How Effective Is Drug Addiction Treatment?

You hear it again and again: Addiction is a treatable disease that can be successfully managed with ongoing care. Defining “success” is complicated and tracking the habits of former clients is even more difficult, how can you know whether getting help really works? The answers may be clearer than you think.

Understanding Drug Addiction and Recovery

Stopping drug abuse and returning the former addict to a productive lifestyle are the goals of every treatment program, but this is where the sameness ends. For example, some clinics might refer a recovering opiate addict to a methadone clinic or a physician for a buprenorphine prescription. Another might encourage abstinence with support from Narcotics Anonymous and ongoing therapy. These programs may have widely varying success criteria.

Making matters more complex is the difficulty of staying in touch with former clients. Although some programs make strong aftercare and follow-up a centerpiece of programming, others do not — and even the most dedicated aftercare programs can lose touch with a client easily. Can we assume that a recovering client who hasn’t been in touch with his rehab center in over a year has relapsed, or simply moved on?

Understanding the definition of addiction — which is a chronic, relapsing disease — requires interpreting post-care outcomes in the same way we interpret post-care outcomes in other chronic, relapsing diseases. Asthma, diabetes and hypertension are all chronic, relapsing diseases. Yet, few would define relapse as failure — unlike addiction. Instead, the patient would simply return to active care to regain control of disease symptoms. Once a recovering addict accepts that substance abuse is a disease requiring a lifetime of care, the more likely he is to stay in treatment and keep abusive behavior at bay.

Drug Addiction Recovery and Relapse Rates

For these reasons, measuring recovery outcomes and relapse rates results in best-guess estimates. Drug addiction relapse rates mimic relapse rates from other chronic, relapsing diseases such as hypertension, according to 2012 data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

An estimated 40 to 60 percent of former drug addicts return to active substance abuse, indicating a need for additional or adjusted treatment. The NIDA also reports that most people who enroll and stay in treatment are able to “decrease their criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning.”

What Program Attributes Make Drug Addiction Treatment Effective?

Addiction is a mystery still unsolved, although researchers and treatment professionals make important discoveries every year. Alcoholics Anonymous is less than 100 years old, and the 12 Steps were the standard of care for decades. Today, a client who enrolls and stays in long-term care that is customized to his needs is far more likely to achieve an abuse-free, productive lifestyle, according to the NIDA.

The inference is that individuals who go to short-term detox to get through withdrawal are at a much higher risk of relapse. In addition, because mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety are closely linked with substance abuse, an individual who only goes to an outpatient support group may never get the medical care he needs to stop self-treating illness symptoms with drugs.

Call 12 Keys for More Information

If someone you care about is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or you’d like to learn more about our program, contact 12 Keys Rehab today.

The Addiction Blog