One of the most common questions people often have, whether they personally struggle with addiction or their loved one does, is what is the success rate of addiction treatment? Substance abuse treatment is a broad term, and treatment centers and rehab centers can offer different types of programs. When choosing any substance abuse treatment program, it should provide research-based care which often integrates treatment for co-occurring mental disorders, behavioral therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy, and in many cases, medication.
How Is the Success Rate of Addiction Treatment Determined?
This can be a complex question to answer because success can mean different things when it comes to addiction treatment. There are varying measures of how the success rate of addiction treatment is measured based on the individual and their treatment plan, and the treatment program they participate in.
While it’s difficult to provide a specific number as far as the success rate of addiction treatment, the following are some statistics relating to this topic from The Recovery Village.
First, with inpatient treatment, 73% of people who struggle with addiction complete their inpatient rehab program, and 21% are sober after five years. This number goes down to 18% for people who participate in an outpatient treatment program.
The numbers don’t look that promising, but there’s more to the story than that.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, certain factors can be used to determine how effective a treatment program is, even if someone isn’t necessarily completely drug or alcohol-free after five years.
The Factors That Determine How Effective Drug Treatment Is
As mentioned, the following are the specific factors used by the Office of National Drug Control Policy to determine if addiction treatment is successful, beyond looking just at relapse rates:
- Reduced drug use may not mean complete abstinence, but it can still indicate if an addiction treatment program is effective. For example, along with complete abstinence, this measure of the success rate of addiction treatment could include reducing how often a substance is used, using a smaller amount, or having longer periods between relapses.
- Improved employment can be used as a way to measure the success rate of addiction treatment. This means working more days at a job or gaining employment following treatment. The same is true of improved education—for example, getting better grades or attending school more often than one did before addiction treatment.
- Improved relationships.
- Improved physical health.
- Better legal status, such as fewer arrests or convictions than before treatment.
- Better mental health.
Relapse Rates After Rehab
When exploring how successful people are after completing a rehab program, having an understanding of what relapse is and what addiction itself is are important as well.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, but treatable disorder. Other chronic diseases include diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. As with treatment for these chronic disorders, there isn’t necessarily a cure. However, while treatment isn’t a cure, it is a way to help someone with a chronic disorder manage their symptoms and regain a sense of control over their life.
If a person relapses, it doesn’t mean their treatment is a failure. Relapse is considered part of the process for chronic disease, and the relapse rates for addiction are very similar to relapse rates for other chronic diseases. The more closely someone follows their treatment plan, the less likely they are to experience a relapse.
Relapse rates for addiction following treatment can range and are estimated at anywhere from 40 to 60%. The relapse rate for Type I diabetes is anywhere from 30 to 50%, and the relapse rate for asthma can be as high as 70% following treatment.
What Are the Factors That Can Improve the Likelihood of Long-Term Recovery?
Not all treatment programs and plans are considered equal, so knowing the distinctions can also help you gain a greater sense of insight into the success rate of addiction treatment.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The following are some of the things that are considered factors of effective treatment:
- When someone struggles with opioid addiction, including prescription pain medications and heroin, medication is often an important part of treatment. These medications can be used during detox, but also as maintenance. Medication alone is less likely to provide good outcomes, however. Instead, the medication should be combined with some type of behavioral therapy.
- There aren’t medications for people who are addicted to stimulants or drugs like marijuana, so the first-line treatment in these situations is behavioral therapy.
- For alcohol addiction, a combination of medications like naltrexone or disulfiram and behavioral therapy may be best.
Medication-assisted treatment for addiction can be somewhat controversial in the eyes of some people. For example, with the 12-step model, the idea of medication-assisted treatment is not one that is in-line with their philosophy. Opponents of medication-assisted treatment tend to see it as a form of replacement—essentially replacing with addiction with another.
At the same time, a study in 2015 indicated that people dependent on opioids who only received psychological support were two times as likely to suffer a fatal overdose as compared to people being treated with opioid replacement drugs.
The World Health Organization issued a report from findings in Spain showing that when methadone was used to treat addictions to opiates, as opposed to abstinence-only approaches, it reduced overdose deaths, cases of HIV and improved quality of life.
Despite this information, only around ¾ of people in the U.S. who are opioid-dependent are treated with the use of medication.
If we look at diseases like cancer, or some of the chronic disorders named above, we see people are treated uniquely. There isn’t one approach or one form of therapy that works for everyone. There is often a combination of medications and lifestyle changes used, and everyone is treated individually to find the treatment plan they will best respond to. The same needs to occur with addiction treatment.
Also, as was briefly touched on, inpatient treatment programs tend to have better outcomes and show a higher success rate than less intensive forms of treatment.
The longer someone participates in an inpatient program, also, the better the chances they will be successful with long-term recovery.
The average stay of an inpatient treatment program is around 30 days, but longer residential treatment programs that last an average of 70 days may be better.
Summing Up—The Success Rate of Addiction Treatment
On its face, the relatively low success rate of addiction treatment programs can feel discouraging. However, we are finding that first, success can be determined in different ways beyond abstinence-only. We’re also learning, through research and evidence, that different approaches to addiction treatment may yield better success rates.
It’s important to realize that the worst option if you struggle with addiction is not seeking treatment at all. Even reducing your substance use can substantially improve your quality of life.
It’s also important to realize relapse isn’t a failure, and it’s part of the treatment process. At a time when more than 110 people are dying every day from drug overdoses, it may be valuable to take a hard look at how addiction is treated and how success is measured.
Moraff, Christopher. “Why Drug Rehab Is Outdated, Expensive and Deadly.” Daily Beast, April 13, 2017. Accessed July 15, 2019.
Lazzara, Liz. “Does Drug Rehab Work? See Success Rates and Statistics.” The Recovery Village, March 21, 2019. Accessed July 15, 2019.
NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” Accessed July 15, 2019.