A young man is frustrated on his back porch. He has a substance use disorder and is interested in IOP for addiction.

IOP for Addiction: How Intensive Outpatient Programs Treat Substance Use Disorders

December 29, 2023

5 min.

Many people with problematic substance use also struggle with mental health conditions. That’s where IOPs come into play. Read on to learn more.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process


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Table of Contents

Problematic substance use and mental health conditions often go hand in hand. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that 19.4 million people met the clinical criteria for having a substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health condition in 2021—amounting to about 8% of the U.S. population. Rates of SUD and mental illness were highest among young adults aged 18 to 25, according to the data. 

Although SUD (also known as addiction or substance abuse) is relatively common and treatable, as are most mental health conditions, people struggling with these co-occurring issues often don’t get treatment. The same SAMHSA study showed that 94% of those 12 and older with SUD did not receive any treatment. Despite this alarming statistic, help is available. One such option is an intensive outpatient program (IOP), which offers more support than once-weekly therapy but not round-the-clock care like an inpatient or residential program.

Below, we delve into what you need to know about IOP for addiction and how Charlie Health’s IOP can help teens and young adults struggling with substance use and mental health issues.

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We treat substance use disorders that co-occur with mental health conditions.

How can an intensive outpatient program help people with addiction?

An IOP for addiction can be a game-changer for those requiring additional support to overcome SUD and co-occurring mental health conditions. IOP provides a structured treatment schedule with multiple hours of individual counseling, group sessions, and family therapy per week. This combination of professional and peer support fosters a supportive and understanding environment to learn and practice coping mechanisms, communication skills, and more to manage addiction and co-occurring mental illness. Many IOPs also offer crisis services to provide people with immediate care when needed. 

Unlike traditional outpatient care, which typically focuses on one kind of therapy, IOP usually combines evidence-based approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and family therapy—all of which can help treat addiction. These therapeutic approaches help people explore the underlying issues contributing to their addiction, develop healthier thought patterns and behaviors, and improve communication with family members. 

However, compared to a more intensive treatment option like inpatient or residential treatment, IOPs are flexible. Specifically, participants can attend sessions while living at home and maintaining work or school commitments. In this way, IOP is an “in-between” care option, giving people in once-weekly therapy more support and allowing those leaving residential or inpatient treatment programs to maintain progress and support as they transition out of 24/7 care. This continuity helps people maintain progress and support as they move through different phases of treatment and plan for managing SUD and mental health after treatment.

What is the process of treating addiction in an intensive outpatient program? 

The process of treating addiction in an IOP typically involves several steps aimed at addressing the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction and mental illness. While specific details may vary across programs, the general process often includes the following components:

Assessment and intake

Before starting IOP, every patient undergoes a thorough assessment to evaluate the severity of their addiction, mental health status, and overall treatment needs. This assessment helps determine the appropriate level of care and tailor the treatment plan to the individual.

Treatment planning

Based on the assessment, a personalized treatment plan is developed. This plan outlines the specific goals, interventions, and modalities that will be used to address the individual’s addiction and related issues.

Therapeutic treatment

As mentioned, IOP treatment combines different kinds of therapeutic approaches. People in IOP usually attend group sessions, individual counseling, and family therapy. These are chances to learn from others, dig into personal challenges, and improve familial communication. Also, some IOPs offer medication management as necessary. This combined approach, which usually lasts for several months, strengthens support and makes the treatment more effective.

Aftercare planning

As people progress through the program, the focus shifts towards aftercare planning. This involves preparing individuals for life after the IOP, including strategies for maintaining recovery, support group involvement, and accessing community resources.

Continued support

After completing the IOP, people may transition to less intensive forms of support, such as outpatient care or support groups, to ensure ongoing recovery maintenance.

Is an intensive outpatient program right for me or a loved one struggling with addiction? 

Here are some questions to consider if you’re thinking about whether an IOP is the right fit for you or a loved one dealing with addiction:

  • Is once-weekly therapy insufficient for addressing the person’s mental health and SUD needs?
  • Or, on the flip side, is the person completing a residential treatment program or inpatient treatment program but needs more support transitioning back to daily life?
  • Does the person need intensive mental health support and a more flexible treatment approach that allows them to maintain daily commitments (work, school, etc.)?
  • Is the home environment stable and supportive, providing a conducive space for recovery?
  • Is the person dealing with addiction and mental health symptoms that take a toll on daily life? 

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, an IOP for addiction might be the right fit for you or a loved one. Basically, if you feel like substance use and mental health symptoms are affecting your ability to manage daily life, it’s a good idea to seek support—and help is available.

What mental health and substance abuse treatment looks like at Charlie Health’s IOP

As mentioned, SUD often occurs alongside other serious mental health issues, which is why it’s important to understand the root of SUD—the kind of work people can do at Charlie Health to achieve long-lasting recovery. Charlie Health’s IOP lets people get intensive treatment for SUD and other mental health conditions without disrupting their daily routines, like school or work. In Charlie Health’s IOP, a typical treatment plan for SUD involves:

  • 1 hour of individual therapy every week
  • 1-2 hours of family therapy every week
  • 3 hours of group therapy sessions per day, held 3 days a week 

Additionally, since Charlie Health offers a virtual IOP, there is an added convenience factor. With the ability to receive addiction treatment remotely, Charlie Health opens doors to comprehensive mental healthcare regardless of location or logistical constraints.

A young woman at home receives mental health and substance abuse treatment at Charlie Health's IOP.

Get mental health and substance abuse treatment at Charlie Health

If substance abuse is impacting your mental health, Charlie Health’s intensive outpatient treatment may help. Charlie Health is a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offering more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people dealing with complex mental health conditions, including substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring conditions. Our expert clinicians craft individualized treatment programs for each patient, many drawing upon past experiences working in intensive outpatient programs and substance or alcohol addiction treatment. Here’s more about how we approach substance and alcohol addiction treatment. If Charlie Health’s intensive outpatient treatment seems like a fit for you or a loved one, fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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