How Effective is Addiction Treatment?

The best addiction treatment program for an individual will depend on a variety of factors. However, people participating in treatment programs have a much better chance of achieving recovery.
Evidence Based
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Some people who develop a substance abuse issue or addiction to drugs or alcohol should seek treatment. These programs can be effective in helping a person overcome addiction, but not everyone who needs treatment enters a program and not all treatment programs are effective.

Even when the program offers what an addicted person might need to overcome an addiction, a person’s life circumstances and other issues can prevent lifetime sobriety.

Whether or not the results of a treatment program are effective are based on many factors, including the patient and the program.

Graphic of graphs and statistics.

What are the Results of Drug Treatment Programs?

The specific results of drug and alcohol treatment programs are difficult to assess.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that only about 10 percent get it in an appropriate facility. More than 23 million people aged 12 to 17 in need of treatment were included in the survey.

The study also found that for treatment to be effective for those living with co-occurring mental illnesses, both issues should be addressed. This pertains to a little more than 8 percent of those with substance use disorders. Fewer than 20 percent of people seeking treatment has a problem with alcohol and another drug.

The only chance for a treatment program to be effective is for an addicted person to enter and participate in the treatment program. There’s no guarantee, but without beginning treatment, there is no chance for recovery and far too many people don’t take that first step.

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Are Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs Effective?

It’s impossible to determine an exact success rate for treatment programs. Still, individual treatment programs claim success and base those claims on:

  • Program completion
  • Sobriety rates immediately following treatment
  • Interviews of clients
  • Internal studies

Assessing sobriety rates immediately after treatment is problematic because so many people suffer relapses further into the future.

According to Joseph A. Califana, Jr., former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and founder of the National Center on Addiction and Substance, in an interview with TIME Magazine, “The therapeutic community claims a 30% success rate, but they only count people who complete the program.”

Califano adds that the other 70 to 80 percent have dropped out within three to six months of starting treatment.

Is Traditional Addiction Treatment Effective?

Some argue that traditional rehabilitation programs that rely on self-assessment and self-control aren’t as effective as programs that embrace pharmaceutical solutions. There is also concern that some of the messages included in traditional rehabilitation models decrease a person’s chances of success in recovery. This includes the idea that it is necessary to hit “rock bottom” before treatment will be effective.

Researchers have also considered that data repeatedly shows the greatest strides in recovery occur early in treatment. Regarding whether or not addiction treatment is effective, both sides have used this fact to support their argument. Some believe it points to the ineffectiveness of rehab, while others believe the early gains predict a successful recovery.

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Inpatient Rehab vs. Outpatient Rehab

In general, there are two different types of addiction treatment: inpatient and outpatient. Both focus on rehabilitation and each has benefits to offer the addicted person.

What’s the difference between inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment?

Inpatient treatment, sometimes called residential recovery, includes full-time, intensive programs designed to treat serious addictions. These programs remove a person from his or her usual life for a time so his or her focus can be entirely on recovery. Patients receive around-the-clock medical and emotional support. They do not go to work or attend school while in treatment and they live on-site at the treatment facility.

Patients in inpatient treatment programs receive instructions for what they can bring with them to the program and what they can and cannot do during treatment. There are also policies concerning communication with friends and family. Family support is important in treatment and some facilities provide counseling for family members.

Outpatient programs, on the other hand, are part-time and support a person’s recovery while he or she goes about a usual routine with work and school. There are no restrictions regarding interaction with friends and family and participants usually live at home, though there are overnight programs that allow for attendance at school or work during the day.

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are beneficial. Whether or not a program is effective for someone is based on his or her addiction and individual circumstances.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most effective treatment programs typically include:

  • The understanding that addiction is a treatable disease that alters brain function and behavior and there is a risk for relapse even after long periods of abstinence
  • The understanding that no single treatment program is right for everyone. A person’s problems and needs must be considered when matching him or her to treatment options
  • Immediate availability
  • The ability to attend to needs in addition to treating the drug or alcohol abuse, including medical psychological, social, vocational, and legal issues
  • A combination of behavioral therapy and medication-assisted therapy tailored to a person’s age, gender, ethnicity, and culture for an appropriate length of time
  • Involve the individual, as well as his or her family
  • Support for co-occurring mental health issues
  • Initially medically assisted detoxification
  • Continuous monitoring of drug use during treatment
  • Testing for the presence of communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B & C, and tuberculosis

It’s impossible to tell exactly how effective addiction treatment for drug or alcohol abuse is in general, but those participating in the right treatment program for them have a better chance of recovery.

"Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective. Sanctions or enticements from family, employment settings, and/or the criminal justice system can significantly increase treatment entry, retention rates, and the ultimate success of drug treatment interventions."

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Resources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “SAMHSA’s Annual Mental Health, Substance Use Data Provide Roadmap for Future Action.” HHS.Gov, 14 Sept. 2018,https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2018/09/14/samhsa-annual-mental-health-substance-use-data-provide-roadmap-for-future-action.html

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Effective Treatment.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

Patton, Derek, and Ladc Mac. Substance Abuse Aftercare Treatment Phoenix Area Integrated Behavioral Health Behavioral Health Program Specialist

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
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Medically Reviewed: March 3, 2020
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Annamarie Coy

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