IOP: What is an IOP Program?

Clinical Reviewer

What is IOP?

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.

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. Most IOPs limit private therapy sessions to just once per month, which is usually required if you're using insurance. (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.

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 a non-addictive Vivitrol shot) 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.

IOP Program Requirements

The rules and regulation are set by the IOP, but generally involve:

Do IOP Programs Drug Test?

Yes, IOP programs test for drug and alcohol use.  

This testing can even be required by insurance companies to cover IOP treatment.

What happens if you fail a drug test at IOP depends on whether the program is abstinence-only. 

IOP Requirments FAQs

On average, IOP lasts 6-10 weeks. Each patient should continue until they meet their therapy goals and are confident in their ability to stay on track.

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.

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).

It’s recommended to see your counselor at least once per month and as frequently 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).

The goal of an IOP program is to give patients enough support to stay sober past the first few months of early recovery, where the risk of relapse is highest.  And, to help patients break the mental cycles of addiction to eventually stay sober long-term with limited or no professional support.

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.

An example of what you might talk about in IOP:

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

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 fit in. Even when you don’t relate to someone’s upbringing or current life, there’s always something you have in common.b

See also: IOP vs. Rehab and IOP vs. PHP

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.

Ready to Start an Intensive Outpatient Program?

Symetria doctors follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and their own expertise with decades in the field.

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

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

All content is for informational purposes only. No material on this site, whether from our doctors or the community, is a substitute for seeking personalized professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard advice from a qualified healthcare professional or delay seeking advice because of something you read on this website.

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    1. At Symetria Recovery, we don’t consider a drug test as “Pass” or “Fail”, it is either “consistent” or “inconsistent.” The drug tests give us a way of objectively measuring whether or not a patient is maintaining abstinence from certain substances. Even if a patient is not maintaining abstinence, that doesn’t mean they are failing treatment and should be discharged from IOP. If anything, an inconsistent drug test means that the patient needs MORE treatment, not less. Even if a patient is “discharged” from IOP, it is usually because they are not ready for that level of care, and require a more aggressive treatment / higher level of care, such as an inpatient or residential detox and recovery program.

    1. Hi Tiara,
      Symetria is in-network with almost every major insurance company for IOP — including Blue Cross, Aetna, Cigna (Evernorth), United Healthcare / Optum, Humana Magellan, and Multiplan. IOP is also covered here by Medicare, but not Medicaid.

      If you want to know your specific costs, call (866) 955-2481 or use the check insurance button on the website. There’s no commitment and no one will know that you inquired.

What To Read Next
Do you live in Illinois or Texas?

Symetria has addiction treatment clinics across the state. You can likely get scheduled TODAY — medications or therapy.

Hi there — Most people want to know costs/insurance upfront. Would you like to check your policy now?