Outpatient detoxification (“detox” for short) is an effective and affordable treatment option for some types of substance withdrawal. Outpatient detox at a doctor’s office, clinic, or substance use treatment center can help you or your loved one safely manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
What is Outpatient Detox?
Many substances can cause physical dependence when used for long periods of time. That is, stopping use causes withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, drug cravings, depressed mood, sleep issues, stomach problems, muscle aches, or bone pains.1–3 Detox centers are equipped to manage these and all the other withdrawal symptoms you may go through.2,4 The goal of detox treatment is to keep you as comfortable and safe as possible while you go through withdrawal.1,2
During outpatient detox, you visit a clinic or office setting for treatment at set times and go home at night.1 By contrast, inpatient detox is more time-intensive, as you live at the detox center for the length of treatment. Inpatient detox may also offer a greater level of medical oversight and care.1,5
Detox is only the first step in your treatment journey. It can help you get through withdrawal, but detox alone doesn’t include the behavioral therapy that will help you learn the skills you need to change your patterns of drug use in the long term.6,7 For the best chance at a full recovery, you’ll need to identify and address the underlying causes of your substance use disorder (SUD).7
Factors to keep in mind when choosing a detox program to fit your needs include:1,5
Are you willing and able to follow a treatment plan? With an outpatient program, you’ll be in charge of sticking to your treatment plan outside of treatment sessions. Your care team may not be able to check in on you as often as they would at an inpatient setting. You may also be staying in a setting where you face common triggers (the people, places, and things that make you want to use drugs and alcohol) on a daily basis.
Do you have other mental health issues? Symptoms of mental health disorders can get worse during withdrawal, or new symptoms can appear. Some outpatient programs have staff who are able to support those who have both mental health and SUDs (this is called “co-occurring disorders”). But not every program is the same. If you have co-occurring disorders, talk to your doctor before choosing a program.
Do you belong to any peer support groups? Being an active member at 12-step programs or other similar groups while in an outpatient detox program can offer an added level of support.
What is your living situation? People who have safe, stable living environments are more likely to do well in outpatient detox. If you do not have stable housing, live in a dangerous environment, or stay in a place where you could be exposed to substance use, you may want to consider an inpatient detox program.
Do you have supportive relationships? If your friends and family support your long-term recovery goals, it will be easier to stay on track during outpatient detox.
Do you have any medical problems? If you are pregnant or have certain medical issues (such as heart problems, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or diabetes), you may need a higher level of medical care than outpatient detox offers. Be sure to talk about these conditions with staff when choosing a detox program.
Do you have children? If you have children who rely on you for care, attending an outpatient detox may better fit your schedule since you don’t have to live at a treatment center.
Have you been through detox or a drug treatment program before? Looking back at your treatment history can give you clues about what has and hasn’t worked for you before. If you’ve gone to one setting and stayed substance-free for a period of time, the same setting may work well for you again. If you started using again during or shortly after finishing treatment, a different setting may be a better fit.
If you went through withdrawal in the past, what was it like? If you’ve had severe withdrawal symptoms in the past, such as seizures or delirium tremens, you are more likely to have them again. In this type of situation, inpatient or hospital-based detox is generally advised.
Are you able and willing to travel to your appointments? During outpatient detox, you’ll need reliable transportation to get to your treatment sessions on time. Some outpatient programs may be able to offer help with this.
The Outpatient Detox Process
Outpatient detox programs offer treatment services at scheduled appointments, while you live offsite in your own home.1,5 Outpatient detox can take place in a doctor’s office, hospital, community clinic, or substance use treatment center. 1
In a typical outpatient drug or alcohol detox program, you and your care team make a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. Your care team may consist of nurses, doctors, counselors, and therapists who consider multiple aspects of your health and substance use to create a personalized detox plan for you, taking into account your:1,5
What substances you use and how often you use them.
Depending on which substance you were using, your care team may give you medicines to help reduce cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms.2,5,6 It is important to use these medicines exactly as your doctor tells you, and to tell them about any symptoms you have as some can be life-threatening.1,5 Some medicines your care team may prescribe include:1,2,8
Benzodiazepines (chlordiazepoxide, diazepam, lorazepam) help prevent or manage seizures and other symptoms, especially during withdrawal.
Clonidine helps reduce some of the distressing symptoms of opioid withdrawal, such as rapid heart rate and high blood pressure.
Anti-nausea or anti-diarrheal drugs.
Over-the-counter pain medicines.
How Long Does Outpatient Detox Last?
How long your detox program lasts depends on many factors, including:1,3
Which substance(s) you have been using.
How long you have been using.
How severe your SUD is.
Whether or not you have any co-occurring disorders.
If you’ve gone through withdrawal before, what type of symptoms you had and how bad they were.
For most people, outpatient detox generally lasts for about a week.8 Treatment lasts long enough to manage symptoms for the duration of withdrawal.8 In some cases, such as benzodiazepine or methadone withdrawal, detox may take longer.8
What to Look for When Choosing an Outpatient Program
SUDs can affect all areas of a person’s life. Effective treatment doesn’t stop at detox. A comprehensive (complete) outpatient drug rehab program will also help address the negative ways that substance use has impacted you.2,4 It not only gets you through detox but meets your personal treatment needs. This lets you focus on recovery and prevent relapse, or return to substance use.2 Some things to keep in mind when looking for a comprehensive outpatient treatment program that suits your needs are:2,4,7
Location: You’ll need to arrive at all of your appointments on time. You may want to choose a treatment center near your home or workplace, depending on your transportation needs and access.
Medical and mental health staff: What kind of medical or mental health care does the program offer, and can doctors be reached after hours if your symptoms worsen?
The drug(s) you use: Some programs offer treatment for specific substances. For example, some treatment centers may be better suited for alcohol treatment rather than opioids and vice versa.
The treatments: If you have a co-occurring mental health disorder, you may want to find a center that also offers social support, counseling, and behavioral health therapies so that both conditions can be treated at the same time.
Special populations: Your identity may be largely influenced by your culture, gender, or faith. In this case, looking for a program that offers faith-based services, women- or veteran-only programming, or treatment that is tailored to the LGBT community, may benefit your long-term treatment goals. When you feel comfortable in your treatment program, you are more likely to stay engaged in care and have better treatment outcomes.
Insurance: Cost often plays a role in choosing any type of medical treatment. Many treatment centers take insurance, including private insurance and Medicaid. Call your insurance company to find out what they will and won’t cover.
American Addiction Centers is one of the country’s leading providers of medical detox for all substances. We have detox centers across the nation, so you can access effective treatment near you, no matter where you are or what substance you’ve been using. To learn more about our programs, call our confidential detox helpline 24/7 at 1-888-509-8965 Who Answers? .