For individuals suffering from severe substance use disorders, a wide variety of outpatient treatment programs exist to meet their needs, considering different levels of addiction. These programs include partial hospitalization programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP), outpatient programs, day treatment and aftercare programs.
Among these, intensive outpatient programs offer one of the highest levels of care. Like other forms of outpatient addiction treatment, these programs are flexible and allow people to continue to live their lives in the outside world, while receiving treatment for their addictions.
These programs are therefore beneficial for people who want to receive the highest level of care while working to rebuild their lives.
What is an Intensive Outpatient Program?
Often known simply as IOPs, are a type of treatment program offered by addiction treatment centers and addiction resource centers. These programs, which offer a multitude of treatment resources and a high level of structure, are flexible because they do not require individuals to physically live in a treatment facility. They generally offer treatment services for much of the day, most or every day of the week.
Individuals enrolled in IOPs can expect to make rapid strides in their alcohol or drug addiction recovery due to the rigorous nature of the treatment, but they also have the ability to retain their autonomy and their commitments in the outside world.
For this reason, intensive outpatient programs are often recommended as a way to help people make the transition from acute treatment to life in the outside world. They are also effective as a first line treatment for addiction.
Group therapy is an essential aspect of addiction treatment at most IOPs. A large body of research has shown that group therapy is just as effective as individual therapy, and it has particular benefits for treating addiction. Individuals who take part in group therapy sessions have opportunities to improve their communication skills and build connections with other people who are also working to recover from addictions.
Group therapy reinforces mindfulness and healthy ways of interacting. It does so in a safe and supportive environment, allowing participants to learn from the experiences and perspectives of other people. Individuals who are newer to recovery often benefit in particular from the experiences of those who have been sober longer.
Group therapy thereby fulfills three functions: it helps people learn new sober skills, helps people better understand themselves, and fosters vital sober social support systems.
Intensive outpatient programs generally offer a wide variety of different group therapy meetings, each with a different purpose. Types of group therapy offered at IOPs include:
Psychoeducational Group Therapy
This type of group therapy is by far the most common. It involves a clinician leading a group to help them better understand the condition they all suffer from. By learning more about addiction, physical dependence, and the causes of addiction, individuals can develop a new set of tools for dealing with the challenges and problems that occur in early recovery.
Participants also learn to rethink unhealthy beliefs, such as the belief that addiction is caused due to lack of willpower.
Family Group Therapy
Family groups provide opportunities to IOP clients to heal or develop relationships with family members.
Improving relationships with family members is a crucial aspect of addiction treatment, since many people are driven to substance abuse in the first place due to dysfunctional family relationships.
Skills Training Groups
At skills training groups, IOP clients can work on and practice their new coping strategies in a safe, trigger-free, and supportive setting. Skills training groups often also cover pragmatic life skills, such as how to behave in a job interview.
Relapse Prevention Groups
Relapse prevention groups are designed to help IOP clients recognize their own personal triggers. By identifying these triggers, they can begin to develop alternative ways of responding, rather than reacting automatically by reaching for drugs or alcohol. For many, preventing relapse is simply a matter of developing an awareness of these high-risk situations and learning to manage them.
Individual therapy is another essential aspect of addiction treatment. Individual therapy allows people to reflect on and come to a better understanding of the underlying issues that lie behind their substance use disorders. Many people turn to drug or alcohol abuse because they suffer from undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions like depression, ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder or a personality disorder.
Therapists can help people learn to cope with these conditions and reduce their severity. When people get relief from their mental illnesses through mental health treatment, they cease to need drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for their emotional distress. For many people, the individual therapy they receive at an IOP represents the first relief they’ve ever gotten for their underlying mental health conditions.
Individual therapy can also be an effective tool for directly dealing with drug and alcohol addictions. Treatment modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT) are based on the idea that a person’s thinking patterns directly influence their emotions and behavior.
By helping people develop alternative ways of thinking and responding to cravings, clinicians can help relieve clients of their obsession with drugs and alcohol. They also provide essential emotional support while clients are encountering the inevitable challenges and difficulties of early sobriety.
12-Step Programs and Support Groups
The vast majority of intensive outpatient programs recommend, encourage, or require that clients attend support group meetings. The most common and research-backed type of support group are 12-step programs. 12-step programs include meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, among countless others. These programs are designed to give people opportunities to connect with a larger community of people in recovery.
Members work to eliminate their obsession with substances by actively helping each other. At 12-step meetings, and even secular meetings like SMART Recovery, individuals in early recovery as well as those with many years of sobriety can continuously benefit from other members’ experience, strength, and hope. 12-step programs are available throughout every city around the world, and in Los Angeles there are hundreds of meetings at all hours of the day throughout the city. There is no charge for meeting attendance.
It is common for intensive outpatient programs to offer complementary therapies as well. CAM stands for “complementary and alternative medicine.” This umbrella term refers to a wide range of treatment practices that is designed not to replace, but to supplement traditional addiction treatment methods.
Examples of CAM therapy include music therapy, yoga, art therapy, meditation, and even pet therapy. These practices can help improve people’s peace of mind, sense of connection to the world, and help them rediscover the joy of living without the crutch of psychoactive substances.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an addiction treatment modality that involves a combination of behavioral therapies, some of which are listed above, alongside prescription medication. Individuals who are detoxing from alcohol and drugs often suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms, which can complicate the recovery process. These symptoms can trigger people to relapse and, in the case of benzodiazepine and alcohol withdrawal, be life-threatening.
Prescription drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone (for opioid withdrawal) or acamprosate and naltrexone (for alcohol withdrawal) can help people get off dangerous recreational drugs. These medications reduce painful withdrawal symptoms and mitigate cravings.
During medication-assisted treatment at an IOP, clients engage in behavioral therapies in order to develop the skills and coping tools they need to stay sober. When appropriate, a physician can supervise their withdrawal from their medications. This withdrawal involves a gradual tapering process that is designed to be as smooth as possible.
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