Intensive Outpatient Program - Sunset Shores - Sober Living Homes


To understand what an intensive outpatient program is and how it fits into the addiction recovery process, we first need to understand what the ‘Continuum of Care’ is in the context of substance addiction treatment. Since the 1980’s, the dominant treatment model for addiction has been a 28-day stay in an inpatient facility, possibly followed with a stay in a sober living facility. This was not based on any clinical research and has not been proven to have effective results. 

‘Continuum of care’ is a term that is widely used across the medical industry to describe an ongoing system of care for treating chronic disease, whereby patients are provided with the level of care that they require based on their current status, and are then moved up or down to a more or less intensive level of care as needed. For addiction recovery, the continuum of care functions in the same way, acknowledging that addiction is a chronic disease and providing the right level of care at the right time, no matter how long a patient has been going through treatment.


Early Intervention


Outpatient Services


Intensive Outpatient Program


Residential/Inpatient Treatment


Medically-Managed Inpatient Treatment


Simply put, an intensive outpatient program is a structured program of therapy, counseling, and activities that is designed to offer the efficacy and experience of a residential addiction treatment program without the commitment to living on-site. This means that people with family responsibilities, or people who cannot take the amount of time of work that inpatient rehab would require, can still benefit from intensive addiction treatment therapy.

IOP programs, while structured and intensive, usually offer a level of flexibility when it comes to booking your appointments for individual therapy or counseling. They may even allow you to switch to a different group therapy session time, if possible. Too many people put off addressing their substance addiction because they “don’t have the time” for residential treatment. While we think that your health and wellbeing should always come first, we understand that your career and family are essential too. That’s why we offer an intensive outpatient program that is as flexible as possible.

How long is an IOP?

The duration of intensive outpatient treatment is much like the length of a piece of string. As part of the inherent flexibility of IOPs, they can last anywhere from a few weeks all the way up to a year. Generally, the minimum recommended length of intensive outpatient therapy is 90 days. However, any treatment is better than no treatment. Similarly, walking away from treatment before you feel ready to cope with long term sobriety is never a good idea.

For longer treatment programs that last 90 days or more, you will generally start out with daily sessions for the first few weeks, slowly transitioning into a less frequent schedule until you are only attending a few therapy sessions each week.

Can you detox in IOP?

The short answer to this is no. Detoxing should be the first stage of recovery for addicts dealing with severe substance use issues, particularly those using physically addictive substances like alcohol, heroin, or other opioids. Outpatient programs are not well-suited to dealing with the symptoms of detox, as patients undergoing detox should have constant access to medical care.

Generally, outpatient addiction programs will either require or advise that patients undergo detox before they begin IOP treatment, particularly if they are heavily addicted and attempting to quit without detox could pose a health risk. At Sunset Shores, we are partnered with nearby residential rehab and detox facilities that we can refer you to if you need to complete a detox program before starting treatment with us.

IOP vs. Residential Treatment

The main thing that distinguishes intensive outpatient therapy programs from the majority of other drug and alcohol rehabilitation options is the fact that you will not be staying at a facility full-time. Naturally, there are both pros and cons to residential or outpatient treatment. Let’s take a look at some of the key advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

IOP Advantages
  • Outpatient treatment offers flexible scheduling options for therapy sessions so you can fit them around your responsibilities.
  • For parents that cannot afford to take a month away from their children, outpatient programs offer the best chance of success while being able to remain at home.
  • If you are not able to take the time off work for residential treatment, or cannot afford to, then intensive outpatient programs will allow you to work while you recover.
  • IOPs are generally significantly less expensive than residential treatment, often offering the best level of care that some people can afford.
IOP Disadvantages
  • By continuing your normal life while attending the program, you risk being exposed to the same stressors and triggers that caused you to use in the first place.
  • Without the restrictions of inpatient rehab, you may still have access to the substances that you have a problem with.
  • Your access to therapists and counselors is more limited in outpatient programs and must be scheduled in advance. 
  • You will not benefit from the same level of community support and extra activities that are available in inpatient programs.
Residential Advantages
  • Most residential treatment programs will offer detox facilities, so if you are in need of detoxing then residential treatment may be a better option. 
  • By staying at a residential facility, you will be completely removing the chance of using drugs or alcohol during the crucial early stages of your recovery. 
  • In residential treatment, you will be surrounded by other people going through the same thing as you, providing a sense of community.
  • You will have 24/7 access to trained addiction professionals during your stay at a residential facility.
Residential Disadvantages
  • For the safety of everyone in the facility, you are not free to leave residential treatment outside very specific circumstances. 
  • You will not be able to bring your child with you into a rehab facility, so you will need to have a partner or someone else look after your children if you have any. 
  • Many jobs will allow for leave to deal with addiction issues, but it will likely be unpaid and for some people, it will not be an option. 
  • Not all insurers will cover inpatient treatment fully but will cover an intensive outpatient treatment program.

