But finding firm statistics isn’t always easy. Recovery can look different for everyone. And often, recovery takes time. What might look like a failure could be an indication of an ongoing struggle.
In 2023, more than 72% of people who ever had a substance use problem considered themselves either recovered or in recovery. But let’s dig deeper to determine what treatment success really means and how it works.
What Is the Success Rate for Drug Rehab?
A typical drug rehab program combines multiple elements to help people build a healthier life in sobriety. Examining each treatment element, along with the drugs that typically cause problems, could make the success rate easier to understand.
More than 95% of addiction treatment programs use some form of therapy. Tools like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people examine the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that lead to drug use. And relapse prevention counseling can help people build skills to deploy when they’re tempted to backslide.
Head-to-head comparisons of therapy aren’t always useful. Some people benefit from one method, while others need a different approach. But since so many programs deploy therapy, it’s clear the technique has at least some usefulness and success.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs use FDA-approved drugs like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone to address opioid and alcohol addictions. These programs can be very effective.
Researchers say MAT decreases opioid misuse and overdoses. When MAT programs were introduced in Baltimore, for example, heroin overdoses decreased by 37%.
Some substances, such as cocaine, can’t be addressed with MAT. No medications are designed to correct the chemical imbalances caused by these drugs. But some programs use medications to ease specific symptoms, such as anxiety or insomnia.
Some treatment programs introduce 12-step support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Others encourage people to move into therapeutic communities filled with others in recovery to find a sense of community around the clock.
Researchers say support group work like this can reduce substance use, increase treatment engagement, reduce risky behaviors, and lessen cravings.
Support groups are personal. It’s critical to find a group that makes you feel at ease and relaxed. One that doesn’t work could be replaced with a different version that does. It could take a few tries to find the right fit for you.
Researchers say about 70% of people with alcohol abuse issues recover without treatment. About 25% of people with alcohol issues use services to get better. Measuring treatment efficacy in this group isn’t easy, as treatment tends to be utilized by people with severe issues, who might need longer to get better.
Alcohol treatment programs should be tailored to the needs of the person in treatment and last long enough to effect real change. Programs like this tend to be more successful than those that don’t use these approaches.
Opioid Abuse Treatment
Opioids like OxyContin, heroin, and Vicodin are often treated with MAT, therapy, and support group work. Efficacy is critical, as a relapse can lead to a fatal overdose.
Researchers say that about 30% of people with an opioid use disorder remain stable in sobriety after 10 to 30 years. Some who stop abusing opioids use substances like alcohol instead.
But recovery in this group could mean limiting opioid use just enough that people don’t overdose and die. Living for another 30+ years could be a success story for someone deep in active addiction.
Stimulant Abuse Treatment
Illicit drugs like crack and cocaine and prescription drugs like Ritalin aren’t good targets for MAT. However, treatment programs using counseling and support groups can be effective.
Studies suggest crack use decreases from about 50% to about 25% one year after treatment. Cocaine use drops from about 40% before treatment to about 18% after.
Marijuana Abuse Treatment
Marijuana is relatively easy to get across the country, especially in states where recreational use is legal. Recovery can be challenging when it’s easy to buy your next hit from a dispensary. However, research suggests that treatment programs decrease marijuana use by 73%.
Marijuana can’t be addressed with MAT. Instead, programs use therapy and support groups to help people build a stable, sober life.
Why Is It Difficult to Get Hard Statistics on Success Rates?
Few reputable organizations provide one success rate percentage. Saying that a specific percentage of people recover from addiction minimizes the journey the majority of people take from out-of-control drug use to stable recovery.
Researchers say most people recover from a substance abuse issue. But the process happens slowly, and relapses are common as people heal. To an outsider, a relapse can look like a failure. To someone working on recovery, these lapses are part of the process.
Recovery rates can also vary by the drugs you take, their impact on your brain cells, underlying mental health, and more. A flat statistic that compares an 18-year-old teen with a one-year alcohol problem and a 54-year-old adult with a 10-year heroin habit isn’t really useful for anyone.
Success in recovery is deeply personal. As a result, it’s incredibly difficult to map the journey with something as simple as a percentage or statistic.
What Does Recovery Really Mean?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says people in recovery stop misusing drugs and resume productive lives. Someone like this no longer puts substance use at the center of their lives. Instead, they have careers, friends, hobbies, and other elements of a meaningful life.
But sometimes, when people discuss recovery, they think about a return to drug misuse. In other words, some people think that those in recovery never relapse. The truth is slightly more complicated.
Substance abuse is a chronic condition. Between 40% and 60% of people with these disorders relapse. That rate is similar to relapse rates seen in other chronic conditions like heart disease or asthma.
People with addiction may slide back into bad habits periodically, and sometimes, that’s part of the recovery process. The average number of relapses is five, although the median number is two. Most people relapse a time or two. A few slide back into bad habits multiple times before they ultimately sustain their recovery.
A relapse doesn’t have to become a complete backslide. People who relapse can return to therapy and pick up new skills that can keep them from relapsing again.
How to Reduce Relapse Rates
Eliminating relapse rates isn’t always possible, especially early in the recovery process. People need to explore their triggers and spot their missing skills. Relapsing is a critical part of this process. But the goal is to limit how often people relapse, or ideally, to help people spot an impending relapse before it happens.
Longer treatment processes can help. Research suggests that people who get long-term treatment and support have a 23.9% greater chance of abstaining or consuming moderately than people who get shorter stints in care.
The longer you work with a treatment team, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to make more significant changes. And success tends to build over time.
Researchers say maintaining abstinence for at least five years significantly increases the likelihood of staying sober in the future. Don’t be discouraged if you relapse before you hit this point. It’s all about your overall journey to recovery, and relapse is often part of this long-term process.
Drug Rehab & Addiction Statistics
Research suggests that treatment teams can help people recover from addiction. But some people don’t get the care they need. And treatment rates can vary from substance to substance.
In 2021, people entered treatment for the following substances:
- Illicit drugs: 2,511 people entered treatment
- Alcohol: 2,570 people entered treatment
- Illicit drugs and alcohol: 1,282 people entered treatment
Some people get help for one substance (like alcohol). But clearly, some people mix and match their substances. Their recovery can be more complex as a result.
Some people have clear substance use disorders, but they don’t get any kind of treatment. Of the 39.5 million people who didn’t get care in 2021, 2.1% knew they needed care but didn’t get it.
Getting treatment can be as easy as visiting a doctor and admitting a problem. But some people enter formal treatment programs for care. They find something that works, and they stick with it.
What Comes Next?
Know that your drug rehab success is personal, and recovery can take time. Statistics can demonstrate that entering addiction treatment works for many people. If you’ve been considering rehab, these numbers could motivate you to take that first step.
But don’t be discouraged if the numbers show that people need time to recover. Relapse could be part of the process. And long time frames could be part of the journey too. But your recovery is possible.
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