Opinion: Intensive Outpatient Therapy

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Intensive Outpatient Therapy: A More Accessible Option for Addiction Treatment

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a widespread problem in Texas, affecting over 11 million people and their families from all walks of life and every age group. Perhaps most troubling, it can start early: over 50% of middle and high school students have used alcohol at some point, with nearly 1 in 3 reporting past-month use. And nearly 1 in 5 have misused prescription drugs.

For a variety of reasons, getting addiction treatment in Texas can be a challenge. Stigma and shame cause many people with SUD to live in the shadows, shunned or withdrawn from friends and family. Untreated mental health issues can cause some to become so consumed by the need for substances to cope, they can’t imagine going a day without them.

Drug laws that criminalize substance use make many fear they’ll be jailed for admitting they have a problem, despite the fact that addiction is a chronic disease, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. Imagine if you could be thrown in jail for having one of those conditions—countless lives would be needlessly lost. But that’s the fear many addicts face—that they’ll be punished for even admitting they have a disease—which keeps them from seeking treatment.

They may also worry they’ll lose their job or custody of their children or experience a whole host of other calamities. Meanwhile, what many don’t realize is that the greatest risk they face is losing their life to an overdose.

To be fair, committing to in-patient treatment is an obstacle for many who have work or family obligations. The ideal length of residential stay is a month-long program, which can be difficult to manage. Although weekend, 5- and 10-day programs are also available, addiction recovery requires continuous management and lifestyle change for long-term success. Just like you wouldn’t expect a diabetic to undergo 30 days of insulin treatment and walk away cured, we shouldn’t expect someone with SUD to be “cured” after a 10- or even a 30-day inpatient stay.

For individuals who can’t commit to in-patient treatment, or for those who need a longer-term engagement after an inpatient stay, a unique program called an Intensive Outpatient Addiction Treatment Program, or IOP, can provide a lifeline to recovery.

IOP allows those suffering from SUD to live at home while attending structured addiction treatment therapy part-time. That means a patient could participate in a short-term inpatient program and continue treatment with IOP, rather than a longer in-patient stay.

In some cases, IOP may be all that’s needed. After an initial inpatient detox at a rehab facility, a treatment specialist will determine whether IOP alone is appropriate based on industry standard criteria, along with the patient’s ability or willingness to stick with IOP treatment, the drug or substance of choice and the risk of dangerous physical withdrawal. For example, someone who uses heroin or fentanyl will likely not be a candidate for IOP because of the deadly risk of the drugs, but some who use cannabis (with no risk of overdose) may be.

Where a typical outpatient program would involve seeing a therapist once a week or even once a month, IOP is a rigorous program of group therapy, psychoeducation, and 12-step peer support meetings three to seven days a week for at least three hours at a time. This frequency and intensity makes it much easier to stay engaged and accountable in treatment. In fact, research shows that the longer the length of treatment, the more likely patients are to stay sober. At least 90 days will give most people the best chance at success and up to 12 months can increase treatment success by up to 80%.

IOP makes that long-term engagement more attainable and practical for many people, thereby increasing their likelihood of success. Because it is delivered as both a daytime and evening program, people can work treatment around their work, school, and other obligations. There are even telehealth options for people who can’t physically get to a treatment facility for their sessions.

For even more support, some IOP programs are accompanied by an alumni program that connects people in active treatment with those who have “graduated” through social networking style apps and alumni networks. In these groups, individuals can find mentors and a community of support, which can be crucial for providing accountability and even referring patients back to the program if they’re struggling or at risk of relapsing.

In addition to making treatment more accessible from a time and discretion perspective, IOP is also much more affordable than in-patient or partial hospitalization programs. And for most people with health insurance, the cost of IOP is covered under their plan.

These unique programs are giving more people not only better access to treatment, but also a tremendous amount of hope for a healthier, brighter future for themselves and their families. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, do not hesitate to reach out to a treatment facility near you. There are a wide variety of programs available to meet virtually every need with safe, compassionate, non-judgmental treatment that can help give you back your life—and perhaps even save it.

Tyler Harrell is the CEO of Greenhouse Treatment Center, an American Addiction Centers facility.

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