The Goals of Outpatient Therapy

As with any treatment program, it is important to know what the goals are of the program before you enter into it. You may be thinking that the goal of any addiction treatment is obvious: to overcome addiction. However, it is not that straightforward. Addiction is a chronic disease, so the goal is not to “overcome” it, but rather to learn how to manage it on a day-to-day basis. With this in mind, the goals of intensive outpatient therapy are varied and designed to work together to provide you with a toolset to take with you on your sobriety journey.

Commit to a Plan

By making the decision to enter into an outpatient addiction treatment program, you have already made the most crucial step in your recovery journey. The next step is to define a clear plan of action and commit to it. This is particularly crucial in IOPs, where you will be exposed to triggers and have access to substances while not in sessions. Getting through treatment while maintaining your normal life to some extent will absolutely require you and your counselors to have very clear rules and guidelines, and a timeline that you can commit yourself to.

Learning Coping Skills

One of the most common reasons for recovering addicts to relapse is stress or emotional triggers. After a successful treatment program, they find the return to normal life to be too much and fall back into old habits. That is why learning coping skills is one of the most important goals of intensive outpatient therapy. Your therapist and counselors will teach you how to manage the stressors of your life while you are in treatment, and equip you with coping techniques that you can continue to apply throughout your life after treatment.

Establishing Goals

While it may seem redundant to have one of your goals going into an intensive outpatient program be ‘establishing goals’, it is actually a vital aspect of recovery. The road ahead in sobriety can feel murky and daunting when you do not have clear goals in place. Addiction recovery is not just about quitting using drugs or alcohol. It’s about rebuilding your life. Outpatient counselors and therapists will make it a priority to identify goals, both small and big, that you can set for yourself and achieve during treatment and beyond.

Creating Good Habits

Replacing bad habits with good ones is a highly effective method for addressing the habitual aspect of addiction. Through counseling sessions, you will be encouraged to explore your interests and find new ways to fill your time and occupy your mind in a healthy way. While you will not be provided with access to new activities in the same way as residential treatment, your therapists and counselors will certainly encourage building new habits and will work closely with you to support that process.

What to Expect in an IOP

So far, we’ve covered what makes an IOP different from an inpatient program and what the differences are between them. However, we find that our prospective patients often want to know exactly what they can expect to experience in our intensive outpatient treatment program and what level of care they will have access to. 

At its core, an IOP is designed to provide all of the care and treatment that a residential rehab program provides while affording the flexibility to schedule your treatment around your life. Naturally, some of the 24/7 care and other aspects of residential treatment can’t translate into outpatient programs, but IOPs still provide a highly-structured and effective level of addiction treatment. Here are some of the core elements of a good intensive outpatient program:

Group Therapy

Just because you are not living in a treatment facility, it doesn’t mean that you will not have an opportunity to find support from others that are going through what you are. Group counseling sessions will be an integral part of your IOP experience. In group sessions, you will be encouraged to share your experiences with one another and grow and learn together.

Individual Counseling

Naturally, the cornerstone of your treatment will be regular one-to-one counseling and therapy sessions, generally with the same counselor or therapist. This will be where you define your sobriety goals, create a treatment plan, discuss your progress, and work through any difficulties that you’ve encountered. Individual sessions are also where you will learn the majority of your coping skills.

Support Groups

One of the best resources for lasting sobriety is support groups. 12-step programs and other addiction support groups and programs are pivotal to lasting sobriety. During your intensive outpatient therapy program, you will be introduced to support groups in the area and encouraged to attend regular meetings and find a sponsor to guide you through your treatment process and beyond.

Complementary Therapies

Some intensive outpatient programs also offer other types of therapy that are not directly related to addiction treatment, but which can help to deal with underlying emotional issues and perhaps even turn into a healthy new habit. These may include things like art therapy, music therapy, equine therapy, and many more.

Will my Insurance Cover an IOP?

Because you are not covering the costs of housing and food when you are in an intensive outpatient program, it is much less expensive than residential treatment. However, many people who desperately need addiction treatment are still worried about the costs of an IOP. One of the most common questions we get is: “will my insurance cover an intensive outpatient treatment program?” Thankfully, the answer is most commonly yes, at least to some extent. 

As long as you can establish that intervention in your addiction is medically necessary (which it almost always is), then both private and public insurance will generally provide coverage for outpatient programs. In fact, they are more likely to cover outpatient addiction treatment than inpatient, because of the lower costs. However, it is important to always get in touch with the staff of a facility and/or your insurance provider to get a clear picture of your coverage before committing to the program.