Intensive Outpatient Program: What to Expect?

Outpatient programs may come in two forms: “intensive” or “traditional.” Intensive outpatient programs are those that meet three or more times weekly, and traditional outpatient programs meet one or two times weekly.

Do “intensive” outpatient programs perform better than “traditional” outpatient program? To answer this question, a group of researchers summarized the main areas of improvement expectations, and compared six-month treatment outcomes of 338 patients from “intensive” outpatient programs with 580 patients from “traditional” outpatient programs.

The four areas of expected improvements include:

  1. Reduction of alcohol and drug use. This is the foremost goal of all substance abuse treatment.
  2. Improved medical and psychiatric health of substance abusing patients.
  3. Improved social function.
  4. Reduction in public safety threats, which come from behaviors that spread infectious diseases and from the commission of personal and property crimes.

At their admissions, patients admitted to intensive outpatient programs had generally more severe substance use and related social and health problems than patients admitted to traditional outpatient programs, and researchers found that both groups made significant improvements by the six-month follow-up.

Both groups showed significant reductions in the severity of their drug problem, due primarily to reductions in the frequency of stimulant (cocaine) use. In addition, both groups showed reductions in the frequency of any alcohol use and in the frequency of alcohol to the point of intoxication (three drinks or more per sitting).

With regard to personal health, again both groups showed some significant improvements, especially in the psychiatric area. The intensive outpatient patients showed significant additional improvements in their medical status. 

The traditional outpatient patients exhibited significant improvement in their employment earnings, while the intensive outpatient patients showed significant improvements in the family composite score and in the days of reported family problems.

The data on public safety indicated that while there was indication of positive change in both groups from admission to follow-up, only the variable of crime days per month showed statistically significant improvement, and only in the intensive outpatient group.


Source consulted:

A. Thomas McLellan PhD , Teresa Ann Hagan PhD , Kathleen Meyers MS , Mary Randall MS & Jack Durell MD (1997) “Intensive” Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment, Journal of Addictive Diseases, 16:2, 57-84, DOI: 10.1300/J069v16n02_05.

GenPsych PC offers a variety of mental health and substance abuse programs in New Jersey since 2005. Visit GenPsych program page to learn more.

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