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Learn / Residential vs. Inpatient Treatment Programs

Residential vs. Inpatient Treatment Programs

Kayla GillKayla Gill


Kayla holds over 6 years of experience in the rehab space, including in-house content management at a leading treatment center. She believes addiction and mental health issues are universal human experiences that can serve as important entry points onto a path toward self-realization and well-being.
 Published April 6th, 2023|  Professionally Reviewed By 
Rajnandini Rathod

 Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod on March 31, 2023

Rajnandini is a psychologist, keen on bringing awareness and uplifting the stigma attached to mental health in India. She completed her Master’s in Psychology with considerable experience with people with addiction problems.

Key Points

  • Learn the Difference between Residential vs Inpatient Rehab

If you want 24-hour care while in recovery for addiction or mental health issues, you can choose between residential and inpatient treatment. While they may sound similar and some people even refer to them interchangeably, they’re 2 distinct treatment options. And one may be a better fit for you depending on your unique circumstances. 

What Is Residential Rehab?

Residential rehabs offer 24-hour care for people with addiction or mental health issues,1 typically outside of a hospital setting. You live at the treatment center and follow a set structure each day. 

Residential rehabs have different treatment approaches depending on their staff, location, and philosophy:

Many residential treatment centers combine these approaches to meet your needs. And depending on your rehab, you’ll also be able to access many different forms of therapy including group therapy, individual therapy, or experiential therapy

Some residential rehabs tailor their treatment programs to important parts of your identity:

With residential rehab, you typically get to choose where you receive treatment. 

What Is Inpatient Rehab?

Like residential treatment centers, inpatient rehabs also provide 24-hour care. However, inpatient treatment is usually a more intensive program2 in a hospital setting. Medical professionals like physicians direct your care alongside addiction specialists, nurses, and therapists.  

It’s a common option in emergency situations like overdoses or self-harm. Some patients enter into inpatient treatment as a result of going to the emergency room or having interactions with law enforcement.

Inpatient treatment is more medical in nature, which is why it requires the resources of a hospital. Because of that, it’s common to detox in inpatient care3 from substances like alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines because of how serious withdrawal symptoms can be. 

What Are the Differences Between Inpatient and Residential Rehab?

Inpatient and residential rehabs are similar in that you live at your treatment center. However, beyond that, your treatment will look different depending on which type of rehab you attend.

Setting and Level of Care Available

One of the main differences between inpatient vs. residential rehab is the level of care they provide based on their setting. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, residential treatment programs offer care that does not require the resources of a hospital.

Inpatient treatment programs provide the highest level of care, which requires hospital services with medical supervision. It’s typically for patients experiencing severe addiction or mental health issues: 

Intensity and Goal of Treatment

Because inpatient programming is for serious situations,5 it tends to be more intensive. The goal is to manage severe symptoms of withdrawal, overdose, or mental health conditions. Your treatment team will be focused on treating and stabilizing your condition. 

Meanwhile, in residential rehab, the primary goal is sustained recovery, so you’ll learn relapse prevention and coping strategies, be able to process past trauma and develop healthier habits. And while it’s still an intensive healing experience for the patient, it’s usually less medically intensive. 

Length of Stay

Inpatient care has a fixed length6 and is also usually short-term. In the U.S., many states have different laws dictating how long patients can be in inpatient treatment. For example, in most circumstances in California, inpatient services cannot last longer than 30 days.7

On the other hand, residential treatment is longer-term.8 The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends at least 90 days of treatment9 in most cases. And the longer you stay in treatment, the more likely you are to have a successful recovery. Your length of stay may also depend on your insurance coverage, responsibilities at home, and recovery goals.

Choosing the Right Treatment Program for You

When deciding on which type of treatment to attend, consider the level of care you may need. If you’re detoxing from alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines, have a serious co-occurring disorder, or have not responded to treatment in the past, then an inpatient rehab may provide the higher level of care required. 

You don’t have to make this decision on your own. Your therapist or primary care physician can help you make the best choice for your unique circumstances. And, you can call admissions teams at rehabs to find out what level of care they offer. 

Learn more about your options for both inpatient and residential treatment, and reach out to centers directly.

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