people find support while others may struggle with being too close to environmental triggers. IOP can be used as a transition program or the primary pathway to healing in recovery. Some will require detox monitoring and will transition to an IOP following detox from substances. 

Key Differences

While living onsite or offsite is a key difference between IOPs and inpatient, residential centers, inpatient programs also vary in length of time. These can bring a significant commitment of anywhere from one to three months of being somewhere else receiving help. This is not possible for everyone, especially if that person is the primary breadwinner. Women who are also caregivers of young children at home may find IOPs to be more suitable so they can be home with the children and keep the transition feeling healthy for all kids involved. People who attend an IOP program can schedule treatment as it works for them. IOPs meet at least 3 days a week, for 2-4 hours each day, and focus on primary objectives of healing in recovery but do not require the same time commitment. 


An outpatient program for substance abuse offers many of the same programs as an inpatient program, but it does not offer them in the same way. Programs offer counseling in groups that focus on building important skills. In this way, the person will not get individualized counseling as much as they would in another program but are focused on their treatment plan in a community setting. The team works to create an individualized treatment plan that focuses on relapse prevention and supports goals for healing. Some common services offered include:

  • Family therapy: education for the family on addiction and relationships that help support people and their family through the transition to recovery
  • Adjunct individual therapeutic services: provides support for underlying issues that influence drug or alcohol abuse and seeks to provide support and tools for healing
  • Group therapy: works with group dynamics, introduces structure, and provides guidance towards building necessary life skills in the real world (while staying sober)
  • Detox: some IOPs offer detox while others do not because of the risk of withdrawal. Some people may have to come back from somewhere else before being admitted to the program
  • Medication support: a combination of therapy and medication can be helpful in supporting desired behaviors  and also treats mental health and physical ailments

Covering the Cost

IOP therapy is not cheap, but it is not as costly as inpatient therapeutic work. Though it varies, it can range from a few thousand on up to $5,000 for a program with housing options. An IOP costs less than inpatient because there is no housing, food, management, or staff to pay for and the treatment protocols are minimized. The treatment offered is still exceptional in many cases, but not right for every case. Due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), addiction treatment is an essential health benefit that is provided under insurance. Coverage through Medicaid and Medicare can be offered depending on the person and their plan. Insurance cannot refuse coverage if a person has a pre-existing condition, including substance use disorder. 

Insurance and financing aside, a person has to investigate, along with family, what the best option is for them at this time. Perhaps financially it makes sense, but if it does not help a person recover from addiction, then it is not worth doing. It is better to make the right choice than to choose something that puts a person at risk of relapse. The key is to find hope and help wherever a person can find it, but with some caveats. Not every program is a good fit for an individual’s needs. Long-term, difficult addictive behaviors that have had multiple relapses may be better suited for inpatient treated, followed by sober living. IOPs are not for everyone, but once a person starts, they usually realize they are right where they need to be, doing exactly the right thing at that moment to help them get clean and sober.

Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We help you reimagine what is possible and create the life you’ve been dreaming of.

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