What to Expect from Substance Use IOP

An IOP, or Intensive Outpatient Program, can be used as a treatment strategy for many different issues. It is a popular intervention for mental health issues and substance use issues. Some treatment centers also have IOP’s that are specialty IOP’s that may address a specific population such as women or adolescents/ IOPs require a minimum of 9 hours of treatment per week without exceeding 19 hours and consist of mostly Group Therapy. Not all IOPs are the same, they can differ in length, approach, and type. The approach will often be unique to the organization running them. So, we decided to put together this handy guide for preparing yourself or someone you know for what to expect from a Substance Use IOP.
What to expect from substance use iop

Most of what we will discuss below is unique to our own Substance Use IOP. So buckle up and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times as we make our way through this IOP tour. First stop, detox.


Before joining an IOP, you will go through a screening to make sure that an intensive outpatient program is the right path for you. This meeting allows us to be able to get to know you and your unique situation to make the right therapeutic recommendation.

If you are still experiencing withdrawal symptoms, we may recommend that you go through a medical detox. A medically assisted detox is often needed to get you through the detoxification process safely. In fact, we typically will only recommend a medical detox if you are trying to detox from alcohol, benzodiazepines (xanax or valium), or opioids (oxycodone, fentanyl, heroin, etc) as these have the most severe symptoms.

Mental Preparation

A large part of the Matrix Model (discussed in more detail below) is building up a support system outside of IOP that will help you after you’ve graduated from the program. To maximize your success, you should start thinking about the best people to include in that circle. Support and structure are the most important elements in your life to be able to move forward into recovery.

In our IOP for substance use, we encourage your family to be involved. We even carve out some time during the program for family to come visit and learn some helpful skills. Family members often make up the core of your outside support system and it is crucial for your success to include them in the process. Addiction changes the dynamic of family relationships and so our program is designed to help the family develop stronger boundaries and heal from the hurt and resentment often experienced when a loved one suffers from addiction. So start talking to your family members and inform them of your schedule and be ready for them to participate.

Lastly, make the conscious decision to fully commit to the program. Being all in on your road to recovery strengthens the skills you learn and decreases the risk of relapse.

Matrix Model

The Matrix model is a different approach than what you’ll find in other IOPs. We use it here at Grace because it is an evidence-based model and because it gives us structure to work with consistently. It is also largely psycho-educational in nature, meaning it is primarily geared toward giving our clients the tools necessary to have success in avoiding future substance abuse.

The program places a large focus on developing skills and learning new concepts like:

  • Identifying internal and external triggers
  • Learning how addiction works
  • Building support around yourself
  • Scheduling and time management
  • Understanding the chronic nature of addiction

Unlike some other approaches, this model points primarily to the practical side of managing the chronic illness of addiction. The Matrix Model is also 16 weeks long (12 weeks for adolescents), which is longer than most IOPs or at least longer than the ones who do not employ this model. Length of stay is individualized and depends on several factors.

Expected Participation

Participation will be expected of you in IOP, but it may not be like you expect. The main form of participation will come in the form of a check-in at the beginning of each session. You’ll talk about how you’ve been feeling, discuss any triggers/cravings that came up since the last meeting, and how you responded to those triggers. This is also a time to discuss any potential new challenges that came up that the group can help address.

There will be random drug testing throughout the program, so you won’t know which days you’ll be asked to be tested. You can almost guarantee that you will be tested regularly, however.

The therapist teaching the material may call on you to answer a material-specific question or ask you what you learned during that session.

Participation is vital to success after you’re through the IOP. Participation in the program includes going to outside support group meetings and having family participate. The more you commit and participate, the more meaningful it will be and the more solid foundation you will have.  Because that’s the goal, right? To get better.

Important IOP Rules

Obviously different IOPs are going to have different rules, some more nuanced than others. There are a few that are pretty standard and you should expect when coming into a session to abide by. First, avoiding fraternizing with others in your IOP group. Everyone in that group is there to get better (even if they are forced to be there) and it’s best that while you are in the program to focus on building up your outside support.

No food or drinks in session is often another one. This can serve as a distraction to others if you’re chewing loudly, if the smell bothers them, or if they’re hungry but didn’t bring food. So, make sure you eat a snack or meal before your session starts.

Speaking of distractions, no phones will be allowed. Your friends and family should be made aware of this so that they know you will be unreachable during that time. We have everyone turn their phones off and put them in a basket upon entering the room.

One of the most crucial universal rules is to be respectful. This should be an obvious one, but it always needs to be stated. Every participant is trying to improve their life and everyone there has a unique story. Their struggles will be different than yours, and that’s ok.

What’s Different About Grace’s IOP?

Aside from using the Matrix Model, we do a few things that make our IOP unique. First, we bring in a couple of our resident experts to talk about their expertise and how it relates to recovery. Our dietician talks about how diet can positively or negatively affect your mental and physical health. Our therapeutic yoga instructor discusses yoga and how it can positively affect recovery efforts.

While our IOP lasts 16 weeks, we also offer a free Alumni Program for everyone who graduates. We do this to help provide another leg of support for you on your road to recovery. With events and weekly meetings, there are plenty of opportunities to stay connected with us.

Life After IOP

The first thing to expect is that life is still going to be difficult. It won’t get easier after the program. All of your old challenges and triggers will still be there waiting. This is why we emphasize building up your outside support. While it may be difficult, an IOP will equip you with the tools to stay sober. You will have learned how to cope and where to turn when you identify those triggers and cravings.

After graduation, you can join our alumni program and become a Grace Ambassador. This will connect you to our network of people who are in recovery and who have learned all of the same skills and lessons.


Intensive Outpatient Programs are difficult and long, but so effective when done properly. This isn’t to say that you will never have a relapse or that it will solve all of your problems. But it will provide a safe and healthy place for you to get well, learn some new skills, and develop a lasting support system.

If you or a loved one are looking for an IOP, we would love to help. Please give us a call or send us an email and let’s start the conversation.

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