What is an IOP program?

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Cummings, N.A. Inpatient versus outpatient treatment of substance abuse: Recent developments in the controversy. Contemp Fam Ther 13, 507–520 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00890501

Katherine E. Watkins, Sarah B. Hunter, Suzanne L. Wenzel, Wenli Tu, Susan M. Paddock, Anne Griffin & Patricia Ebener (2004) Prevalence and Characteristics of Clients with Co‐Occurring Disorders in Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 30:4, 749-764, DOI: 10.1081/ADA-200037538

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IOP stands for Intensive Outpatient Program and is used to treat mental health issues, including drugs or alcohol addictions. 

Unlike going away to inpatient rehab, IOP patients live at home. They come to the clinic 3-4 days a week for group and individual therapies.

Category: Treatment for Addiction

Table of Contents

How do IOPs Work?

You live at home or in a sober living house and come into a clinic three times a week for group therapy, as well as one-on-one therapy appointments.

Group Therapy

Group therapy sessions typically last three hours, three days of the week (for example, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). Many IOPs (like Symetria) offer morning and evening sessions to accommodate work schedules, along with virtual options.

One-On-One Therapy

You also come to the clinic to meet one-on-one with your therapist. MostIOPs that accept insurance limit private therapy sessions to just once per month. (At Symetria, you can meet privately with your therapist as often as you want).

Additional IOP Services

IOP programs usually only offer group and individual therapy. But, at Symetria and a few other clinics across the country, you can also get options to tackle related mental health issues and even layer in addiction medicines.

Psychiatrist Appointments

Around 75% of patients have an underlying mental health diagnosis. Finding an IOP or even a separate psychiatrist that works with you to rebalance your brain with medications like antidepressants, antianxieties or sleep regulators dramatically improves the likelihood of staying healthy long-term.


In addition to mental health medications, anti-craving medications (like non-addictive Vivitrol shots) can be game-changing in the fight against cravings. Medications like buprenorphine (Suboxone) can be given for opioid addictions to detox at home without crippling withdrawals and without needing a hospital or inpatient stay. 

Most IOPs aren’t licensed to provide medications. They often don’t have a doctor or psychiatrist at all. Since addiction makes physical changes to the brain and causes severe, even deadly withdrawal symptoms, ask questions about how this is handled. Likely, they refer you to a hospital.

What is an intensive outpatient program like?

IOP groups cover a different topic each session. This can include things like relationships, motivation or goal setting.

For example, a relapse prevention session may have you journal and discuss what led to relapses in the past, what triggers you and how you can better cope in the future. The therapist will teach you how to recognize early signals that happen well before an actual relapse, like changes in your routine or skipping medication. And, you may write up a concrete plan on what to do, like reaching out to a specific sponsor or sober friend.

You get honest feedback not just from the therapist, but from peers that are dealing with or have dealt with the same situations.

Actual Photos of Symetria IOP Group Therapy Rooms

How long is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

On average, IOP lasts 6-8 weeks. Each patient should continue until they meet their therapy goals and are confident in their ability to stay on track.

Do I have to commit to staying in the IOP program?

You never “have” to go to or stay in a treatment program. Take it one day at a time and just keep showing up. If you start to feel antsy to stop IOP, be honest with yourself on where that feeling is coming from. It’s never in your best interest to end treatment early without a plan.

How often is IOP?

IOP groups meet three days per week for three hours per session. (This is specifically defined by insurance companies, so it’s pretty standard). 

You might also go in for one-on-one or medication appointments, but these appointments vary per program. (At Symetria, these appointments are as often as you want).

How often can I see my counselor in IOP?

It’s recommended to see your counselor at least once per month and as frequent as once per week. Often, but not always, counseling appointments are standardized by the IOP program, usually once a month. 

(At Symetria, you come as often as you need for one-on-one counseling. For example, if you are dealing with trauma that is hard to talk about in a group setting, you may want to come more often for private counseling).

Do IOP programs drug test?

Yes, IOP programs drug test.

Here’s why: 

How is IOP different from rehab?

We’re biased in favor of IOP because the data supports it. Here’s why.

IOP allows you to continue your life.

You don’t have to worry about missing out or figuring out what to do with kids, pets, work or other obligations while you’re away at rehab with limited contact to the outside world.

IOP helps you in real-time.

In rehab, you’re sheltered from triggers and bad influences with limited to no support when you leave and these things come up. With IOP, you implement what you learn right away and can see if the strategy is going to work for you. That’s why outpatient rehab is just as effective as “going away.”

IOP gives you 2-4 weeks more support.

Rehab is typically around 4 weeks, while IOP is 6-8 weeks. Most relapses occur in the first 8 weeks. Generally, the longer you stay sober, the easier it gets.

On the other side, inpatient rehabs argue that the possibility of encountering drugs is higher and that medications or detox isn’t part of most IOPs. Of course, some IOPs do offer these services (like Symetria). And, IOP is much more affordable. 

Who goes to an IOP program?

IOP programs are for anyone struggling with drugs or alcohol that can’t “just stop” but really want to.
In the IOP group there are people that consider themselves “normal” and people that feel like they’ve never really fit in. There are people in their 20s and people in their 50s. Even when you don’t relate to their upbringing, their current life or their trauma, there is still always something you have in common.

How many people will be in the IOP group?

The number of people in an IOP group depends on the IOP program and state guidelines. In Texas, for example, group sessions need to be less than 16 people, and less than 35 for educational lectures. (Generally, Symetria IOP groups are kept under 12 to keep a better feel and ensure everyone gets attention). 

Of course, the number is never static. Patients graduate. New patients join. Active patients may miss a session.

What if I don’t feel comfortable discussing things in a group?

Most people don’t love the idea of group therapy. Try it anyway. It’s actually comforting to know you’re not alone. And, it helps you take the therapist’s suggestions more seriously when others can back it up with their life lessons. 

Remember, addiction thrives in isolation. And, you don’t have to share anything you’re not comfortable with. (That’s what one-on-one sessions are for).

How can I find a good IOP program?

Here are some signs you can look for:

If you happen to live in Illinois or Texas, Symetria Recovery operates 12 clinics in the Chicago, Houston and Fort Worth areas.

Still Have Questions?

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Symetria has addiction treatment clinics across Illinois and Texas. You can likely get scheduled TODAY — medications or therapy.