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What Are Some of the Challenges Associated with Intensive Outpatient Addiction Treatment Programs?

As is the case with any form of substance abuse treatment, patients in an Intensive Outpatient Program for drug and alcohol treatment face potential challenges and pitfalls.

First and foremost: They’re guarded and closed off. Many of them have turned to drugs and alcohol as a way to anesthetize emotional pain, so it’s common that they’ve used those substances to suppress their feelings. They’ve turned to drugs and alcohol to escape from negative emotions like sadness, depression and anger, and they’ve used them to amplify happiness, joy and excitement. As a result, their emotional growth has been stunted, and their emotional intelligence has been dulled.

This can create barriers that impede drug and alcohol treatment, especially when specific feelings begin to rise to the surface after they get clean and sober. Because they’ve turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with those feelings, the emotions they feel in early recovery can seem particularly intense, and this may create a certain amount of discomfort that leads to cravings, or using thoughts. The solution, they learn in IOP, is acceptance: to allow themselves to feel those emotions without getting overwhelmed or feeling the need to avoid them. Avoidance, they’ll discover, is a coping mechanism employed throughout active addiction and alcoholism, but in recovery, it’s detrimental to the overall goal: acceptance of life on life’s terms, without the need to use drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with the good and the bad. By allowing themselves to feel those emotions, patients can begin to address the underlying causes of the discomfort they feel, and IOP treatment provides a safe place for them to identify them and process them appropriately. The end result is improved emotional intelligence and the ability to more easily handle both negative and positive emotions in the future, without the use of drugs and alcohol.

Another challenge associated with IOP treatment involves factors that occur outside of the therapeutic environment. Whether patients are attending IOP following a long-term residential treatment center, or are directly admitted to IOP without attending another treatment program, there are likely to be barriers to treatment occurring outside of the treatment facility. Specifically, patients are likely to be exposed to difficult situations, whether with family members or friends, or seeing people with whom they once used drugs or drank alcohol. This can be extremely challenging, but the tools handed down during IOP give patients the ability to handle these situations without drinking or using, and they give patients insight into which of these situations are avoidable. Patients often use the IOP group to identify any foreseen challenges during the days when they are not in treatment, and with the help of a counselor and other group members, they can prepare for these challenging situations and have the best chance at a positive outcome.

Although there are no perfect solutions to any of these challenges, IOP treatment inherently gives individuals an opportunity to prepare for, confront, and process barriers or challenges they face while in treatment. By obtaining the necessary skills to work through these challenges while in IOP treatment, patients are given the best opportunity to be successful when they complete IOP and inevitably face these same challenges in the “real world.”

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