Why IOP/PHP Programs May Require You to Stay Sober

Innerspace Counseling’s Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) are designed to support individuals struggling with various mental health issues. One key requirement for participation in these programs is maintaining sobriety. Although Innerspace Counseling is not a substance abuse treatment facility, we are a primary mental health treatment facility, and understanding why this rule is in place can help clients fully engage with the therapeutic process and achieve the best possible outcomes.

The Impact of Substance Use on Mental Health Treatment

Alcohol and recreational drug use can significantly impact mental health treatment. When trying to identify behaviors and symptoms, substance use can cause shifts in mood, cognition, and overall behavior, making it difficult to pinpoint the underlying mental health issues. For example, alcohol and drugs can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression, masking the true nature of these disorders and complicating the development of an effective treatment plan.

Common Mental Health Disorders and Substance Use

Several mental health disorders can be profoundly affected by alcohol and drug use:

  1. Anxiety Disorders: Alcohol and drugs may temporarily alleviate anxiety but often worsen it in the long run. Substance use can lead to increased anxiety symptoms, making it challenging to determine if anxiety is due to the disorder itself or the effects of substances.

  2. Depression: While alcohol and certain drugs can create a temporary sense of euphoria, they typically result in a rebound effect that deepens depressive symptoms. This fluctuation makes it difficult to assess the true severity of the depression.

  3. Bipolar Disorder: Substance use can trigger manic or depressive episodes in individuals with bipolar disorder, complicating the diagnosis and treatment. It can also interfere with the effectiveness of prescribed medications.

  4. Schizophrenia: Drugs and alcohol can exacerbate symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions. This interference makes it difficult to determine if symptoms are due to the disorder or substance use.

The Role of Medication in Treatment

Clients in IOP and PHP programs may be starting new medications as part of their treatment plan. Substance use can affect the efficacy of these medications and lead to misleading symptoms, making it hard to judge if the medication is working. For instance, alcohol can interfere with the metabolism of antidepressants, reducing their effectiveness, while certain drugs can interact with antipsychotic medications, leading to dangerous side effects.

At Innerspace Counseling, we prioritize the accurate assessment and treatment of mental health issues. Because we are not a substance abuse treatment program, we do not treat a primary diagnosis of substance use disorder. However, we recognize that the transition to a sober lifestyle can be difficult even for those not diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder.

Tips for Maintaining Sobriety

Maintaining sobriety while in an IOP or PHP program can be challenging but is essential for effective treatment. Here are some tips to help you stay sober and engage fully with the program:

1. Engage in Healthy Activities: Finding activities that you enjoy can help fill the time and provide a distraction from cravings. Consider hobbies such as:

  • Exercise: Physical activity can improve your mood and reduce stress.

  • Creative Arts: Painting, drawing, or writing can be therapeutic and help express your thoughts and feelings.

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices can help you stay grounded and manage cravings.

2. Build a Support Network: Connecting with friends or family who support your sobriety can provide emotional support and encouragement. You can also seek out support groups where you can share your experiences and learn from others in similar situations.

3. Develop Coping Skills: Learning new coping skills is a crucial part of the IOP and PHP programs. Techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can help you manage stress and avoid relapse.

4. Stay Busy: Keeping a structured schedule can help prevent boredom, which can be a trigger for substance use. Engage in productive activities such as volunteering, taking a class, or participating in group therapy sessions.

5. Practice Self-Care: Taking care of your physical and mental health is essential. Ensure you are eating well, getting enough sleep, and taking time to relax and de-stress.

Dealing with Discomfort in Sobriety

The initial period of sobriety can be uncomfortable, especially if you are accustomed to using substances to cope with stress or emotions. Here are some strategies to help manage this discomfort:

  • Stay Hydrated and Eat Healthily: Proper nutrition and hydration can help your body adjust to sobriety.

  • Get Enough Rest: Ensure you are getting adequate sleep, as rest is crucial for mental health.

  • Seek Professional Help: If you are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to your therapist or psychiatrist. They can provide additional support and adjust your treatment plan if necessary.


Innerspace Counseling’s IOP and PHP programs are designed to provide comprehensive mental health care, requiring sobriety to ensure accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. While the transition to a sober lifestyle can be challenging, especially for those not diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, it is a crucial step in addressing mental health issues. By engaging in healthy activities, building a support network, developing coping skills, staying busy, and practicing self-care, clients can successfully navigate this transition and achieve lasting recovery.

At Innerspace Counseling, we are committed to supporting you through every step of your mental health journey. Whether you are dealing with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or any other mental health problem, our dedicated team is here to help you develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your unique needs. Remember, maintaining sobriety is an essential part of this process, and with the right support and strategies, you can achieve a healthier, more fulfilling life.