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A substance use disorder (SUD) is a chronic, long term condition. Therefore, treatment for that addiction doesn’t necessarily mean a person is instantly ‘cured’ from their disorder, rather it can be a lifetime process.

This journey might sometimes feel as though it is one step forward and two back, but the ultimate goal is to enjoy a fulfilling, healthy life.

This means that the outcomes of successful addiction treatment are measured in improvements in aspects of life that are important to you rather than an absolute end to substance abuse. This article will explore this in more detail.

How Addiction Treatment Outcomes Are Measured

Like other chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure, there are no cures to substance use disorders, only treatments.

Additionally, whilst many physical diseases can be monitored regularly, say blood pressure, it is more difficult to quantify progress in the treatment of psychological problems like addiction. Instead, measurements are more qualitative, perhaps asking a person how they feel.

Given the qualitative nature of assessing someone’s progress, there are no universally accepted criteria for treatment efficacy and different treatment centres will have slightly different approaches to outcome measurement.

However, Public Health England has published a list of outcomes that can be expected of drug misuse treatment [1].

Broadly, these are:

  • Reduced amounts and frequency of substance use with fewer relapses
  • Improved physical and medical health, evidenced by fewer medical visits, improved mood and behaviour
  • Better relationships with friends and family
  • Improved employment and education status
  • Improved legal status with less chance of being involved in crime
  • Better safety like fewer traffic accidents and injuries

Relapse Does Not Equal Treatment Failure

As mentioned, recovery from substance addiction is a journey and can sometimes feel like you aren’t making so much progress.

Relapse frequently occurs in physical chronic health conditions too and the National Institute on Drug Abuse [2] suggests that relapse in addiction (40-60%) is actually less frequent than in some common physical conditions:

  • Diabetes: 30-50%
  • Asthma: 50-70%
  • High Blood Pressure: 50-70%

Again, similarly to physical health conditions, if relapse occurs, it just means that a different approach, medicine or way of thinking might be required to get you back on track and moving forwards.

What Factors Might Improve the Rate of Success in Addiction Recovery?

To be effective, treatment is holistic, multipronged and highly individualised to your specific needs. Despite varying between facility to facility and person to person, successful treatment for addiction has the following key aspects:

1. Full Continuum of Care

The road along the way to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is a long one, passing through multiple stages. A full continuum of care means ensuring that you have appropriate support along each of those stages, from start to finish.

A wealth of research over the years has demonstrated providing adequate continuity of care promotes long term recovery, especially during longer treatment periods [3].

Again, exactly how treatment is carried out depends on which facility you attend, but a typical course of treatment will involve:

  • Detox: Starting soon after you last ingest drugs or alcohol, detox begins. This process lasts about a week-long and is when your body begins to get rid of the products of substance abuse that may have built up in your body. During this time, you may experience withdrawal symptoms [4]. If you have been abusing a substance for a long time, your body gets used to it, adapting the way chemical signals in your brain (neurotransmitters) work, especially in the reward areas of brain. This gives you a physical dependence on the substance so that when you stop ingesting it, your body ‘misses’ it, resulting in withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms, peaking around 36 hours after you top or taking drugs, can involve fevers, sweats and nausea. In some cases, people may develop a potentially serious condition, ‘delirium tremens’ [5] which can result in confusion and seizures. For this reason, trained healthcare professionals are present to provide you with all the support you need.
  • Inpatient Treatment: Following detox, work starts on helping you to understand your addiction, how and why it developed and healthier ways to cope with life stressors than turning to drugs and alcohol. Living onsite at the rehab facility, treatment with professional therapists will usually involve a range of talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) [6] and counselling [7], both of which have a strong evidence base in helping treat addiction. In addition to these psychological therapies, alternative therapies such as art and music therapy, meditation and yoga have also been found to promote long-term recovery from addiction [8].
  • Outpatient Treatment: As you make progress, you will soon reach the point when you are ready to slowly transition back to normal life, starting with spending nights in your own home but returning to the rehab facility during the day for further therapy sessions which can either be held in groups or for individuals.
  • Aftercare: The hard work doesn’t stop as your time in formal rehab draws to a close. After making sure you are ready to leave the facility, a successful recovery programme will provide you with a personalised relapse prevention plan to help guide you with support in the community when needed. Peer support groups are also helpful after your rehab experience, especially at difficult times along the way. The charity Adfam has a useful list of local peer support organisations on their website [9].

