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Addiction Treatment Success Rates

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 12, 2019

Sometimes treatment success rates may not fully represent the entire client base or long-term measures of success. It’s important to understand what the success rate is and what it is comprised of. Factors of success can include treatment approaches used, training of staff, the format of the program, aftercare services, and more.

Do you find that you often check reviews for products or services you use? Why is this? When you spend money, money you invested your time and life into earning, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting the best of what’s out there. This makes perfect sense. Now think about this—if we do this on food, beauty products, cars, and appliances, shouldn’t we do it on things which impact our health and well-being? But sadly, not as many people engage their health in this way as you might think.

How Can I Advocate For My Addiction Treatment Needs?

A New York Times article “Effective Addiction Treatment” put this rather succinctly, asserting that “People typically do more research when shopping for a new car than when seeking treatment for addiction.” This paints a rather stark picture—despite a pressing and dire need, many individuals are not actively pursuing their treatment needs as they should be. If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder or aiming to help someone close to you who is, researching your options is the first step towards advocating for your needs.

One good way to start doing this is by examining a program’s success rates. You can take two approaches to this. First, you can look at a certain type of therapy or modality which is used within a program. One example is cognitive behavioral therapy, a common and evidenced-based therapeutic method. This can give you an idea of what the overall success rates are for this specific form of treatment. But this does not necessarily mean that if a program uses this method that their success rates will be equal to this. Alternatively, you can look at a specific rehab facility to see what their success rate is overall, for the entire program.

Why Do Different Programs Have Different Success Rates?

You may wonder—what are the criteria which programs base their rates on? This can significantly vary per facility. In example, let’s say that a facility has 100 individuals who enter treatment. If 55 drop out (leaving 45 who successfully completed the program) you might anticipate the success rate to be 45 percent. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes a facility may instead base their success rate on only the 45 individuals who remained. This shift can radically change things.

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While it may be true that all those 45 clients were sober upon the leaving the program, these statistics may not extend beyond the program’s completion. However, this program may still boast a 100 percent success rate in regards to sobriety, since all 45 were sober open completion. But there might be not be follow-up to determine if they were sober the next day, month, or year. Even then—if it is tracked—these success rates often only track months to several years beyond treatment. Successful sobriety is a long-term goal within a stable recovery. This extends beyond the day a person leaves treatment and continues throughout the duration of their life.

In another example, if, of the 45 who completed treatment, 29 individuals were successful at maintaining sobriety for a year—this would equate to roughly a 64 percent “success rate.” You can see how widely these numbers vary when representing the same group of initial clients. Sadly, sometimes a program may tout only the percentage and not the breakdown of how they got it. This may mislead an individual into thinking a program is more successful than it is in reality.

Because of this, it is important to find out the specifics by which the statistics are created. Ask what a facility’s retention rate is. This is the rate of individuals who complete treatment. Also, find out how long after treatment their rate is based upon. Was it one month of sobriety, a year, or more? Some programs don’t do these follow-ups, so it’s hard to gauge long-term success. These factors, when combined with the following, can give you a better perspective when making your decision.

How A Rehab’s Staff Influences The Success Rate

Citing research gleaned from a National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse report, The New York Times blog continues, saying that some “addiction treatment providers are not medical professionals and are not equipped with the knowledge, skills or credentials needed to provide the full range of evidence-based services, including medication and psycho-social therapy.” Make sure that the staff not only believes in their modalities and their mission (your sobriety and wellness), but that they are experienced (credentialed), thoroughly-trained, and highly adept at employing these modalities within their program.

Even good methods within inexperienced hands may not be optimally effective nor garner the positive results you need for sustained abstinence. For this reason, should you or your loved one require treatment, it is important to do your homework. Once you have this information you can better determine if it’s a program or modality that you wish to pursue.

How Does Individualized Treatment Affect Treatment Success Rates?

While a program’s success rate is largely based on the program itself, it is also based upon the client’s unique needs. More importantly, it hinges on how the program addresses these concerns. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) speaks of effective addiction treatment, noting that “individual treatment outcomes depend on the extent and nature of the patient’s problems, the appropriateness of treatment and related services used to address those problems, and the quality of interaction between the patient and his or her treatment providers.”

How does this occur? Treatment should be preceded by a thorough assessment of a client’s needs. “Matching treatment settings, interventions, and services to an individual’s particular problems and needs is critical to his or her ultimate success in returning to productive functioning in the family, workplace, and society.”

Within these goals, NIDA urges us to consider that effective treatment should address not only a person’s substance abuse, but other issues, including those which are:

Also, that treatment address an individual’s:

  • Age
  • Culture
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender

All of these factors, when combined, create an environment which is better able to produce favorable treatment success rates.

What Are Evidenced-Based Treatments?

Within the world of science, in order for something to be considered evidenced-based it has to be rigorously tested by countless scientific studies. In other words, these treatments have favorable and quantifiable success rates.

These include, as supported by NIDA:

Pharmacotherapies—or medications which are often used within treatment, specifically as part of medication-assisted treatment. This form of treatment pairs medication with various behavioral therapies to maximize the results.

For opioid treatment:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone

For alcohol treatment:

  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram

Behavioral Therapies—may also be used alone or in conjunction with another type of behavioral therapy. In certain rehabs, an individual may encounter more than one as they progress through treatment.

  • Behavioral therapies primarily for adolescents
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Community reinforcement approach plus vouchers
  • Contingency management interventions (CM)/motivational incentives
  • Family behavior therapy (FBT)
  • The Matrix Model
  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET)
  • 12-Step facilitation therapy

In addition, dialectical behavioral therapy is also supported by high levels of success and many scientific studies. These modalities are foundational within many addiction treatment programs. Should you see one within a drug rehab center’s program, you can be encouraged that their program is founded on a successful principle. However, again, it is important to examine how a facility uses this modality within their program, the staff’s credentials, and what the overall success rate of the program is.

Aftercare—Fostering Continuing Success

While success rates can surely be one way of gauging a program’s potential, they can be limiting and at times impersonal. Because of this, another factor which deserves attention is a program’s aftercare support. This service shows that a facility stands by its commitment to its client’s well-being and continued sobriety. This outreach helps to protect and support an individual’s rate of success after the program’s completion. Aftercare preparation and support may include:

  • Relapse prevention training
  • Continued access to resources—both for the individual and their family
  • Facility-led support groups (these are often online)
  • Guidance in finding community-based support systems, sponsors, or resources
  • Follow-up outreach (calls, emails, etc.)
  • Mentoring opportunities
  • Connections to treatment alumni

This continued care can make a difference in maintaining that statistic, or, in more personal terms, your or a loved one’s sobriety.

Find Treatment Which Increases Your Odds For Success

If you’re struggling to make your way through substance abuse and addiction, it can be a challenge to understand all the information or choices surrounding treatment. Don’t let this deter you— can help. We are your one stop access point for information, resources, treatment options, aftercare support, and so much more. Contact us today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)

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