Anyone who develops a substance use disorder faces a unique and difficult set of challenges. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a chronic disease, meaning there is no "cure." However, drug addiction treatment programs can be effective in helping a person overcome addiction.
There are a variety of treatment centers and rehabilitation programs that can help with addiction recovery. Whether or not the results of a treatment program are effective are based on many factors, including the patient and the program.
The most common types of addiction rehabilitation programs include:
Each program will have their own unique combination of treatment plans and therapies. Common methods include:
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:
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
It’s difficult to determine an exact success rate for treatment programs. Still, individual treatment programs claim success and base those claims on:
Assessing sobriety rates immediately after treatment is problematic because so many people suffer relapses further into the future.
According to the Butler Center at Hazelden Betty Ford:
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.”
It is estimated that approximately 1 out of 3 people who complete a drug or alcohol treatment will remain sober. Relapse rates decrease the further someone gets in their treatment programs.
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.
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 treatment in an appropriate facility. More than 23 million people aged 12 to 17 in need of treatment in the United Sttaes 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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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, https://cabhp.asu.edu/sites/default/files/ihs-2018-aftercare_ppt.dwp_.5.14.18.pdf
NIDA. "How effective is drug addiction treatment?." Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 3 Jun. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment.