Long Term Alcohol Treatment vs. Outpatient Treatment

Alcohol abuse is a major health problem in the United States. Statistics show that about 17 million adults had an alcohol use disorder in 2012, and most who needed long term alcohol treatment didn’t receive it. Only 1.4 million adults with alcohol abuse issues obtained care at a specialized treatment facility.1 When you’re seeking help for a drinking problem, two choices are inpatient long term alcohol treatment or outpatient treatment.2

Long Term Alcohol Treatment at a Residential Treatment Center

People with a heavy or long term drinking problem usually require long term alcohol treatment in an inpatient treatment center. Once an assessment has been completed, the first step in treatment is to enter detox. A medically supervised detox helps safely break the body’s dependency on alcohol. Not all treatment facilities offer detox services.

Detox addresses the body, but the true therapeutic work occurs in the mind. Once detox is completed, the next step is counseling and therapy that are provided in a supervised environment. The fully monitored environment of inpatient treatment allows patients to participate in therapy without access to alcohol or exposure to environmental triggers.

A stay at a long term alcohol treatment center will vary in length depending on the person. Some people need a few weeks, where others may need several months of inpatient rehab.

Once a person has completed inpatient treatment, an aftercare plan is put into place to offer ongoing support. Sober living homes, group meetings, individual counseling sessions and prescription medications may be part of an aftercare program.

Outpatient Treatment

Patients typically attend outpatient services after inpatient treatment. Others enter outpatient rehab at first, if their home environment is relatively stable and they’re highly motivated to recover.

Outpatient treatment isn’t recommended for people who are highly likely to relapse. Heavy, prolonged alcohol abuse and frequent relapses calls for the level of supervision and support found at an inpatient rehab.

Outpatient treatment is less restrictive and more loosely structured. People attend therapies and counseling around their own schedules. This flexibility allows participants to meet work, school and family obligations, while still getting the treatment they need.


If you’re unsure which options are best for your particular situation, an assessment can help. During an assessment, a complete substance abuse, medical and psychiatric history is taken. An assessment determines the appropriate level of care and provides recommendations for treatment.


  1. https://niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
  2. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/treatment/treatment.htm#chapter02