What is the Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Programs?

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As a parent or guardian, when your teen is struggling with their mental health, it can be difficult to determine what level of care they need. Two common types of programs are outpatient and inpatient, but there are key differences between the two. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of outpatient and inpatient care, as well as the key differences between these two types of programs. Understanding the difference can help you make the best decision for your teen’s individual needs.

What is Inpatient Treatment?

Inpatient treatment programs are a great option for teens struggling with addiction or mental health disorders. These residential treatment programs provide around-the-clock care in a safe and structured environment. Inpatient treatment usually lasts for 30 days, but can be extended to 90 days or longer if needed.

Inpatient treatment programs typically include programs that help stabilize teens and allow them to get the treatment they need before discharging the teens back home. These programs often include the following:

Medical Detoxification

Medical detoxification, also known as inpatient detox, is a process necessary when undergoing withdrawal from substances. It is important to have medical supervision when detoxing, as depending on the type of substance being abused, some withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.

Inpatient treatment programs will have medical staff on hand 24/7 to help your teen through the detox process and manage any withdrawal symptoms. They also offer medication that can help with withdrawal, such as buprenorphine for opioid addiction or naltrexone for alcohol addiction.

Group and Individual Therapy

During their inpatient stay, your teen will get treatment for mental health disorders. A mental health professional will usually provide group therapy, where they can share their experiences with other teens going through similar situations. They will also participate in individual therapy, which gives them one-on-one time with a therapist to discuss any personal issues they may be struggling with. A good treatment facility will offer dual diagnosis treatment which can help teens struggling with both.

Family Therapy

Addiction or mental health disorder doesn’t just affect the individual; it affects the whole family. Inpatient treatment programs will offer family therapy, which can help you and your family members understand the addiction or mental health disorder and how to best support your teen during their recovery.

Medication Management

As mentioned earlier, there are many medications that can help teens stabilize from mental health issues and substance abuse. Medications can include:

  • Antipsychotics for teens with schizophrenia or other issues that cause psychosis
  • Mood stabilizers for those with bipolar disorder
  • Antidepressants for those with depression.

It’s important that these medications are managed by mental health professionals, as they can be dangerous if not taken properly. Inpatient treatment programs will have a psychiatrist on staff who can help manage your teen’s medication. Once your teen leaves the program, they will be given a prescription to take home with them so they can manage their medication on their own.

Substance Abuse Education

As many as 2.1 million young people struggle with addiction to alcohol, and that’s not including other substances like drugs, cigarettes, and prescription medication. Inpatient treatment centers will offer substance abuse education to help your teen understand the dangers of addiction and how to avoid it in the future. They will also help get to the root cause of your teen’s addiction and work on coping mechanisms to avoid using in the future.

Relapse Prevention Planning

Sadly, addiction is a chronic disease, which means there is always the risk of relapse. Inpatient treatment programs will help your teen create a relapse prevention plan. This plan will include things like avoiding triggers, having a support system in place, and knowing what to do if they do start to relapse. For many teens that struggle with relapse, inpatient treatment may be necessary again to get them back on track.

Discharge Planning

Inpatient treatment is often considered the most intensive level of care, as it requires teens to live at the facility for the duration of their treatment. However, it is worth the stay to help stabilize your teen.

Once your teen is ready to leave the inpatient treatment program, they will work with a discharge planner. This individual will help create a plan for your teen’s aftercare. This may include things like outpatient therapy, sober living homes, intensive outpatient treatment, and regular outpatient treatment.

What is Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient treatment is a less intensive level of care than inpatient treatment. It allows teens to continue living at home and attending school or work while getting treatment for their addiction or mental health disorder.

