what is iop

What is IOP?

Many of you have probably encountered the acronym IOP when searching for treatment or checking on treatment centers in your area. We would like to use this blog post to explain what IOP is, why it’s an important treatment option, and how it is supposed to serve people struggling with mental illness and addiction disorders.

IOP Explained

So what exactly is an “IOP.” In the simplest terms, IOP stands for intensive outpatient program. When it comes to the treatment of addiction disorders the, official source of evidence-based practice is ASAM, so we work within their guidelines. What ASAM, or the American Society of Addiction Medicine, define as IOP (Level 2.1) is:

“Called Intensive Outpatient Services for adolescents and adults, this level of care typically consists of 9 or more hours of service a week or 6 or more hours for adults and adolescents respectively to treat multidimensional instability. Level 2 encompasses services that are capable of meeting the complex needs of people with addiction and co-occurring conditions. It is an organized outpatient service that delivers treatment services during the day, before or after work or school, in the evening, and/or on weekends.”

Generally, according to the Centers for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), the goals of an IOP are as follows:

  • Helping clients maintain abstinence, or engage harm reduction services as needed.
  • Encouraging behavioral changes as part of a new lifestyle supporting wellness.
  • Encouraging participation in community-based support groups (e.g., 12-Step fellowship)
  • Helping clients manage or improve psychosocial problems, such as unemployment, financial issues, lack of adaptive friendships, or family distress.
  • Enhancing clients’ coping skills, and ensuring consistency of skills application across a wide array of settings.

Why is IOP Important?

In our view, there are two primary reasons why IOP is an important treatment option for people struggling with both mental health concerns and/or addiction disorders.

First, many people attend more intensive (i.e., higher level of care) facilities, and then need to “step down,” which means get a less intensive support system in place in order to effectively keep their treatment momentum going. Imagine, with no prior experience or knowledge, going away for 30 days to a place to train in martial arts in artificial scenarios, only learning to fight with other novices, then you’re just shoved out into the “real world” with no one further coaching you on how to fight in different real-world scenarios, with more expert opponents. Well, for many people struggling with mental illness or addiction disorders, it’s a fight, a fight for their lives, their careers, and families. Much of what they need to learn and change cannot be simply accomplished in a month. Thus IOP can help people function more independently while also providing structure to learn or reinforce needed mental health skills/ideas.

Second, there are a variety of circumstances that make more intensive treatment impossible. Many people cannot afford very costly “rehabs” or residential facilities. Others cannot quit their jobs and can only afford to attend a few days per week of treatment. In those, and many other, circumstances people might be best served by the IOP level of care. Many IOPs offer multiple tracks at different times of day, with experts from multiple disciplines.

what is intensive outpatient treatment

How Our IOP Might Help You

Okay, now that we know what IOP is, how might we help you? If you’re reading this you’re likely at least curious about what we do. Per ASAM and CSAT we adhere to the highest standards of care. We help people learn and practice mental health and relapse prevention skills in the real world. We do family therapy to help you and your loved ones work through the recovery journey together, and resolve conflict prior to treatment (which there are usually many). We have a career counseling specialist whose sole focus is to help people get back to work, back into school, or develop strategies for managing current employment issues. In addition to all that, we practice evidence-based care in our psychotherapy sessions and medical consultation sessions. Check our staff page to see who our professionals are. Please let us know how we can help you, even if it’s just a phone call to talk through options.


Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2006. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 47.) Chapter 3. Intensive Outpatient Treatment and the Continuum of Care. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64088/