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Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) vs. Outpatient Program (OP): Understanding Your Treatment Options

Addiction is a common problem in the United States affecting nearly 1 in 7 people, but unfortunately, many people avoid getting the help they need.[1] To recover from a substance use disorder, you must receive comprehensive treatment. Drug and alcohol rehab centers can provide you with the support and tools you need to learn how to live a substance-free life.

Once you decide to attend treatment, you have to begin thinking about what type of program you need. There are several different kinds of addiction treatment programs, with outpatient (OP) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) being the most flexible options in terms of scheduling and free time to complete work or responsibilities at home.

Choosing what type of program to attend can be difficult, but knowing the differences between outpatient and intensive outpatient programs can make your decision much easier.

What are Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)?

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are a great option for people who do not want to go through detox or deal with 24-hour supervision.

During an IOP, you will have the freedom to maintain a large portion of your daily routines while receiving the comprehensive treatment you need to recover from addiction. At Next Step Recovery, we offer a 3 or 5-day intensive outpatient program that lasts for 12 weeks. Depending on your personal needs, you will either spend 3 or 5 days per week at the facility for a few hours at a time.

While you are at the facility receiving treatment, you will have access to all of the evidence-based addiction recovery techniques offered in more intensive programs like inpatient treatment. For example, IOPs include various types of behavioral therapies, group counseling, relapse prevention planning, and techniques that help you break negative behavioral patterns.

Lastly, intensive outpatient programs like Next Step provide ample mental health services, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, life-skills workshops, and various support groups.

What are Outpatient Programs (OPs)?

Outpatient programs (OPs) are less intensive than IOPs. These programs provide treatment for individuals who are not at risk of relapse but still would benefit from addiction recovery services. Sometimes, people attend an IOP before they enter an OP, as this would provide them with extra time to build their recovery maintenance skills before they fully transition into independent living.

Next Step Recovery’s outpatient program meets 5 days a week for 4 hours every morning. This provides you with the ability to maintain a career and care for your family members while receiving the addiction treatment you need.

Our outpatient program offers the same services as IOP, but on a less intensive scale. You will still be able to attend a variety of therapeutic practices. The only difference is you will spend less time each day on the treatment services offered.

The benefits of attending our outpatient program include:

  • Having the ability to receive treatment while navigating daily responsibilities
  • Providing flexibility for people who need to be home during the evenings
  • Allows you to save money, as OP is less expensive than its alternatives
  • OP has a heavy focus on relapse prevention skills
  • Learning life skills to stay healthy and manage triggers
  • Receiving continued support to maintain long-term sobriety

Should You Attend Intensive Outpatient (IOP) or Outpatient (OP)?

When you are trying to choose between intensive outpatient and outpatient programs, the first thing you should consider is how severe your substance use disorder is. If you are suffering from a long-term addiction and feel you are at risk of relapsing, you should choose an intensive outpatient program as these provide a higher level of supervision than OP. Additionally, you will have more time to fully immerse yourself in therapy and group counseling.

If you find that you are only suffering from a mild addiction, you might not need the intensity provided at an intensive outpatient program, so an outpatient program might be more appropriate for your needs. While outpatient programs provide the services one needs to recover from addiction, the format of this program is very relaxed.

Lastly, it is important to note that you can always attend both IOP and OP. Many individuals find it beneficial to complete a continuum of care, so they can begin treatment in an intensive outpatient program and then transition into an outpatient program when they’re ready.

The best way to choose between intensive outpatient (IOP) and outpatient (OP) is to consult with an addiction specialist. At Next Step Recovery, our admissions counselors can assess your situation and recommend the best treatment program for you.

Find out if Intensive Outpatient (IOP) or Outpatient Rehab (OP) in North Carolina is Right for You

If you or a loved one suffer from addiction, Next Step Recovery is here to help. With our IOP and OP addiction treatment programs, we can provide you with any level of support you require. Whether you want a little extra supervision and support, or a more hands-off approach to your recovery, we have exactly what you need.

To learn more about our intensive outpatient and outpatient addiction treatment programs in North Carolina, contact Next Step Recovery today.


  1. Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Stigma Reduction, Retrieved March 2023 from

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