The Continuum of Care

The Continuum of Care for Addiction Treatment

The continuum of care for addiction treatment is a vital modern tool. Why?

Addiction treatment comes in many forms, including medical detox, inpatient and outpatient care.

When seeking help, it can be difficult to determine where you should start.

It can also be difficult to determine when you should switch to a different form of care.

To make effective treatment as accessible as possible, addiction specialists rely on the continuum of care.

The continuum allows your doctor to find the right level of care for your initial treatment.

It also makes it easy for you to change to another type of treatment when appropriate.

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What Is the Continuum of Care for Addiction Treatment?

The continuum of care is now the accepted model for helping people affected by addiction.

It serves two main purposes.

First, it provides guidelines for treating all cases of addiction, from the mildest to the most severe.

It also provides guidelines for helping people move from one level of care to another.

In these ways, the continuum helps ensure that consistent, effective treatment is available for everyone.

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Who created the continuum of care for addiction treatment?


The credit goes to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, or ASAM. ASAM is a professional organization committed to making addiction care more accessible.

The organization also takes steps to enhance the quality of that care. The continuum gets its name because it does not separate the available levels of addiction treatment.

Instead, it connects and coordinates those levels. By doing so, it provides doctors with a convenient framework for managing your care.

Levels of the Continuum of Care for Addiction Treatment

There are five levels in the continuum of care:

Medically Managed Residential Treatment (Level 4)

This is the most intensive level of care. It also typically lasts shorter than other care options. Medically managed treatment is for people detoxing from drugs or alcohol.

During the detox process, you can experience severe withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, your symptoms may even threaten your life. This level of care provides 24/7 assistance for people going through detox.

If you experience any major problems, you can get the help you need right away. You may also need medically managed care for severe health problems not related to addiction.

You only stay at this level while your health is dangerously unstable. Once you reach a stable point, you can proceed to the next appropriate level of care.

The Continuum of Care - A woman looks down at the floor during her group therapy as her counselor tries to reconnect with her. She is attending a residential addiction treatment program as outlined in the ASAM's Continuum of Care guidelines.

Residential or Inpatient Care (Level 3)

Inpatient care is for people who need round-the-clock addiction treatment after completing detox. If you fit in this category, you can find several kinds of programs to assist you. That includes:

  • High-intensity programs for those most severely affected by addiction
  • Medium-intensity programs for teenagers (and others) with significant behavioral problems
  • Low-intensity programs for those who qualify for residential treatment, but have relatively mild addiction symptoms

All three types of programs aim to do several things. First, they provide an environment that makes it easier to recover your sobriety. They also provide you with ready access to doctors.

In addition, inpatient programs provide you with active treatment on a daily basis.

Partial Hospitalization (Level 2)

Partial Hospitalization is the most intense form of outpatient addiction treatment.

Most people at this level have two overlapping issues: addiction and mental illness.

In addition, the symptoms of these conditions are not fully stabilized. You may also require partial hospitalization for any other serious, unstable medical condition.

People at this level live at home while spending at least 20 hours a week at their treatment facility.

Intensive Outpatient Care (Also Level 2)

Intensive Outpatient Programs or IOP are similar to Partial Hospitalization Programs. However, people in IOP don’t have unstable mental/physical health issues.

People at this level live at home while spending up to 19 hours a week at their treatment facility.

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Outpatient Care (Level 1)

Generally speaking, people in outpatient care programs have less serious addiction symptoms. As a result, they need just a few hours of treatment each week. At this level, you’ll spend most of your time at home.

Early Intervention (Level 0.5)

People in early intervention programs have a significant chance of developing a substance addiction. However, they do not yet qualify for an addiction diagnosis.

Some people at this level have obvious risks for substance problems. Others have unknown or potential risks. You may be directed to early intervention by your primary care doctor.

Other people may also recommend you join this kind of program. Examples of these people include:

  • Clinic doctors
  • ER doctors
  • School counselors
  • Your employer

Options for early intervention include:

  • Short sessions called brief interventions, which help make you aware of the dangers of your current level of substance use/abuse
  • Motivational sessions designed to help you steer clear of future substance use/abuse
  • Formal counseling sessions

Where to Begin on the Continuum of Care?

When you seek out addiction treatment, your doctor will determine where you fit on the continuum. This requires a complete assessment of your current state of health. That assessment will:

  • Help uncover any potential symptoms of addiction
  • Help your doctor determine the severity of your symptoms
  • Reveal any other health problems (e.g., mental illness) that may affect your treatment

After gathering this information, your doctor can refer to the points of the continuum. This will help ensure that you get the exact kind of care you need.

The Continuum of Care - An addiction treatment counselor sits with his back to the camera as he discusses the best level of treatment as outlined by the Continuum of Care. His male patient sits on the couch with his head down thinking about his responsibilities and goals for his treatment.

The Continuum of Long-Term Care

Many people view addiction treatment as a short-term process. Steps in this process include:

  • Going through drug or alcohol detox
  • Enrolling in a single treatment program for a number of weeks or months
  • Completing a single treatment program and returning to everyday life

In reality, recovery is much more long-term and complex. People who start treatment at one level of the continuum often move on to another level of care.

Experts sometimes refer to this follow-up treatment as aftercare.
Ideally, you will move from a more intense form of treatment to a less intense option.

For example, after completing an inpatient program, you move to an outpatient program. Unfortunately, some people move in the opposite direction.

Why You Should Stay in Treatment Longer

If you don’t stay in treatment long enough, you increase your chances of relapsing back into substance use. To minimize this risk, you should stay in treatment as long as possible.

Studies show that longer stays increase your long-term sobriety odds. Even in the best of circumstances, you should view your recovery as an ongoing process.

This outlook will help you prepare for a lifelong commitment to substance abstinence.

Get More Information on the Continuum of Care

Using the concept of the continuum of care refers to navigating the process of addiction treatment. With the help of your doctor, you will begin treatment at one of five levels:

Over time, you can move on to the next level of care. The continuum model makes this easier to do. It views all levels of addiction treatment as part of the same overlapping system.

Across the nation, doctors and other professionals are committed to enhancing the continuum of care.

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Recovery From Addiction is Long Term, not Short Term

The continuum of care recognizes that recovery from addiction is long-term, not short-term.

To increase your recovery odds, you should stay in your initial program for as long as you can.

You should also enter a follow up or aftercare program.

For more information on the continuum, just contact us today at 855-728-4363.