Choosing Between An Inpatient, Outpatient, or 12-Step Group

March 3, 2021

Individuals searching for a drug and alcohol treatment program may have heard of inpatient/outpatient treatment programs and 12-step groups. 

Although all three methods can be effective treatments for substance abuse issues, not all programs are created equally. Some people may respond better to one program type over another, and this is entirely normal. 

The effectiveness of a program mainly depends on the personal preferences of the individuals receiving treatment. 

There are plenty of 12-step groups and outpatient treatment programs that help people overcome their substance abuse. However, there are certain benefits to enrolling in a reputable inpatient treatment program. 

What Makes Inpatient Drug Rehab Different From Other Treatment Programs?

Generally speaking, inpatient programs are better suited for people who have struggled with substances for at least six months or more. Anyone who has experienced the following will likely do better in an inpatient program: 

  • being addicted to more than one substance
  • prior relapse 
  • an undiagnosed co-occurring mental health disorder 


Inpatient programs are designed to evaluate the individual regularly, which means they are more likely to attend to needs as they change, which can significantly influence a person’s recovery. 

Inpatient rehab is different from an outpatient or a 12-step program in the following ways:

  • detoxification and stabilization are monitored and assistance is given to help with pain
  • medically-supervised withdrawal is offered
  • increased access to resources and advice from professionals on a consistent basis
  • major aftercare planning from the same team, so the transition is smoother


Detox and A New Environment 

Inpatient programs provide a new environment for individuals who have been abusing substances. While 12-step groups are great for meeting other sober people and keeping up with your recovery, they do not remove someone from the environment they started abusing substances in, which can make it difficult for recovery. 

Typically, 12-step programs are more prescriptive than a holistic inpatient program. The general 12-step program treats addiction as a disease, unlike an inpatient program that starts by addressing physical symptoms and then moves on to treating emotional and spiritual wounds as well. 


Medical Supervision for Safe Withdrawal Process 

Stopping substance abuse alone can be difficult and, in some cases, even dangerous. If you are serious about quitting, it is vital to ensure that you do so safely. 

Certain substances such as opioids, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and alcohol can cause withdrawal symptoms that range from mildly uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening. 

Unlike 12-step groups, inpatient programs usually include a detox phase, where the individual comes off of all substances in a controlled and supervised way. 

Withdrawal can be unpleasant, but some medications can help keep people comfortable as they get clean. 

Help Anytime It’s Needed

Additional resources provided through an inpatient treatment program can include 24/7 access to medical professionals and counselors. So anyone who develops withdrawal symptoms rapidly can rest assured that they will be well looked after. 

A great 12-step program can typically provide anecdotes and connection to others who have gone through addiction. But they will not be able to offer the same level of medical support as an inpatient program.

Resources and Continued Support 

Inpatient programs can last between 28, 60, or 90 days. The right length program will be determined by you and an addiction specialist when you enroll in treatment. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also notes that it is crucial to stay in treatment long enough to take effect. 

Outpatient treatment like 12-step groups can be an excellent option for people who have just left an inpatient program, as they connect people with a reliable support system. 

Individuals in an inpatient program will be provided with tools and resources to stay sober even after leaving treatment. Only attending an outpatient or 12-step program will solely be provided these resources and support while attending their weekly group session. 

For individuals just starting treatment, the consistent support provided at an inpatient program may increase their likelihood of a successful recovery. 

Benefits and Limitations of Outpatient Treatment 

There are several levels of outpatient treatment, including: 

  • intensive outpatient 
  • standard outpatient 
  • groups 
  • virtual outpatient (telehealth) 


Each outpatient program has its own structure. Intensive outpatient will be very similar to standard outpatient programs but will generally include longer meetings, more frequent meetings, or more resources during the meeting. 

Group meetings are typically free and can be found in local communities. Although groups are an excellent resource for people to continue to know and interact with other sober people, they won’t provide the same level of support as an outpatient program. 

Finally, with the world in its current state and COVID-19, making it challenging to access group meetings or even addiction treatment, virtual outpatient programs are gaining popularity. 

Telehealth programs are designed to be done entirely online. Because they are relatively new treatment methods, it is difficult to tell if these programs will be as effective as an in-person outpatient program, but it still stands that some treatment is better than none at all. 

Finding the Right Treatment to Fit Your Needs 

There are numerous drug and alcohol treatment programs and at the end of the day, getting any sort of help is better than getting none at all. Depending on the person and their situation, a 12-step group may be all they need to finally get sober. 

While others may require a more firm approach of an inpatient treatment program, individuals should reflect on their situation and ask themselves what will work best for them. 

Did you find this article helpful? If so, like and follow us on Facebook for more information on addiction treatment and substance abuse. 

Related Links:


This page does not provide medical advice
Written by Elevate Addiction Services | © 2021 Elevate Addiction Services | All Rights Reserved

Medically Reviewed by

Alok Krishna, MD

December 9, 2020

Overcome Addiction at Elevate Addiction Services
Elevate is currently offering immediate enrollment in inpatient, outpatient, or telehealth programs. Reach out today to learn more.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Table of Contents

Jump to a Section

Article Contents

Treatment Resources

Related Links