Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment: Which Should You Attend?

Individuals who seek treatment for substance abuse problems have varying needs based on their specific circumstances. There are multiple treatment options available to those suffering from the disease of addiction. When the right treatment choice is selected, it gives someone aspiring to sobriety the best possible chance of success. This is why it is important to seek out an addiction rehabilitation facility with different types of treatment programs, as well as the experienced, professional staff that can help each client determine which kind of program will be the best fit.    

At Casa Palmera, we work closely with each individual patient to explain all of our treatment options and the potential benefits each one can offer. By clearly outlining these treatment plans, clients can ensure we will work together to pick the one that meets their needs; it also helps clients know what to expect as they embark on their rehabilitation journey. 

Casa Palmera offers three levels of care, including Residential Inpatient Treatment, Partial Hospitalization with or without board (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). In addition, weekly continuing care is provided for people who successfully complete treatment so that they can have support as they move forward from a structured program and back into their normal routines. Typically the level of care that a person will be admitted to is dependent upon the substance they are using, the frequency of use and consequences of use.

For instance, if a person has been drinking for years and is unable to stop on his own, even for a short period of time, he most likely will require an inpatient or residential level of care. In this case, it is likely that the person will require a period of time to be safely titrated off the substance they are dependent on. This is considered the detoxification stage; because of the potential intensity of withdrawal symptoms, it is always advised that detox occurs during inpatient treatment under strict medical supervision.

The appropriate level of care is determined by specific medical necessity criteria, the pattern of substance misuse or abuse and what happens to the person when they stop using, even for a short period of time. For instance, does someone suffer withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t using drugs or alcohol? If so, this can create an unsafe environment for the person’s health and well being, and it would be best to be in a safe environment with nursing care.

However, not everyone requires the structure of inpatient care, or their lifestyle or schedule would be a better fit for an outpatient program. Also, patients may progress as they build their recovery, starting with inpatient treatment, then segueing to an outpatient program before resuming their normal schedules at work and home. To understand which program will be most suitable, people should understand the details and differences of inpatient vs. outpatient care. 


What Is Inpatient Treatment?


Inpatient treatment is a type of program in which a patient is provided with 24-hour care at a live-in facility. Both psychiatric and physical health assistance are included in this residential treatment. In most cases, patients will stay at inpatient treatment facilities for months at a time. Acceptance into this type of high-maintenance treatment program requires the completion of various assessments prior to program admittance.

Because a patient’s time in inpatient treatment can be prolonged, it is wise to find a residential facility that offers a comfortable and relaxed environment to work on recovery. Casa Palmera is located in beautiful Del Mar, CA, and the residence is situated on lovely, tranquil grounds that provide a sense of peace and security. The 37,000-square-foot building boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center, luxurious accommodations, and amenities such as a meditation garden and a koi pond perfect for self-reflection.

For many people embarking on inpatient treatment, the first step to sobriety is detoxification. A medically supervised, inpatient facility offers a higher level of safety and observation as the patient works through what can be a grueling process. Withdrawal symptoms can vary in intensity, depending on the length of time and amount of substances the person has been using. For someone addicted to alcohol, for instance, the onset of withdrawal symptoms can take place as early as two hours after the last drink and can go on for weeks or months; that can also be true for opiate detoxification. The person may experience some of the following symptoms, including vomiting, mild anxiety, shakiness, seizures, confusion, rapid heartbeat, fever, hallucinations, irregular heartbeats or delirium tremens (DTs). Ideally, once the detoxification is complete, the patient stays at the same residential facility for the rest of the inpatient treatment.

The recommended length of stay at a residential facility is 30 days. Spending a significant period of time in this kind of environment allows patients to learn about life- changing tools that will help them during treatment and recovery. The patient will also receive encouragement and share with others who have experienced similar struggles during support group sessions. Individual, group and family counseling can also be components of inpatient treatment.

Another benefit of inpatient care is that the person is removed from the current living environment that may be influencing their life-threatening behavior. This may include access to the substance of choice, family or friends who may not know how to support the person, as well as events or situations that may trigger the reckless behavior. A residential treatment setting allows the patient to fully focus all their efforts on recovery in a structured, medically supervised environment.

Casa Palmera’s inpatient program provides a 12-Step approach supported by evidence-based, holistic treatment. Also, our individual and group therapy sessions are conducted by master’s-level clinicians. The groups provide an opportunity for patients to process their feelings and learn about tools to help them achieve and maintain sobriety. The patient will gain knowledge about the disease of addiction, identify and cope with triggers and be able to make choices that are focused on healthy living. The emotional support and steadfastness that comes with inpatient care through the clinical staff and the other patients is invaluable.


What is Outpatient Treatment?