2. A Broad Multidisciplinary Team

The recovery process is both physical and mental so an effective rehab facility will have a broad range of staff roles including medical professionals; physicians, psychiatrists and nurses as well as psychologists, dieticians and physiotherapists.

It is this broad multidisciplinary team that enables you to receive that full continuum of care. This is shown in research where some studies have shown that low staff-to-client ratios are associated with higher rates of medical errors and lower patient satisfaction due to being unable to provide enough individual attention [10].

It is important that when choosing a facility to receive treatment, it is important to take this into consideration.

Facts and Statistics About Drug Rehab

It is difficult to find rehab success rate statistics as different facilities will take different approaches and treatment of different addictions will have different outcomes of success.

Additionally, length of treatment also seems to play a role with findings that people who received medication-assisted-therapy (MAT) for over three years have lower relapse rates than those who had MAT for less time [11].

Despite these differences, this is a very general overview:

1. Inpatient or Outpatient Rehab Success Outcomes

The average stay for treatment is around 28 to 30 days although stays of 90 days and over, months even, are common. Research seems to suggest that people with alcohol addiction had better outcomes such as less involvement in the justice system and fewer relapses in those that had received inpatient treatment than outpatient, especially those with more severe problems [12].

There is evidence to suggest that the same is true in other addictions too [13]. Of course, where a person receives their treatment is dependent on their problem, those with mild addictions might find that intensive outpatient programmes are more appropriate for their needs.

Certainly, some treatment, even if short, is required after detox as addictions are not only physical but mental too.

2. Alcohol Addiction Success Rates

Research has shown that in the year following treatment, one in four clients maintain a life free of alcohol use and the remainder who finish the therapy reduce their alcohol intake by 87% [14].

Behind many of these success stories is the use of a ’12 step programme’, designed by the peer support organisation Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but can be applied to recovery from many other addictions.

Briefly, these steps involve; honesty, faith, surrender, soul searching, integrity, acceptance, humility, forgiveness, maintenance, making contact and service. If you would like to know more about 12 step programmes, the AA website has more information [15].

3. Opioid and Heroin Addiction Success Rates

Replacement medications like methadone and buprenorphine are typically used to treat opioid addiction in medication-assisted-therapy (MAT). This has largely been a success story with studies showing that MAT decreased heroin use by up to 90% [16].

4. Cocaine Addiction Success Rates

As of yet, there are no approved medications to treat cocaine addiction as MAT is not yet a possibility although work is underway looking at disulfiram, a drug commonly used in treatment for alcohol dependence [17].

Instead, treatment for cocaine addiction relies on psychological and behavioural therapies like CBT. Again this is supported in the research with one study showing that three-quarters of research participants used cocaine weekly or more frequently, five years after commencing treatment [18].

More Things to Consider When Considering Different Rehab Facilities

Understandably, weighing up all of the different success rates for facilities can be a little overwhelming to start with but it’s important to take other facts into consideration too.

Common questions people tend to have include:

  • Is this rehab facility credible?: The majority of facilities are accredited if credible and hold memberships of professional organisations
  • What is the cost of rehab?: Costs widely vary and depend on whether you opt for NHS or private facilities. Please note that rehab is rarely free although government funding is sometimes available to those requiring particularly intensive support
  • Will rehab cost me my job?: You are protected by several laws that ensure that you aren’t discriminated against at work for having to attend rehab. Citizen’s Advice has more information about your rights under the 2010 Equality Act [19]

Hopefully, this article has given you some insight into what to look for in an effective rehab facility. As ever, help for addiction is always available when needed and the NHS is always a good place to start [20].

Click here to read tips for selecting drug and alcohol rehab.

References

[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/586111/PHE_Evidence_review_of_drug_treatment_outcomes.pdf

[2] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2670779/

[4] https://www.verywellmind.com/symptoms-of-alcohol-withdrawal-63791

[5] https://patient.info/healthy-living/alcohol-and-liver-disease/alcohol-withdrawal-and-detox-alcohol-detoxification

[6] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/

[7] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/counselling/

[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25514689/

[9] https://adfam.org.uk/help-for-families/useful-organisations

[10] https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.ps.56.8.934

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424859/

[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21426420/

[13] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10617094/

[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11327187/

[15] https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/About-AA/The-12-Steps-of-AA

[16] https://guidedoc.com/heroin-addiction-treatment-success-rates-statistics

[17] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-treatments-are-effective-cocaine-abusers

[18] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/206441

[19] https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/discrimination/about-discrimination/equality-act-2010-discrimination-and-your-rights/

[20] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/drug-addiction-getting-help/

boris

Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process.