By Kate Mills, RECO Intensive

For individuals completing a stay in residential inpatient treatment, the idea of tackling “what’s next” in sobriety can seem overwhelming. After 30 or even 60 days of immersive treatment, the world of those in recovery suddenly opens up, brimming with possibility — and an inundation of choices.

Man in yoga poseDuring inpatient treatment, much of an individual’s experience revolves around a daily schedule of therapies and wellness-related activities. After completing this process, patients have spent a significant amount of time reconnecting with themselves, as well as physically recovering from the effects of active addiction and substance withdrawal.

Upon graduating from residential treatment, the patient must become reacquainted with responsibilities such as attending school or finding employment. When a patient does not pursue aftercare services or outpatient programming, this fragile period of sobriety can often lead to relapse.

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) aims to bridge the gap between residential treatment and independent sober living.1 Often, an intensive outpatient program will be paired with supervised sober housing, allowing the patient to recover in a safe and comfortable environment surrounded by sober support.

Intensive Outpatient Programming

Any major life transition is bound to create doubt within an individual. Leaving an inpatient program and transitioning toward independent living can be most successful when facilitated by a team of professionals at an intensive outpatient program.

A team of primary therapists, case managers and behavioral health technicians work together in an IOP to mirror the structure of a higher level of care, while also introducing renewed commitments and responsibilities into patients’ lives, such as paying rent and finding meaningful employment.

With relapses rates as high as 40 to 60 percent in the first year of sobriety, an IOP aims to provide plentiful therapeutic resources that will further the patient’s journey in recovery that began with detox and continued into inpatient treatment.2

A patient in an IOP will typically attend 4 to 5 days of programming per week, which will include individual therapy sessions, group therapy sessions and special wellness programs such as equine therapy or yoga. All aspects of this model are designed to support the complexities that individuals in early recovery face on a daily, evolving basis — physically, mentally and emotionally.

Meeting the patient’s needs requires a strong commitment, both from the patient and the assigned team of clinicians. Clinicians in this space are specially trained to accommodate the unique issues presented by this stage of recovery, and will assist the patient in transitioning toward independence through job counseling, facilitation of family communication, and continued progress in therapy.3

When a patient settles into a regular schedule of attending IOP, working and attending 12-Step meetings, a renewed commitment to sobriety emerges. This phase of addiction treatment is crucial to the patient, as it reintroduces the individual to the possibilities they have the capability to create — without the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The time spent in an IOP varies from patient to patient, though those who attend programming for a minimum of 30 to 60 days tend to experience the most success. The sober living aspect of the program allows patients to create community and to share in responsibilities with others on a similar path. Maintaining and upholding responsibility is a key aspect of sober living, as it encourages positive associations with self, particularly the renewed perception of self in sobriety.

Finding the Right Balance

Creating balance within one’s life is never easy. No matter what we are facing, life will always require us to make sacrifices in some regard. After completing residential addiction treatment, the individual may struggle to create balance between newfound responsibilities and the continued work involved with staying sober — this struggle is completely normal, and is the reason that programs like IOPs exist.

Upon beginning an IOP, the patient will be assigned a primary therapist to meet with on a weekly basis. The patient’s therapist will cater the patient’s therapy to address specific needs, such as past trauma or family.

Next Steps

Staying connected with an alumni program can make all the difference to an individual in their first year of sobriety. Creating relationships with peers in recovery can serve as a tremendous support to the individual, and can encourage them on the path to long-term wellness.

Alumni programs can even introduce current intensive outpatient program patients to those who have already completed the program and have maintained success. Alumni events can foster camaraderie and can reassure current patients that recovery is possible, and that while everyone’s journey toward success is different, the goal of sobriety is a unifying force.


1 Editors. “Intensive Outpatient.”, July 2016.

2 NIDA. “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.”, July 2014.

3 Dennis McCarty, Ph.D., Lisa Braude, Ph.D., D. Russell Lyman, Ph.D., Richard H. Dougherty, Ph.D., A.M., Allen S. Daniels, Ed.D., Sushmita Shoma Ghose, Ph.D., and Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D. “Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence.”, June 2014.