Outpatient treatment is a type of care that can be useful for a variety of issues, including eating disorders, drug abuse or addiction to pain medication, to name a few. Outpatient programs can be a lifesaver for people who have family, career or school responsibilities that rule out inpatient treatment. Programs for outpatient treatment vary, depending on the patient’s needs and the facility, but they typically meet a couple of times a week for a few hours at a time.

More intensive types of outpatient treatment may involve both individual and family therapy programs, as well as specialized therapy modalities such as art or music therapy. On the other hand, a simpler form of outpatient treatment might merely mean visiting a therapist who specializes in eating disorders or drug recovery.

At Casa Palmera, the Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) for substance addiction is structured similarly to inpatient treatment but is not as restrictive. The patient may live at home or in a sober living environment during this time. This outpatient treatment is also suitable for those patients who do not meet medical criteria for inpatient treatment. PHP offers more flexibility with daily schedules and operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. When the patient is not participating in outpatient sessions, he must voluntarily abstain from drugs and alcohol. 

Our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is designed for those people who need minimal structure and do not require the medical support that the other levels of care offer. The person enrolled in the IOP program is empowered to live independently, with the support of their family and community. Casa Palmera’s IOP patients have the option of a day or evening program that meets three times a week. The IOP morning program operates Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The evening program operates Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Casa Palmera patients who receive outpatient care still have access to a support network—they are not facing recovery alone. Outpatient care includes support groups, counseling sessions and access to Narcotics Anonymous as well as Alcoholics Anonymous programs. The resources provided through the outpatient program support the patient who is transitioning home with the goal of maintaining long-term sobriety.


What are the Differences Between Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment?


There are some key variables between inpatient vs. outpatient treatment, aside from the obvious one of the locations where the programs are held. One important difference in inpatient treatment when compared to outpatient treatment is the amount of medical attention received by a patient. In inpatient treatment, all patients receive constant medical supervision. Also, detoxification is provided in many inpatient drug treatment centers where a patient can be closely monitored. In the case of someone with an eating disorder, for instance, inpatient treatment through an eating disorder residential program will be more effective in monitoring positive or negative health levels. If the health of a person is declining, the facility staff members can appropriately take care of the person, providing them with medical attention from a local hospital if necessary.

For some people, inpatient care may be more effective because it offers a very structured and defined atmosphere. This type of setting helps a person to forget about the distractions of life and allows them to focus on physical and psychological healing. Inpatient treatment can work well for substance abuse, eating disorders and pain medication abuse, among others. It is also especially helpful for dual-diagnosis treatment. This refers to a specialized plan that addresses patients who have co-occurring disorders, such as alcoholism and depression or drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. In these cases, there is no primary disorder, but they are both closely interrelated with each other, which means a comprehensive care program is called for to treat both disorders equally. Casa Palmera has a great deal of experience in dual-diagnosis treatment.

Unlike inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment may lack certain components; for instance, outpatient care often does not address medical conditions and nutritional needs. Also, with inpatient treatment, everything is provided at one location. Conversely, outpatient treatment is desired by many people because of its flexibility. Adults with children usually cannot afford to attend treatment for months at a time, while other people may not have the insurance to cover their stay. In these situations, outpatient treatment can be a very helpful means of recovery.

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment can be beneficial, depending on each patient’s individual needs. People should consider the following issues when deciding between inpatient vs. outpatient treatment:


  • Affordability. For the most part, outpatient treatment is cheaper in cost than inpatient treatment because housing is not provided and fewer hours of treatment (and often fewer therapy types) are offered.
  • Commitment level. People need to seriously consider if they are ready to put in the extra work required of outpatient treatment. Attending an outpatient program is different from inpatient treatment in that patients are not under constant supervision and still live at home. For those who fear they may give in to the temptation of substance abuse or eating-disordered behavior in the early stages of treatment, inpatient treatment at a rehabilitation center or eating disorder treatment clinic is recommended. Once a firm foundation has been established in recovery, the transition could then be made to outpatient treatment.
  • Support. Inpatient treatment is like a cocoon, safely enveloping patients while they work on their sobriety; however, they must determine if they will have a support network in place once they leave residential care. If support is scarce, look for an inpatient treatment program that can either provide follow-up care or give you resources to other programs that offer this service.  Casa Palmera’s Continuing Care program is integral for alumni who need support in order to avoid a relapse
  • Severity of the disorder. Inpatient treatment may be necessary for chronic conditions, especially those that call for medical attention. 


Programs vary depending on the facility. All of the above programs are offered at Casa Palmera, a holistic treatment center. Addiction—to substances, food, prescription drugs or more— is a disease and requires the knowledge and support of dedicated professionals who can provide treatment in a safe environment. The clinical team at Casa Palmera will recommend a level of care based on the needs of the individual patient. 

Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are proven methods to successfully help a person dealing with addiction. With the proper support, relapse can be more readily avoided, leading to a more promising future. For more information about our programs and levels of care, please visit our website at