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The Truth About Addiction Treatment

Residential Treatment vs. Outpatient Treatment

Which is more effective?

Since every time you hear about celebrities going to substance abuse treatment it’s always at an extravagant inpatient facility, you may be under the impression that this is the best way (or the only way) to do addiction treatment. But this isn’t the case.


In fact, as Dr. Mark Willenbring, the former director of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) wrote, “Staying overnight together confers no outcomes advantage. What we simply need is a nice bulldozer, so that we could level the entire industry and start from scratch. There’s no such thing as an evidence-based rehab. That’s because no matter what you do, the whole concept of rehab is flawed and unsupported by evidence.”


Research has long shown that, in most cases, outpatient treatment is as effective as inpatient care for alcohol use disorder and other addictions.


“You cannot learn recovery skills in rehab. The work doesn’t start until you get home. People often don’t transfer skills acquired in an isolated setting (e.g. inpatient rehab) back to their daily lives where they are most needed.”


Given the expense of inpatient treatment it makes sense to limit inpatient care to the shortest possible period necessary for medical stabilization. People also do better at recovering from all types of illness when they are surrounded by their loved ones and can sleep in their own beds.


Of course, for people who live with drug dealers and are in a social setting in which they have no friends or relatives who aren’t also drug buddies, a change of locale could well be beneficial. But that doesn’t mean that living in a treatment program that costs thousands of dollars a day for a month or longer is the best way to accomplish this.