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Ask the Experts


How do I decide whether to try an outpatient or inpatient alcohol detoxification?

Answered by: Eric Collins

We encourage all patients to discuss these questions at length with their individual health care providers.

It has been very well established, however, that the likelihood of achieving and maintaining abstinence from a substance that produces physical dependence is much greater when the detoxification occurs on an inpatient basis.

A potential advantage of an outpatient detoxification, however, is that it requires a person to confront the cues to drug use in one's home environment and find non-drug alternatives.

Disadvantages of outpatient detoxification include the availability of drugs when drug craving may be extremely high, the possible need to slow detoxification to minimize drug craving, and less ability for the treatment team to address medical or psychological complications of drug use.

Finally, if prior efforts at outpatient detoxification have failed, it should be apparent that future efforts on an outpatient basis are unlikely to succeed, unless circumstances and treatment intensity are radically different.