Success Rates of Drug Rehabilitation
Uncovering the success rates of top drug rehabilitation programs can be somewhat difficult. As a story in The New York Times makes clear, most addiction treatment facilities aren’t required to disclose statistics and data about the people who have been through their programs. Cynical people sometimes interpret this lack of data to mean that the best drug rehabilitation programs don’t actually work. Some even go so far as to claim that drug rehabilitation programs put people on a treadmill, going into a program and coming back out again with no changes taking place at all.
The truth is that top drug rehabilitation programs do work. Recovery from addiction truly is possible. Proving this point might require a quick redefinition of what is considered “recovery,” and in the process, learning a little more about the nature of addiction.
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Looking at Success Rates
Traditionally, when people wanted to determine whether or not addiction programs were successful, they simply looked at the number of people who remained sober in the months or years that followed their treatment program. Sometimes, these studies were incredibly simple in that they contacted people after their programs were complete, asked them to submit a urine sample, and then placed them in the “healed” or “not healed” categories based on the results of those tests. When programs are viewed from these very basic viewpoints, they don’t tend to seem beneficial.
For example, a study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in 1981 followed people who had been treated in a therapeutic community for addiction. People deemed successful had committed no crimes and had no traces of drug use. In this study, only 38 percent of males and 42 percent of females were considered successful. This is a fairly difficult study to read, as it seems to imply that fewer than half of people who were given treatment benefited from treatment in the two years that followed.
It’s easy to feel cynical when faced with study results like this. But there might be a different way to interpret these success rates. Perhaps the people studied were not able to maintain their sobriety in the two-year follow-up period, but does that mean that the treatment was truly not successful? For some people, recovery is a slow process that can take many years to prepare for. Their early attempts may not result in sobriety, but they’re still constructing a foundation upon which later recovery efforts will be built. Making a major life change can be a difficult process, and many experts believe that people go through a series of changes before they can truly undertake the large life overhaul they’re striving for. This stages of change theory, as articulated in an article in American Family Physician, may help to explain why early attempts at recovery may not seem successful on the outside, but might actually be an important part of recovery that is happening deep inside.
In the stages of change model developed by Prochaska, people walk through the following steps before they are able to change their lives:
The states of change model includes the belief that relapse is a normal, natural part of the process of developing a new life. People may cycle through these steps multiple times, making tiny shifts and then losing ground, before they make changes that will stick. It’s easy to see how this model, if applied to addiction success rate studies, could help turn a negative result into a positive. Perhaps those people who relapsed into an addiction weren’t truly “failures.” Perhaps they were working through a natural process that could lead to a longstanding change. The stage of change model can also be applied to many other changes that people make in their lives. For example, patients suffering from many other diseases – like diabetes, cancer, obesity, and hypertension – also go through the stages of change as part of their recovery. Wherever behavior change is required to achieve better health, individuals must go through a behavior change process.
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Other Success Rate Statistics
Some researchers developed studies that define success in an entirely new way. For these researchers, recovery from addiction means much more than simple abstinence from drugs and a clear urine test. They felt that some people could be considered successful in the best addiction recovery programs if they improved in other areas of life. People who held down jobs, didn’t commit crimes or were able to rebuild their relationships might still be considered successful, even if they hadn’t yet completely avoided all drugs.
In this light, top drug rehabilitation programs are remarkably successful. For example, a study published in Public Health Reports examined the success rate of a needle-exchange program. The goal was not to keep people from using any drugs at all, not right away, but the program did provide an inroad for therapists to reach out to vulnerable people. When these addicts came in to exchange their needles, they might be given counseling on the benefits of a sober lifestyle, and that message might slowly sink in. That message might be augmented with health screenings or social support that could help people to build a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. Again, these tools might help them when they choose to become sober later in life. This study defined success as continued participation in the program, and by this term, the program was 88 percent successful. It’s quite possible that, as these people stayed enrolled in the program, their lives continued to improve and they became more open to the idea of long-term recovery.
Therefore success can be measured in many different ways, including abstinence, well-being, employment, family relationships, functioning, and harm reduction.
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Breaking Down the Percentages
It is also true that some people don’t succeed in their first attempt at recovery due to factors that have nothing at all to do with the program they chose. A program may provide lifesaving help, but at the end of the day, that person must still go home, interact with friends, listen to that inner voice and resist temptations that may arise. These are factors that might be completely outside the control of even the best drug rehabilitation facility. For example, a study published in the journal Substance Abuse and Misuse attempted to parse out why some people were able to maintain sobriety and others were not, when both groups had participated in the very same program. Researchers found that external variables, such as the amount of social support the person had and whether or not that person had a job when the program was complete, accounted for 63 percent of the variance. Recovery Capital – good treatment, family support, employment, health care, financial stability and peer support can contribute significantly to improving and individual’s chance of long-term recovery. Drug rehabilitation programs may be able to provide a significant amount of help, but they may not be able to help people make new friends or find new family members. It’s a bit like a preexisting condition. Therefore, even the most well-intentioned studies may not truly indicate whether one program is more beneficial than another. These other factors may be much too strong.
Not all percentages and statistics related to drug rehabilitation programs are quite so dire. In fact, there are many statistics that are quite positive in nature. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the odds of remaining abstinent if people have been sober for one year is only 66 percent. But, if people remain abstinent for five years, that rate rises to 86 percent. In other words, if people can maintain that sobriety for five years, they’re likely to stay sober for good. That’s a number almost anyone can get behind.
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Maintaining the Benefits
The goal of any top drug rehabilitation program is to help the person see the benefits of sobriety, and build the skills and tools to maintain that sobriety. It can be a difficult lesson that may take years or multiple treatment episodes to learn. In fact, most experts believe that addiction should be considered a chronic condition, similar to diabetes or heart disease. A person with diabetes will need to develop an entirely new series of habits that revolve around eating right, exercising and taking medications properly. There may be times when that person is tempted to cut loose, break free and revert to old habits. It happens to everyone. But when a person with diabetes has this sort of slide, no one would say that person’s treatment program is a failure or that the person is somehow weak or uncommitted. They might consider the slip understandable. Addiction should be considered in much the same light. The person has a chronic condition that takes diligence and dedication to manage. Sometimes, the person might slip or relapse. When this happens, more treatment is needed. The program isn’t a failure. It’s the nature of the disease.
That’s why an ongoing relapse-prevention program is so important. When the person feels a need to slip, that person can access:
These components can help the person get back on the right path, controlling the addiction once more and allowing the steps taken to truly stick. A slip isn’t a failure. It’s part of the process of recovery, and it can be effectively managed.
Recovery from addiction is possible, and success rates of drug rehabilitation show that people can achieve sobriety for the long term. At Alta Mira, we see it happen every day.
If you’d like to find out more about our programs and the help we can provide, please contact one of our Admissions Counselors today for a free, confidential telephone assessment.
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About Drew Paxton