Nearly everyone who has been in recovery from a long time has had a relapse, or at least slipped into a relapse mindset. Long before you pick up the bottle or call up old friends for a fix, you’ll notice behavioral changes that show you’re on a course to relapse: you might stop attending meetings, relax your self-care, or sabotage the healthy relationships in your life.
Relapse is a normal and even expected part of recovery from substance abuse disorder. However, there are ways to reduce the risk of relapse and get yourself back on track quickly when you begin to slip. For the chronic relapser, an intensive outpatient program — which offers counseling, support and guidance without a required residential stay — can be an important tool for reducing relapse risk.
Intensive outpatient increases treatment time and improves outcomes
Many people need detox and residential inpatient treatment when they’re first getting sober. Going away to a residential treatment center gives patients the space that they need to confront their addiction, often for the first time. In a residential inpatient program, a person can focus on addressing trauma, mental health issues and substance misuse without worrying about day-to-day obligations like work, paying bills or preparing meals.
While that space is important, it’s not reflective of the life most of us live. In order to craft a sustainable recovery program, people also need experience living in recovery while having more independence. Intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs, fill this gap. Patients in IOPs still have group therapy or clinical care. They usually spend hours each day at their program, but they’re also dealing with obligations like family, work or housing.
When people enter an IOP after doing residential treatment, it is considered a “step down” program, because the IOP has slightly less structure than a residential treatment program. Once people get the foundation of recovery in residential treatment, they can test that foundation in an IOP. Research has shown that spending more time in an IOP after residential treatment can improve outcomes and reduce relapse risk. That’s because an IOP serves as training wheels, allowing you to get comfortable in recovery before riding into the real world with less day-to-day support.
Intensive outpatient for relapse prevention
Unfortunately, it’s extremely common for a person to relapse after they’ve already gone through a residential treatment program. Relapse is most common during the first 12 months of recovery. Oftentimes, people don’t have the financial means to go to another residential program so soon after paying for the first one. In other cases, they need a treatment program that allows them to continue to work or care for their families. Some people don’t want to risk losing their newly-secured housing if they go to a residential program.
IOPs offer a more flexible option that can help people refocus on their recovery without entirely upending their day-to-day lives. This can be an important emotional boost: you don’t need to discard all the progress that you’ve made since getting sober. You can keep your job and house, while also dedicating time to strengthening your recovery.
Importantly, you don’t need to wait until you’ve misused substances to seek help through an IOP. If you feel that you are slipping into a relapse mindset, an IOP can bolster your confidence and help you get ahead of the problem. Enrolling in an IOP is a way of taking control and crafting a proactive, rather than reactive, response to relapse.
Choosing an IOP
When you’re evaluating an IOP, think about how treatment will fit into your life. As their name suggests, IOPs are intense. You’ll have to be willing to carve out large chunks of time to dedicate to the IOP, but many programs will work with you to accommodate your work or childcare schedule.
These questions can help you choose an IOP that meets your needs:
- What do I want to get out of this IOP?
- What tools do I need to prevent relapse?
- What daily living obligations — like work or school — am I unable to compromise on right now?
Be clear about your limits and expectations when you speak with the program. It’s important to remember that although doing an IOP may be an interruption or inconvenience, in the long term it will help you have more time, energy and resources to dedicate to the things that matter most to you. Spending time in treatment today can help you avoid relapse in the future.
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