Unlike inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment gives teens the freedom to come and go as they please. They will typically have therapy sessions a few times a week and may participate in group therapy or 12-step meetings. There are many types of outpatient care programs, including:

  • Addiction treatment programs such as 12-step programs, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs that last about 8 hours a day and can provide both substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment
  • Outpatient treatment programs that provide treatment from 15 to 30 hours a week or less, depending on the severity of symptoms and the details of the drug abuse and mental health struggles
  • Partial hospitalization programs that are designed to help treat mental health symptoms and addiction issues during the day while allowing teens to return home at night

Outpatient treatment is a good option for teens that have already completed an inpatient treatment program and are looking for continued support. It’s also a good option for teens that can’t take time away from school or work to participate in an inpatient program.

While outpatient treatment is not as intensive as inpatient treatment, it’s still important to find a reputable facility that will offer your teen the care and support they need.

Some of the best outpatient treatment programs will offer the following:

Support Groups

Attending support groups is often a vital part of outpatient treatment. It allows teens to share their experiences with others that are going through similar struggles. These groups provide support and encouragement and can help prevent relapse.

One-on-One Therapy

Outpatient treatment programs will also offer one-on-one therapy sessions. This gives your teen the chance to work on the underlying issues that led to their addiction. It’s important to find a therapist that your teen feels comfortable with so that they can open up and get the most out of their sessions.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is another important part of outpatient treatment. It allows families to learn about addiction and how it affects their loved ones. It also gives families the chance to work on their own struggles with mental health and learn how to best support their teen.

Relapse Prevention

Many teens, as mentioned earlier, struggle with relapse even after completing an inpatient treatment program. Outpatient treatment can help teens that are struggling with sobriety by teaching them how to avoid triggers and create a solid support system.

Find the Right Treatment Program for Your Teen

The most important thing you can do for your teen is to find the right treatment program. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for addiction and mental health disorders. The right treatment program will be one that meets your teen’s unique needs.

If you’re not sure where to start, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. They can help you understand the different types of treatment programs and what would be best for your teen. However, in general below are some things to consider when choosing a program.


If you feel your teen isn’t stable enough to participate in an outpatient program, then an inpatient program may be a better option. Inpatient programs can provide the structure and support that teens need to get through treatment and provide adolescent mental health services. However, if you feel your teen is independent and can stick to their treatment plan, an outpatient treatment program may be a good option.


Cost is always an important factor to consider when choosing a treatment program. Inpatient programs are typically more expensive than outpatient programs since they require 24-hour care. However, there are many ways to finance treatment, so don’t let cost deter you from getting the help your teen needs when learning about different treatment options.

Treatment Goals

It’s important to have a clear understanding of your teen’s treatment goals before choosing a program. What are they hoping to accomplish by getting treatment? Are they looking for sobriety, or do they also need help with their mental health? Once you know what your teen is hoping to achieve, you can better narrow down your options.


Getting your teen to get help is hard enough, and you don’t want to make it harder by choosing a rigid treatment program. If your teen is struggling to commit to treatment, look for a program that offers some flexibility. This way, if they need to step away from treatment for a while, they can without feeling like they’re failing. Intensive outpatient treatment, partial hospitalization programs, and outpatient treatment programs are great, flexible options that are highly effective at treating addiction and mental disorders.

Type of Mental Health Conditions or Addiction

The type of addiction your teen is struggling with will also play a role in the type of treatment they need. For example, if your teen is addicted to drugs, they may need a different type of treatment than someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. It’s important to consult with a professional to get a better understanding of the different types of treatment available.

Take the Time to Explore Your Options

While there are many differences between inpatient and outpatient programs, intensive outpatient program facilities, and partial hospitalization, the most important thing is that your teen gets the help they need. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional if you’re not sure which type of treatment is right for your teen. With the right support, your teen can overcome their addiction and go on to lead a happy and healthy life.

At Clear Behavioral Health, we help those struggling with mental health and addiction live healthy and purposeful lives. From our detox and residential programs for adult men and women, to our outpatient mental health and addiction recovery services for teens and adults, we are proud to offer a clear path to meaningful recovery in the South Bay of Los Angeles, California. Even if we’re not the best fit for you or your loved one, our expert care team is always happy to help make a strong referral. We look forward to helping you develop your plan for recovery today.

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