What is the Difference Between Residential Inpatient and Day Treatment?

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It used to be that addicts were seen as being bad people, weak of will and of character as well as selfish and self-serving. As a result, addiction was largely criminalized, leading to many addicts being forced into abstinence due to lengthy prison sentences for crime spurred by chemical dependency. Over the years, we’ve come to realize that addiction is, in fact, a disease of the brain. Specifically, the disease of the brain is chronic and progressive, involving continuous relapsing due to the brain’s altered structure and functioning, causing individuals to be obsessively fixated on the seeking and consumption of dangerous chemicals and mind-altering substances.

As we’ve come to see the disease of addiction in such an enlightened and more accurate way, there has been much progress made in terms of the treatment of addiction and substance abuse disorders. Instead of taking punitive measures in dealing with alcohol and drug addicts, addiction recovery has developed as a means of helping these individuals reacquire their sobriety through participation in various therapies and treatments.

In fact, addiction treatment programs—consisting of a number of different therapies and treatments that are clustered into an individualized recovery curriculum—contain treatments that are intended to address the symptoms and effects of alcohol and drug addiction individually, working in accordance with other therapies as a means of providing comprehensive rehabilitation to those suffering from chemical or even behavioral dependency.

While there are numerous types of treatments and therapies available that are designed for use as part of an addiction recovery program, these programs tend to be considered either an inpatient program or an outpatient program. Inpatient programs, which are alternately referred to as residential or residential inpatient programs, are different from outpatient programs such as day treatment in a number of key ways. The following will define each of these treatment types, comparing the efficacy and benefits of each while outlining instances in which individuals might prefer or benefit more from one over the other.

group therapy for drug and alcohol addition

Residential Inpatient Substance Abuse Treatment

When an individual is in active addiction to alcohol or drugs, every single day tends to revolve around substance abuse. When they will be able to consume their drug of choice, how long they’ll be able to go before they will need another dose, how much money they will need to make it through the day. The ongoing struggle of chemical dependency can cost individuals promising employment, time spent with friends or loved ones, savings and financial stability, and so on.

Residential inpatient treatment could be seen as corresponding to the intensity of active addiction. When an addict decides to embark on the journey of recovery by enrolling in a residential inpatient treatment program, he or she will often meet with a program coordinator in order to determine with medically-supervised detox is necessary and which of the rehabilitation facility’s specific treatments best address the patient’s particular needs.

For the duration of residential inpatient treatment, individuals live on-site at the facility while participating in an intensive and highly structured treatment program that consists of daily therapies and intervention strategies. Like most addiction treatments, the therapies used as part of a residential inpatient program are based on the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a form of psychotherapy that is focused on identifying unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior, then working with the patient in order to develop healthier and more productive alternatives.

The addiction treatments of residential inpatient programs include individual and group psychotherapy, group sessions, life skills therapy, skills-building sessions, addiction education, and even holistic and alternative treatments, which include things like massage therapy, meditation, and a number of other offerings that vary from facility to facility.

The duration of residential inpatient treatment is determined on a case-by-case basis and depends upon the length of time an individual has spent in active addiction, his or her drug of choice, and other factors. However, residential inpatient treatment can be a little as a month up to a few months or even a year in some cases. While participating in residential inpatient treatment, individuals are separated from the people, environments, and circumstances that contributed to their ongoing addictions, allowing them to focus their attention and energies on recovery while in the program.

Residential inpatient treatment tends to be most beneficial for individuals who have suffered from addiction for an extended period of time, have had little success with outpatient programs in the past, or otherwise would prefer the reassurance of recovery in a supervised, structured environment with a more intense level of treatment and more individualized care.

Advantages of Intensive Inpatient Treatment

In comparing inpatient rehab to outpatient rehabilitation options, there are advantages to an intensive inpatient program that will increase the likelihood of sustained recovery.  Those advantages include the following:

  • Access to programs and services—since a patient is living in the treatment facility, they have daily access to counseling, therapy, and other interventions as well as around the clock supervision and care by staff.  Unlike outpatient rehab options, inpatient treatment and rehabilitation can offer medical detox services that will stabilize the patient physically and psychologically and provide a diagnosis of any co-occurring disorders that may be at the root of the addiction.
  • Peer interaction—unlike outpatient rehab options, inpatient rehab and treatment can offer the client contact peer interaction and support.  Those to go to inpatient rehab are surrounded by others who are struggling with substance abuse which greatly reduces the feelings of isolation that can perpetuate unhealthy behaviors.
  • Structure—in comparing both intensive inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment, the main advantage of inpatient treatment is the structure it provides clients.  The day-to-day schedule of clients is tightly structured with group, counseling, twelve-step meetings, recreation, and other activities. Structure of this magnitude helps minimize distraction and allows clients to focus on recovery.
  • Duration-in a statistical comparison between inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, those who undergo inpatient treatment of 30 days or longer almost double their chances of long-term sobriety.


group therapy for substance abuse

Day Treatment for Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Day treatment, which is a form of outpatient treatment, differs from residential inpatient treatment in a number of important ways. Day treatment is sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient treatment or partial hospitalization in select rehabilitation centers, but despite being known by different names this form of treatment doesn’t require individuals to live on-site at the treatment center while participating in the program.

When an addict chooses to participate in a day treatment program, he or she will meet with a program coordinator to decide how many days per week and hours per day the individual will participate in treatment as well as which treatments would offer the recovering addict the most benefit.

While there are many similarities between treatments and therapies offered at residential inpatient and outpatient or day treatment facilities, individuals participating in day treatment tend to receive only the most essential treatments that are central to recovery programs; this includes individual psychotherapy, group counseling, skills building, and relapse prevention among few others.

Since day treatment offers more flexibility, it tends to be most beneficial for individuals whose addictions are less severe, who have an inflexible employment schedule or familial obligations that make residential inpatient treatments an impossibility, or whose budget doesn’t allow for the higher expense of residential treatment programs.

If you or someone you love is suffering from a substance abuse disorder and would like to learn more about recovery programs, the Palm Beach Institute is here to help. Our recovery specialists have a proven record of helping countless individuals achieve sobriety by matching them to the addiction treatments and programs they need to overcome chemical dependency. Don’t wait—call today at 855-534-3574 or contact us online so we can help you or your loved one, too.



Staff Writer

The Palm Beach Institute employs a diverse staff of writers that share a common passion for helping those who are struggling with substance abuse find the care they need. With years of experience in the substance abuse treatment industry and decades of experience in writing and research, our team of writers constantly strive to present accurate and helpful information that is easily digestible and encourages people to seek help.

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