Outpatient Alcohol Treatment


Authored by Karen Curley in Addiction
Published on 09-13-2009

There are only two types of alcohol treatment settings – either inpatient or outpatient. The difference between inpatient and outpatient is more than just the setting in which the person functions. The focus of each is very different.

The inpatient is much more intense, very often has marked emphasis on medication, intensive counseling, isolation from the daily life routines, and coping with the challenge of every day community living. The inpatient treatment is a prelude to eventual community living, usually with some degree of support.

Assessing an Outpatient Program

The Outpatient Setting and Features to Look for:

  • The meeting place should be clean, neat, and welcoming in keeping with the community and not feel too “expensive”.
  • The meeting area should be private, not combined with something else going on – for instance a big open room where the chess club meets at the other end of the room.
  • The program should be run by people with credentials in place, such as a license or professional training. The programs should reflect that by professionalism.
  • The program should offer short-term, immediately useful guidance coupled with a long-term understanding and vision.
  • Avoid programs that have “a feel of habitual get together because that is what we do.”
  • The program should provide individual assessments and defined goals with defined means of measuring the effectiveness.
  • There should be a means in place to monitor for regression or outright relapse, and a defined methodology to respond to that apart from the usual program format. The expectation should be to deal with the present relapse and not take a soft ‘oops let’s move on with the regular program.’
  • The program should have existing working relationships with the full range of other needed service providers.
  • Emphasis should be placed on existing and working relationships, not just written lists of where the patient can go to inquire on their own means. Examples are: medical community doctors that can prescribe, mental illness doctors, psychologists, specialists in sexual, eating, smoking cessation, physical disabilities and handicaps, employment agencies, and legal advisors.
  • The program should at minimum offer a support mechanism for family members, both to understand the alcohol addiction and treatment, and also a means to seek individual support if there is a need.
  • The program should provide some flexibility in payment for services rendered.
  • The program should accept health insurance coverage.
  • The program should offer budget plans, partial payments, sliding scales, income based and other usual pay options.

A Reality Check

The reality based and factual approach is essential to an effective program. Alcohol can be an addictive substance. Heavy alcohol use and abuse is generally a symptom of something else and not usually a free-standing affliction. There has to be acknowledgment of that factor, although deep probing and revelation is not always necessary or productive. The program should be based upon current situations and conditions, as well as oriented to the days ahead where the patient will be living, not in the past amid real or perceived bad times.

All of these factors should be taken into consideration when looking for effective outpatient alcohol treatment. The outpatient facility and the programs offered are a major factor for successful treatment of substance abuse.


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