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Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab: What is the Difference?

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab: What is the Difference?
Written by Seth Fletcher on October 25, 2023
Last update: April 26, 2024

When you enter an addiction recovery program, you’ll either be treated as an inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient rehab, also known as residential treatment, requires individuals to stay at the recovery facility throughout their program. They typically follow a structured routine with round-the-clock support and supervision. Individuals undergoing outpatient treatment have more flexibility; they go home after each treatment day and return for scheduled meetings and appointments. Outpatient treatment programs allow the individual to keep up with their daily responsibilities as they recover from addiction.

Whether you need inpatient or outpatient treatment largely depends on the severity of your addiction. CCFA looks at inpatient vs. outpatient care for addiction and how to choose the best option for you or a loved one.

Key Takeaways

  • Inpatient and outpatient care are the available categories of treatment programs for addiction.
  • The primary difference between outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment programs is how long a person must remain in the treatment facility.
  • The type of treatment suitable for a patient depends on their needs, schedule, and budget.

What is the Difference between Inpatient and Outpatient Addiction Treatment?

The main difference between outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment is that outpatients do not need to stay in the facility after treatment, while inpatients must remain at the treatment facility after their detox for close monitoring and observation. Outpatients are free to leave the facility after their treatment, though they may need to return for regular scheduled appointments. The severity of the drug or alcohol addiction determines whether a person will need inpatient or outpatient treatment.

The Canadian Centre for Addictions offers outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment in an environment that inspires lasting change. Our team of qualified experts evaluates clients to determine the appropriate level of care for their condition.

Inpatient Addiction Treatment

Inpatient care involves staying in a facility for the duration of treatment for round-the-clock monitoring and evaluation. A person recovering from addiction will receive all treatment and support in the facility. After evaluating an individual to determine that they require inpatient treatment, they’ll first undergo medical detox to ensure the removal of every trace of the addictive substance from their body. Detox also helps to manage withdrawal symptoms that may cause relapse.

Inpatient addiction treatment, in most cases, lasts between 45 to 90 days. This time allows the individual to change faulty thinking patterns and learn new coping strategies for handling triggers and cravings. Residents of an inpatient rehab facility must follow laid-down routines and procedures throughout their stay, attending various therapy sessions and support groups led by licensed professionals. Inpatient treatment facilities limit outside-world contact to allow residents to focus on their recovery. After inpatient treatment, patients may transition to a sober living facility or outpatient treatment to continue their recovery. To learn more, check out our guide on what inpatient rehab is usually like.


Inpatient treatment offers the following benefits:

  • Safe, enclosed environment away from distractions that allow individuals to focus on their recovery
  • Creates a healthy barrier from people, places, and activities that promote addiction
  • Round-the-clock care and monitoring for improved chances of recovery 
  • More resources and personnel to handle addiction-related issues and co-occurring disorders
  • Established living structure and routine to keep residents on the recovery path
  • Residents can interact with others in a similar situation, form new friendships, and learn new ideas for staying sober


  • Inpatient addiction treatment is often expensive
  • Clients have to put their job, school, and other responsibilities on hold for the duration of treatment
  • The transition from treatment to a regular life can be stressful 
  • Clients may need to wait till the end of therapy to practice the skills they’ve learnt 

Outpatient Addiction Treatment

Outpatient addiction treatment is less restrictive than inpatient therapy and allows clients to structure their treatment around their daily routines. Participants in outpatient treatment can receive treatment while they continue to work, study, or do other things they consider important. There are multiple options for this type of treatment; patients may attend regular therapy sessions for several hours a week or attain specific milestones before progressing to the next phase of treatment.

Outpatient treatment sessions are ideal for individuals with mild cases of addiction with a strong support network of loved ones and friends. Depending on the severity of the addiction and the individual’s commitment to recovery, outpatient rehab can last between 90 to 180 days. 


Outpatient treatment offers the following benefits:

  • It allows clients to keep up with their daily responsibilities while they recover
  • Clients can practice the coping and relapse prevention skills acquired immediately 
  • It provides more privacy and anonymity than inpatient treatment
  • Participants receive regular support from their network of friends and loved ones
  • Outpatient treatment is not as expensive as inpatient therapy
  • It is easier to transition into normal life after treatment


  • Clients receiving outpatient treatment may still be exposed to triggers and influences that promote addiction
  • Maintaining sobriety as an outpatient requires more effort during non-treatment hours
  • Outpatients with a strong motivation to get better may be more easily prone to relapse
  • The distractions from daily routines may hinder recovery

How Do I Know Which Option to Choose

In most cases, whether you’ll opt for inpatient or outpatient treatment depends on the severity of your condition and will be determined by your physician. For patients with severe substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues, inpatient care may be suitable till they acquire the skills and thinking patterns required to cope independently. An inpatient program offers a break from the routine that supports the addiction.

Individuals with less severe addictions and a reliable support structure may choose outpatient care. An outpatient program allows you to practice what you learned during inpatient. Individuals with responsibilities may also consider outpatient care, which enables them to continue their activities while they recover. Another crucial factor to consider is cost; outpatient care is cheaper and might be your preferred option if you’re on a budget. Ultimately, the best care option for you comes down to your needs, schedule, and budget.


Knowing how outpatient vs. inpatient care works offers you control over addiction treatment for you or a loved one. It allows you to plan accurately for out-of-pocket costs if your health insurance plans are insufficient for the required treatment. If you’re having trouble understanding your care options, the Canadian Centre for Addictions can help. Our team of dedicated staff will walk you through your situation and find the best care plan for you or your loved one. Call us today at 1-855-499-9446

Frequently Asked Question

What is the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process?

The most difficult part of the rehabilitation process varies among individuals. The withdrawal symptoms that come with detox are the hardest for some, while others find accepting that they have a problem and need help the most challenging.

Does insurance cover rehab?

Insurance may cover the costs of specific rehab programs, but this may not extend to private treatment centres.

How long does outpatient and inpatient treatment take?

Outpatient treatment lasts three to six months, depending on the severity of the addiction and the individual’s commitment to recovery. Inpatient treatment typically lasts three months, though it could be longer in severe cases.

Can I cut my addiction treatment short?

Yes. No one can keep an adult in addiction rehab against their will. However, it’s best to receive your treatment until the end to give yourself the best chance of lasting recovery.

What is the difference between a relapse and a recurrence?

The difference between a relapse and a recurrence is that a relapse is a return to drug misuse and addiction after treatment, while a recurrence is a depressive episode during recovery where there are intense cravings that will trigger substance abuse without intervention.

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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