Your Recovery Begins at American Addiction Centers
Home » Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Detox Guide » Pros and Cons of Outpatient Detox

Pros and Cons of Outpatient Detox

Ready to make a change?
Check to see if your insurance covers treatment at an American Addiction Centers facility.
Verify Insurance Benefits

If you are ready to enroll in a formal withdrawal treatment program, you’ll need to choose between an outpatient and inpatient detox program, each of which has distinct advantages and disadvantages. What program is right for you depends on your needs, but both can be effective in managing withdrawal and helping achieve stabilization. Taking an in-depth look at the pros and cons of outpatient detox will help you decide whether or not this detox setting is appropriate for you.

What is an Outpatient Program?

Getting assessed before choosing a treatment approach.The goal of any detox program is to help a person safely stop using drugs or alcohol and move forward with their recovery. Professional detox aims to manage drug withdrawal symptoms and achieve a stable, drug-free state. It often serves as the first point of contact with substance abuse treatment for those struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

There are many different types of drug detox programs available. The two main detox settings include inpatient and outpatient facilities.1 An outpatient detox program can occur in a variety of locations, such as a doctor’s office, a freestanding detox center, or as part of a substance abuse treatment program. There are also different levels of outpatient detox treatment that vary based on the intensity of the addiction. Patients who are enrolled in an outpatient detox program are expected to attend regularly scheduled treatment sessions, either during the daytime or evening hours depending on their schedule and that specific program. Meetings may range from 15 minutes to two hours during outpatient detox. If the withdrawal treatment program is combined with a day hospital program, then the detox sessions may take up many hours of an individual’s day.1 Regardless of the intensity of the outpatient program, the person still resides at home and can usually carry out their everyday activities with little to no disruptions.

Depending on the addicted substance, mental health, physical health, and the individual’s physiology, outpatient detox can range from 3 to 14 days in duration, sometimes longer if necessary.1

Once the individual has achieved a drug-free, medically stable state, they are advised to enroll in a rehab program where they will receive ongoing treatment in the form of therapy and in some cases, medication, to help you maintain sobriety. This is because the purpose of a detox program, regardless of setting, is to safely help someone withdraw. It does not rectify the behavioral, social, and psychological issues associated with substance abuse and addiction.2

Now that you are aware of the different types of outpatient detox programs, we’ll look at the advantages of outpatient detox compared to inpatient detox programs.

What are the Advantages?

Is outpatient detox right for you?Outpatient detox is an effective intervention for mitigating the distressing withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting substance abuse. There are many advantages to outpatient detox, including:1

  • It is as effective and safe as inpatient treatment for those whose withdrawal symptoms are mild.
  • It is much less expensive than inpatient treatment.
  • It doesn’t require you to live at the facility.
  • It is far less disruptive to daily life.
  • It allows you continue attending work or school.
  • It makes it easier to maintain family and friend relationships while participating in outpatient detox.

However, despite there being many advantages to outpatient detox treatment, it is not right for everyone. There are some disadvantages you may want to consider.

What Disadvantages are There?

If you are thinking about outpatient detox treatment, it is also important to think about some potential cons of this type of detox program. Depending on your situation, a few drawbacks of outpatient detox could include:1

  • An increased risk of relapse, as drugs and alcohol are more easily accessed by the patient.
  • Lower completion rates, as it may be easier to skip appointments and therapies. Research has found that more people in outpatient treatment drop out than those in inpatient.
  • Potential safety concerns, as people that are at risk of experiencing life-threatening withdrawal symptoms or serious medical issues might not have those issues effectively managed.
  • You must travel to the facility. This can be hard if you don’t have reliable transportation. However, some insurance companies provide transportation to medical appointments.

Having considered the advantages and disadvantages of outpatient detox, you can now learn more about how to determine the appropriate level of care for your needs.

How to Determine the Right Option

Getting assessed before choosing a detox program.The first step in determining the right detox for you is to visit your doctor. They will conduct a biomedical and psychosocial screening and assessment. Your doctor might also refer you to an addiction specialist for an additional medical evaluation.2

Some of the biomedical assessments your doctor might perform include:2

  • General medical history.
  • Neurological exam.
  • Mental status exam.
  • Vital signs.
  • Toxicology or urine drug screen.
  • An inventory of all current substance abuse.
  • Substance abuse treatment history.

After the biomedical screening, your doctor will likely want to assess your psychosocial functioning. This helps the doctor determine how much support you have and what additional support you might need during treatment. Sometimes this exam is conducted by a trained substance abuse professional.

Some of the psychosocial factors that your doctor might ask about include:2

  • Demographic factors, i.e. age, gender.
  • Your living situation.
  • Your family situation.
  • Transportation.
  • Finances and insurance.
  • Suicide and violence risk.
  • Depression.
  • Disabilities.
  • Legal status.

How treatment tailored to your needs ensures your recovery.The above assessments will be used to help determine what type of treatment is right for you. For instance, if you have strong social support at home and will likely have only mild withdrawal symptoms, then an outpatient detox program might be recommended. On the other hand, if you have a history of suicidal ideation, a co-occurring medical condition, or a lack of social support, then your doctor might recommend inpatient detox. The particular program recommended for you should be explicitly based on your individual needs.2

While it might seem like there are a lot of things to consider when it comes to choosing a detox program, your doctor can help make the decision easy. So don’t wait to get help. Reach out to a trusted medical professional today.


  1. Hayashida, Motoi, M.D., Sc.D. (2016). An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification. Alcohol Healthy & Research World. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 44–46.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006) Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. Rockville: Maryland.

You Only Get One Body

Get Clean & Sober With Detox