Do Outpatient Programs Have Higher Relapse Rates Than Inpatient?

Addiction is considered a chronic, relapsing condition. The rates of relapse for addiction are similar to other recurring diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma. For example, the typical relapse rate for substance use disorders is 40-60%, while the relapse rates for high blood pressure and asthma are 50-70%.[19]

Various studies have compared the relapse rates with both outpatient and inpatient treatment programs. While the results are somewhat mixed, outpatient programs—particularly IOPs and PHPs—appear to be as just as effective as inpatient programs in helping people stay sober.

  • One study found that an outpatient program for alcoholics had a 58% abstinence rate and a 79% improvement rate in patients at a 2-year follow-up.[20]
  • Another study found a 67% abstinence rate for inpatient participants and a 75% abstinence rate for outpatient participants at a 6-month follow-up, and a 60% abstinence rate for inpatient participants and a 68% abstinence rate for outpatient participants at a 1-year follow-up.[21]
  • A study in the mid-90s found that the abstinence rate for problem drinkers at 6 months was 16.3% with no treatment, 41% with Alcoholics Anonymous, 29% with outpatient treatment, and 52% with inpatient treatment.[21]
  • A review of 12 studies and 1 review published between 1995 and 2012 found that IOPs and PHPs produced similar reductions in drug and alcohol use and increases in days abstinent compared to inpatient or residential programs.[5]

A person who has become addicted to drugs or alcohol has to learn how to change certain behaviors that may be deeply ingrained, and this process can take time. They may have to try several forms of treatment or therapy before they find the one that is most effective for them. If they do relapse, that doesn’t mean they have failed; it simply means that they need to re-enter treatment or speak with their treatment team or provider to make adjustments to their rehabilitation plan.[19]

If someone relapses during or after an outpatient program, it may mean they need a higher level of care. For instance, if they were in a standard outpatient program, they may benefit more from additional treatment at an inpatient or intensive outpatient program.