Does Drug Rehab Work?

new goals written in notepadAddiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic, but treatable, disorder. Research shows that completion of a licensed rehabilitation program gives addicted individuals their best chance for successful long-term recovery.

Unfortunately, only about 10 percent of the millions of Americans age 12 or over with a substance use disorder (SUD) receive needed treatment in a given year, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Ensuring more people get the treatment they need means overcoming the stigma of addiction, as well as increasing availability and understanding of treatment resources. Once addicted individuals are in a rehab program, it is vital they remain in the program for an adequate period of time. Studies indicate that clients who remain in rehab for at least 90 days have the most positive outcomes.

What is Drug Rehab?

Rehab is short for rehabilitation treatment center, which provides residential recovery programs for those struggling with substance use or other mental disorders. Typically, patients stay in residence for 30 or more days.

The program may include:

  • Medically monitored detoxification
  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • 12-step or other recovery support groups
  • An aftercare program.

Residential programs differ from outpatient programs, where clients live at home during recovery. Outpatient programs may serve as the primary level of care, or as a follow-up to residential treatment.

Studies have found that clients in residential treatment are nearly three times as likely to complete treatment as those in outpatient treatment.

Addiction Treatment Statistics

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease characterized by a compulsion to use mind-altering substances or engage in certain behaviors despite negative consequences. Regular use of drugs or alcohol rewires the brain, causing dysfunction in the pleasure, reward, and motivation centers, making it difficult for users to stop on their own.

Although SUD has been recognized as a chronic disease for several decades, the misplaced belief by many that addicted individuals should be able to stop using on their own remains. The resulting stigma prevents many from seeking the help they need.

Statistics cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicate:

  • Only about 10 percent of the 20.3 million with SUD in the U.S. receive treatment
  • Less than 10 percent of the 7.7 million people with a substance use disorder and accompanying mental disorder receive treatment for both
  • Almost 70,000 people die from accidental drug overdose each year
  • Over 80,000 people die from alcohol related causes each year

The low treatment statistics contrast sharply with other chronic diseases that do not carry the same stigma as addiction and mental illness. For example, of the 29 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, 85 percent receive treatment.

Relapse is Not a Sign of Failure

upset man getting help in drug rehabAs with any chronic disease, relapse is not uncommon on the road to addiction recovery. It should not be seen as a sign of failure, but rather a part of the recovery process. Relapse may indicate a need to strengthen coping skills, modify the treatment plan, strengthen the support system, and re-evaluate recovery goals.

Addicted individuals who complete a quality drug rehabilitation program have a relapse rate of 40-60 percent. This is similar to the relapse rate of other chronic disorders like diabetes (30-50%), hypertension (60-70%), and asthma (50-70%), according to the NIDA. Relapse of any chronic disease is likely if the individual ceases to comply with their treatment plan.

After completion of a professional alcohol or drug treatment program, regular attendance at support group meetings improves long-term outcomes. Participation in a support group helps those in recovery develop a sober social network, increases motivation and accountability, reduces negative emotions, and increases a sense of hope and well-being.

Measuring Rehab Success Rates

There is no uniform standard used by drug rehab centers to measure success. Some rehabs consider success to be the completion of the program, while others consider follow-up statistics. Clients may receive follow up for a few months after treatment, while others may be followed for years.

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation analyzes patient addiction treatment outcomes by measuring the length of sobriety, quality of life, and aftercare compliance.

Follow up surveys find successful recovery is greatest for those who:

  • Completed at least 90 days of a residential program
  • Continue with individual counseling
  • Continue to participate in 12-step or another support group program
  • Have a strong, sober support network
  • Reside in a sober environment
  • Practice a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, good nutrition, and stress management

How to Choose a Quality Rehab

Make sure to research rehab centers you are considering beforehand, including licenses and accreditations. Ensure they are accredited by the Joint Commission, which indicates the facility and staff adhere to the highest levels of quality and performance standards.

Be wary of treatment centers that promise extremely high success rates. As part of your research, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation suggests you ask the following:

  • What variables and which patient populations are you measuring?
  • How are you defining “success” – Length of abstinence from alcohol and other drugs? Improved physical health? Improved mental health? Other quality of life indicators?
  • How was the data collected?
  • Over what time period?
  • How many patients are surveyed and what is the response rate?
  • What type of substance abuse rehab program did patients participate in Residential or outpatient? Evidence-based behavioral therapies?

It is also important to determine whether the rehab treats co-occurring disorders along with the SUD. Substance use and mental disorders frequently co-occur, meaning they are present simultaneously, and both must be treated for successful recovery. As noted above, almost 40 percent of those with a SUD have a co-occurring mental disorder, yet less than 10 percent receive treatment for both.

If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder with or without an accompanying mental disorder, reach out for help. Remember, addiction is a chronic disease, just like diabetes or asthma, and you have a right to treatment. Talk to your physician or an addiction specialist for guidance.

Midwest Recovery Centers is an extended care treatment facility, providing intensive recovery treatment for addiction as well as other life problems. Utilizing a 12-step approach, we focus on recovery of the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. Contact us today to start your recovery journey.


Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., MAADC II
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.

Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Click or Call Today! 844-990-1578

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