Does Addiction Rehab Work?

Does Addiction Rehab Work?

The simple answer is "YES." However, a more thoughtful answer will depend on the therapy program used and how you define success. For example, success in a detoxification program designed for a few days means a patient is sober after those few days. This is why the majority of detox centers have a 100 percent success rate. The only way your loved one with a drug use problem may fail in a detox clinic is if they withdraw from treatment against medical advice in the middle of it.

However, a residential (inpatient) drug treatment program focuses more on long-term sobriety and helping patients in achieving positive life adjustments. This higher bar for success may lead to a higher failure rate. However, this doesn't mean that the program is ineffective or not a viable option.

What Factors Go into Determining Success Rates?

When people come to us looking for treatment options for themselves (or loved ones), they are often skeptical about the effectiveness of rehabilitation. Some people even seek information on the success rate of a particular treatment approach.

We cannot insist enough on how vital it is for someone struggling with a drug use problem to stay dedicated to a treatment program until it is completed. No treatment program, no matter how good, will be able to assist your addicted loved one to achieve and maintain long-term sobriety unless they are completely committed to it. "No addict can be really treated unless he or she wants to be helped," the specialists say, and they are right.

According to SAMHSA,(Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), approximately 45 percent of people successfully finish treatment, but there are significant differences (depending on the type of therapy):

  • Only 12% of patients complete medication-assisted outpatient opioid treatment.
  • 37% of patients complete intensive outpatient therapy.
  • 45% of patients complete long-term inpatient (residential) therapy.
  • 47% of individuals successfully detox from opioids with the assistance of meds.
  • 54% of patients in inpatient treatment at a hospital complete their treatment
  • 55% of patients complete short-term residential therapy.
  • 69% of individuals complete detox.

While these figures offer a glimpse of popular treatment regimens' effectiveness, the reality is much more complex. Completing a program is one thing, but remaining sober is quite another.

This is why it's important to examine the context and make sure the treatment program you're considering can provide a comprehensive long-term support system. Rather than focusing only on getting your loved one clean and out of the rehab, a better treatment plan will teach your loved one the tools they'll need to make long-term lifestyle changes and stay sober.

Measuring the Outcomes of Addiction Treatment

As with other chronic conditions (like cancer, diabetes, asthma, HIV/AIDS, or hypertension), drug use disorders do not have a 'cure,' just treatments.

Furthermore, although one can regularly monitor most physical illnesses (such as high blood pressure), measuring success in treating psychological issues such as substance use disorders is more difficult. Measuring addiction and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety is qualitative, using measures such as asking a client how they feel.

Due to the subjective nature of evaluating someone's development in addiction rehabs, there are no generally recognized standards for treatment effectiveness, and various treatment facilities may approach outcome assessment differently.

The greatest indicator of whether drug treatment is helping your loved ones in rehab is if they have "matured" as a person. Are they achieving academic success? Are they able to maintain a stable job? Has their connection with family, neighbors, classmates, teachers, and friends become any better? All of these factors may be used to measure rehab success.

Whatever drug you use, there is almost always a treatment center out there that claims to address your loved one's particular addiction. But, determining whether or not it is effective may be a little more difficult. The Office of NDCP( National Drug Control Policy) released a white paper precisely defining what it means for treatment to be "working." The paper also highlighted the beneficial impacts clients must have after discharge. They are:

  • Reduced drug usage in quantity and frequency, as well as longer intervals between relapses*
  • Enhancement of job or educational standing, as well as attendance
  • Physical health improvement, as shown by a reduction in medical appointments
  • Increased mental health, as shown by better mood, character traits, and healthy behaviors
  • Relationships with peers, friends, colleagues, family, neighbors, and other loved ones, are strengthened.
  • Enhancements to one's legal standing, such as compliance with probation or the commission of fewer crimes
  • Increased safety, as shown by a reduction in automobile accidents and injuries. 

Bear in mind that addiction is a personal journey, and if an individual does not experience these benefits, they may need to remain longer in rehab, get care at a different center, or try other types of substance abuse therapies.

*Note: I define sobriety or sober as the prolonged abstinence from all mind-altering substances, including many doctor prescribed medications, such as Adderall and Xanax. For example, a client may go to rehab to treat their alcoholism, successfully graduate from that treatment program, return home and start taking benzodiazepines to calm their nerves; under our definition of sobriety, this person is NOT sober, they have merely traded one addiction for another. It’s just a matter of time before they must return to rehab for their addiction to Xanax.  

What Can Help Addiction Recovery Be More Successful?

Effective therapy necessitates a multi-pronged strategy that addresses the individual as a whole, beginning with a high degree of care and descending to lower, less intensive programs. 

Program duration is also important; therapy lasting less than three months may not give the best results. However, lengthier programming may lead to greater long-term results.

The elements of an effective addiction treatment program are as follows:

Continuum of Care in Its Entirety

Participants who get a complete continuum of care go through several phases of therapy, usually beginning with medication-assisted detox and concluding with protracted aftercare. Moving addiction treatment clients through phases of ongoing care often improves long-term success rates. Generally, the longer the treatment program, the better the results.

A comprehensive treatment plan may include:

Medical detoxification

A person in medical detox gets 24-hour treatment for severe withdrawal symptoms (as the body eliminates alcohol and drug chemicals from their blood).

Inpatient/residential therapy

The patient stays on-site and participates in individual counseling programs, group therapy sessions, and learning relapse prevention skills.

Addiction Outpatient Care

While still receiving therapy at the institution, the patient returns to their normal routine.


The client follows a behavior management and relapse prevention plan that is tailored to them while in recovery. They also participate in alumni seminars and support groups, such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous).

Dual diagnosis therapy is critical for individuals with substance use disorders and co-occurring illnesses like depression, bipolar, borderline personality, or anxiety. People with these illnesses may turn to drugs to self-medicate.  

Addressing both is essential for long-term sobriety and better recovery.

Relapse Doesn't Equal Treatment Failure.

Relapse following treatment is frequent in most individuals dealing with physical chronic health issues, and backslides among drug addiction patients (40-60 percent) are lower than in some common chronic diseases, according to the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse):

  • Relapse rates for diabetes range from 30 to 50 percent.
  • Relapse rate for asthma is 50-70 percent.
  • Relapse rates for high blood pressure range from 50 to 70 percent.

When you look into the underlying causes of type 2 diabetes, you may find that being obese or having a family history of this condition contributed to your situation. Adopting a routine of regular exercise or medication may help alleviate symptoms. However, if you stop exercising or taking the medication, you risk experiencing a relapse.

Look at addiction relapse from the same angle. While cravings may subside if your loved one continues to attend therapy regularly if they continue to be bullied at school, or their girlfriend/boyfriend heartbreaks them, they may relapse.

The most important element of your loved one's growth in rehab is their desire to remain clean. Is your loved one self-aware of their mistakes and seeks help when they relapse? That is perhaps the most revealing sign that therapy has been beneficial to them. They acknowledge that they made a mistake but also understand that they are no longer alone.

Marc Kantor is the founder of South Florida Intervention and which helps people recover from drug and alcohol addiction, anxiety, and depression. If someone you care about is struggling with addiction or mental illness, please text or call us at 202-390-2273.