Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs): What You Should Know

November 28, 2023

5 mins

Jackie Rosu


IOPs balance the medical needs of patients with non-interference in their daily lives. Patients can receive quality care and still sleep in their own bed at night.

Many types of therapies have been developed over the years to assist people in various stages of recovery. From partial hospitalization programs to long-term sober living to outpatient therapy, there are a lot of options. One of the most flexible options is the IOP, or intensive outpatient program.

Instead of requiring a patient to live long-term in a medical facility, intensive outpatient treatment offers flexibility without sacrificing in-depth treatment. Intensive outpatient care balances meeting the medical needs of patients with non-interference in their daily lives. By visiting intensive outpatient facilities, a person can seek quality care and still sleep in their own bed at night.

In this piece, we cover everything you should know about Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) and discuss the types of care they offer.

What is an IOP?

IOPs are structured psychological treatment programs where patients receive in-depth treatment but can live at home when not in therapy. An alternative to inpatient and residential treatment, IOPs treat individuals with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders who do not require medical detoxification or 24-hour supervision.

IOPs are one of the few levels of the continuum of care that also include

  • Outpatient Therapy, where a patient attends sessions approximately once a week
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs, where a patient receives more in-depth therapy five hours a day, five days a week
  • Inpatient Acute Care, where a patient in crisis receives treatment
  • Inpatient Residential, where someone lives for a month or more at an inpatient residential treatment facility and receives care

IOPs are not as time-consuming as partial hospitalization programs but offer more in-depth treatment than standard outpatient programs. As a result, they are a good option for people who want to seek treatment but are prevented from doing so by the demands of daily life. 

IOPs consist of at least 6 hours of treatment per week for adolescents and 9 hours of treatment per week for adults. Treatment hours can be scheduled around work and school, accommodating the patient's needs.

Because the patient does not live in a hospital or residential treatment center, participating in an IOP allows the individual to remain in their home and community. And since the patient did not have to leave their home long-term, they may have an easier time adjusting back to life in their community when they finish treatment.

Although there are worries that IOPs may not be as effective as other models, one study found IOPs to be as effective as inpatient treatment for most individuals seeking care. Plus, IOPs are second in prevalence only to regular outpatient programs for substance use disorders. They can accommodate patients who cannot afford to leave their daily lives to recover while delivering more intense treatment.

IOPs offer a core set of services defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These guidelines are defined as a specific amount of treatment per week, individual, group, family therapy, and education about substance use and mental disorders. 

SAMHSA also recommends service goals for IOPs, including:

  • Learn early-stage relapse management
  • Develop coping strategies
  • Establish a support network
  • Address problems related to a person’s social well-being and mental health

IOPs, therefore, offer high-quality care that accommodates the needs of the patient, both in terms of their substance use or mental health disorder and their daily lives.

“Because IOPs could be scheduled for the mornings or evenings, individuals could still support themselves financially while recovering.”

What is the History of Intensive Outpatient Treatment?

IOPs emerged around the 1980s in order to accommodate workers who wanted to treat their substance use disorders without taking time off from their jobs. Individuals can still work or remain in school while recovering because IOPs could be scheduled for the mornings or evenings. 

Since the 1990s, IOPs have grown and begun to serve those with more diverse needs, such as moderate mental health and substance use disorders, as well as unhoused individuals, adolescents, and people with dual diagnoses.

What Types of IOPs Are There?

In 2011, 6,089 programs in the United States offered IOPs. As IOPs have grown, so too have the types of treatment they offer. Nowadays, IOPs can treat:

  • Substance Use Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Depression and other mental health issues
  • Dual diagnosis, where a patient experiences a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder at the same time

What to Expect from IOPs

Intensive outpatient treatment includes individual counseling, group therapies, psychiatric care, medication management, education about a person’s condition, and complementary therapies such as yoga or art therapy. Treatment also involves 3 to 4 hours per day for 3-5 weeks and can last 4- 6 weeks.

Methods of Treatment

IOPs take multiple approaches to treating their patients. An IOP may guide patients through a 12-Step model, allowing them to become involved in a wider recovery community even after completing their IOP. They might receive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which a therapist would help the patient develop skills for coping with triggers and reframe unhealthy thinking. 

IOPs also offer Motivational Enhancement Therapy, where patients are directed to find the motivation to make positive changes towards treatment. There is also the concept of a  Therapeutic Community, where the IOPs' social organization, staff, patients, and daily activities are all viewed together as a therapeutic agent. Therapeutic Community treatment focuses on helping patients develop social skills and a sense of belonging.

Additionally, some IOPs offer the Matrix Model, originally developed in the 1980s to address widespread cocaine and stimulant uses. This model integrates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 12-Step, Motivational Enhancement, and a multitude of therapy sessions to help a patient recover.  

Finally, there are the Community Reinforcement and Contingency Management approaches, in which a patient is treated based on the theory that future behavior relies on the consequences of past behavior. An IOP will reward positive change and ignore or punish negative behaviors in this approach. 

Is an IOP Right for You?

“If you think you could benefit from an IOP, Never Alone Recovery is a great place to start.”

If you need a detox or 24-hour supervision, you will need inpatient care to have effective, life-saving treatment. IOPs help people who are not in immediate crisis. They are very helpful for people who can verbally express their thoughts and feelings and are comfortable in group therapy sessions. IOPs benefit people with the motivation to participate in the program, work towards recovery, and the ability to apply skills learned in therapy.

IOPs can prevent the need for higher levels of care and decrease the risk of further deterioration in mental health or substance use disorder. They can also help a person transition out of inpatient therapy. 

If you think you could benefit from an IOP, Never Alone Recovery is a great place to start.

Find Your Treatment with Never Alone Recovery

IOPs are in-depth services that offer high-quality care without sacrificing community or daily life. An IOP is a great option for patients who cannot pause their everyday existence to receive treatment. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, Never Alone Recovery offers rehab placement and other recovery services to get you back on your feet.

With recovery consultants to get you in touch with the resources that you need, as well as access to a free online support group, we can help you start you or your loved one’s journey to heal from substance use disorder. Call our toll-free number today to learn more about our free recovery support and how we can assist in the journey.

We're On Medium!

We're sharing the recovery stories of our community members. Be sure to check out Never Alone Recovery on Medium to read those featured stories.



Get Your Free Consultation Now

No matter where you are or what you're going through, send us a secure message and someone from our team will get back to you.

Check Out Our eBook
Surviving Your Loved One's Addiction


$19.95 Value
Inside spread with pullquote