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Medically Reviewed

What is the Difference Between an Intensive Outpatient Program and an Outpatient Program (OP)?

- 8 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer:

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


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

Drug and alcohol addiction can impact every part of your life. If you live with substance abuse or addiction, you must seek treatment. Comprehensive treatment plans can help you identify the complex roots of your substance abuse and learn how to avoid relapse.

People have unique challenges and needs during treatment. Addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all process. Instead, tailored treatment plans can help people understand and overcome their individual challenges to reach their goals.

There are several levels of care in addiction treatment. People may attend either inpatient or outpatient care. There are several types of outpatient treatment, including intensive outpatient programs and outpatient rehab.

This article will explore intensive outpatient programs and outpatient rehab. You will learn what to expect from these levels of care and the differences between them.

If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, you are not alone. Comprehensive, supportive treatment programs are available at the Carolina Center for Recovery. Contact us now to learn more or schedule an intake.

Intensive Outpatient Programs: An Overview

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is a level of addiction treatment that provides a high level of services. People who have a long-lasting addiction may attend an IOP after completing an inpatient program. People with additional medical or mental health needs may also benefit from this level of care.

An intensive outpatient program is an outpatient level of care, meaning people do not have to live in treatment facilities while receiving care. However, this level of care provides significant treatment and support.

IOP participants typically attend treatment sessions several days per week. Treatment sessions usually occur during the day. In total, people in an intensive outpatient program may spend between 9 and 20 hours per week engaging in treatment.

An intensive outpatient program may last 30 to 60 days or longer, depending on each person’s needs. The treatment team will reassess participants throughout treatment and adjust their treatment plan as needed.

What to Expect in an IOP

Mental health and medical professionals design IOPs to offer rigorous treatment programs. An IOP provides intensive care while allowing people to stay connected to their support system and continue working.

People may transition into an IOP after attending a higher level of care, or they may begin recovery in an IOP.

Here is an overview of what to expect from an intensive outpatient program.


Before beginning treatment, a doctor or addiction specialist will assess your needs. The assessment may include:

  • Questions about your substance use
  • Medical and mental health history
  • Information about family members living with addiction
  • Lab testing
  • Physical examination

The information in this evaluation will help your treatment team create an effective, tailored course of treatment.


An IOP may begin with a medically-supported detox program. During detox, your treatment team will assess your needs and provide care to help you manage withdrawal. Your detox treatment plan may include:

  • Medications to reduce cravings and other withdrawal symptoms
  • Emotional support, including individual and group therapy when appropriate
  • Round-the-clock supervision and access to treatment
  • Holistic care, including yoga, nutrition support, mindfulness, and more

Support and access to medical care during detox will ensure a safe, comfortable detox.


An IOP treatment plan provides medical and mental health care, education, and support that supports long-term recovery from addiction. Your treatment plan may include:

  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Medical care and medications
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Holistic treatment, including acupuncture, massage, exercise, nutrition therapy, and more
  • Aftercare planning

After completing an IOP, you must stay engaged in your recovery. You may attend 12-step meetings, spend time in a sober living home, participate in therapy, and other recovery-related activities.

Outpatient Programs: The Basics

An outpatient program (OP) is a type of addiction rehab that provides consistent support to people living with addiction. The flexibility of an OP allows people to get high-quality care while continuing to work, go to school, or care for family members.

There are many levels of outpatient programs. People may attend an OP in medical treatment centers, day treatment centers, mental health clinics, or other settings.

An OP treatment plan is similar to an IOP but has a less intensive schedule of therapy sessions. Treatment plans may include:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Life skills training
  • Coping skills

People in an OP may attend treatment sessions one day a week or more, depending on their needs. An outpatient program may offer treatment sessions in the evening to accommodate busy schedules.

IOP vs OP: Understanding the Difference Between IOP and Outpatient Rehab

Each person has unique needs and challenges during recovery. The type of treatment you require depends on the severity of your addiction, your physical and mental health, and other factors.

Typically, people with longer-lasting addictions require more intensive treatment programs. An IOP may be best for someone who has been unable to avoid relapse in lower levels of care.

The intensive schedule of an IOP allows people to get intensive outpatient care. Participating in an IOP requires a significant time commitment. People may spend up to 20 hours engaged in treatment.

Outpatient programs offer less intensive care and a more flexible schedule. An OP may not be sufficient for those with significant medical or mental health needs.

It’s essential to get the right type of care. Contact the Carolina Center for Recovery specialists to learn which level of treatment is right for you.

Find Help Now

If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse and requires an addiction treatment program, you are not alone. Reach out to the Carolina Center for Recovery team now to explore your treatment options or schedule an intake.