IOP vs. Outpatient: What’s The Difference?

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While there are many advantages to attending an inpatient program, not everyone has the luxury of taking several weeks or months off of work, out of school, or away from their children. Others simply cannot afford the high cost of residential care. However, these individuals are just as worthy of addiction treatment as others. On the other hand, inpatient rehab can’t completely cure addiction, which is why many New Jersey rehab programs offer a full continuum of care that consists of multiple levels of treatment.

Four of the most popular treatment options, in order from the highest level of intensity to the lowest, are:

  • Inpatient/Residential Treatment
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
  • Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP)
  • Outpatient Programming (OP)

IOP and outpatient programs are great for people who either cannot attend an inpatient program or those who have completed inpatient and are looking for continued support. While these two levels of care sound similar, there are some stark differences between IOP and regular outpatient.

Choosing the right level of care for your needs can make or break your recovery. Here at New Jersey Addiction Interventions, we are dedicated to helping you figure out which type of treatment program is right for you. Let’s take a look at the differences between IOP and OP and how you know which program you should choose.

What Are Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) Like?

Intensive outpatient programming, better known as IOP, is a step-down from inpatient and PHP treatment. IOPs in New Jersey generally consist of 15-25 hours of therapy each week on both group and individual bases. A typical IOP will meet 4-5 days per week for several hours at a time. Due to longer therapy sessions and more frequent groups, IOPs are able to provide a variety of different services, including:

  • Like skills therapy
  • Relapse prevention
  • Family therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Case management
  • Medication management

IOPs are a good fit for people who need a flexible treatment option with a high level of care. It is also ideal for people who need more structure than what is offered by outpatient, but more flexibility than PHP or inpatient.

Outside of therapy, patients are expected to attend 12-Step meetings, find a job, and practice the skills they learned in treatment in the real world.

What to Expect From a Traditional Outpatient Program (OP)

Outpatient programming (OP) is the lowest level of care provided by addiction treatment providers in New Jersey. As the most flexible and least restrictive treatment option, outpatient best for patients who:

  • Have recently developed a substance use disorder but do not require medical detox services
  • Are diagnosed with a mild substance use disorder
  • Have experienced a brief relapse after accumulating several weeks, months, or years in sobriety
  • Are highly motivated and committed to personal healing and recovery
  • Have a strong sober support system outside of the rehab center
  • Live in sober, stable, and supportive housing
  • Are worried they are developing an addiction but do not exhibit symptoms that are as severe as people with substance use disorder
  • Have already completed the inpatient, PHP, and/or IOP levels of care

OP consists of group and individual therapy sessions that meet 2-3 days each week. Each session will last between 1 and 3 hours depending on the nature of the session and the day of the week. In total most OPs will last a minimum of 90 days, however, this can change depending on the progress you make in treatment and your individual needs.

Most outpatient treatment programs meet in the evening, allowing patients to continue working or going to school during the day. Other OPs meet in the morning or early afternoon, allowing parents to get counseling while their kids are in school.

At the lowest level of care, patients live at home or in a sober living while traveling back and forth to their treatment sessions. They are also expected to find a job, attend 12-Step meetings, and take their prescribed medications.

IOP vs. Outpatient: Which One is Right For You?

Both IOP and outpatient are great treatment options for people who cannot go to a residential program or have already completed one. They can provide a personalized continuum of care that supports long-term recovery. While both types of treatment offer similar therapeutic services, the primary difference is the time spent in therapy and the intensity of treatment.

IOP requires far more hours of therapy and active participation than OP. With more hours to spare, IOP can also provide more intensive and individualized counseling. However, this can also make IOP more expensive than outpatient – but both options are still cheaper than inpatient rehab. As a general rule of thumb, the more severe your addiction is, the higher level of care you need.

In the end, the only way to determine which level of care is right for you is to speak with a qualified addictions counselor. A drug and alcohol counselor can speak with you about your addiction, your substance abuse history, and your treatment goals to set up a plan of action that is right for you.

Find an Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Rehab in New Jersey Today

Figuring out what kind of treatment you need isn’t easy when your mind is clouded by the effects of drugs and alcohol, but that’s exactly why we’re here to help. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, our team can help you determine whether IOP or outpatient is right for you. Your consultation is free and 100% confidential. Find the right New Jersey rehab by giving us a call today.

Medically Reviewed: May 19, 2021

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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