Drug and Alcohol Rehab Success Rates

Over the years I have written a considerable amount on the topic of drug and alcohol rehab success rates. I was just looking back at some old articles I did several years ago that feature on other websites that I do not own or have control of anymore and thought it would be a good idea to revisit the topic.

When talking to a potential client of a rehab center the question almost always comes up, “What is your drug and alcohol rehab success rate?”

As I have always said the only honest answer I can give is “I don’t know.”

You are probably not to happy with that answer and that is understandable, people when researching different centers or ‘products’ and looking for the best program for their specific needs want to know what the drug and alcohol rehab success rates are. They want a specific statistic to compare to try and justify which is the better program for them.

Lets look at the why drug and alcohol rehab success rates do not fall into the easily recordable categories that other products do.

Drug and Alcohol Rehab Success Rates – Defining Success

1: Success itself is difficult to define since it is a subjective term and means different things to different people. For example, in the case of graduates from a specific course or program, we can say 76% of graduates from the program at XYZ University are earning in excess of $100,000 per year 5 years after completing the course. In this case we have defined success as earning 6 figures or more with in 5 years of completing the course, it is reasonably easy to verify as we can look at peoples tax records and can track down all the graduates of the program.

When looking at drug and alcohol rehab success rates however it is much more difficult, first as in the example above we would need to define success, what do you call success in rehab? Clean and sober for a year, 5 years or the rest of your life? Maybe success to you is your quality of life improved and you no longer abuse alcohol and manage to drink socially? It happens, not recommended to try but it does happen.

So first we would need to define success, so for this example we are going to define drug and alcohol rehab success rates as clean and sober 5 years after attending the program. Now the only way to come up with our percentage would be to follow up with all the past clients that attended the drug and alcohol rehab program at least 5 years ago.

Drug and alcohol Rehab Success Rates – Collecting Data

We have our definition for success that we are going to use, which we have decided is clean and sober for 5 years after leaving the program. Now we need to look at the problems of collecting information.

Where do we start? Well we can contact all past clients of the center that completed the program at least 5 years ago. One of the issues in a voluntary drug and alcohol rehabilitation center is that the clients come from all over the country, in the case of Thailand all over the world. They are mobile professionals in many cases and it is extremely difficult to maintain contact with.

Also many of the clients do not want to be followed up on, they have come to the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center to maintain their anonymity and wish to keep it that way. I have had clients in the past who expressly stated that they do not want to be followed up on and in other cases with certain high profile clients we used a pseudonym on their intake documents and even the staff at the center were unaware of their real identity. Or if they were aware the staff at the center did not have access to the clients personal contact details and non-treatment related documents. So you have to remove that segment of your client base from the follow up.

Another issue with drug and alcohol rehab success rates when trying to collect data is that the people coming to the center develop a close relationship with their therapists and in some cases the clients do not want to let their therapist down, so even if they have relapsed and are drinking or using again there is always the possibility that they will not tell you the truth.

Then there is the segment who did not come to the center to quit drinking and wanted to learn to control it, let me state here there is no center to my knowledge that I refer to that will promote controlled drinking. They are all abstinence based, and illegal drugs are without question abstinence based programs as it would not be ethical in any way whatsoever to promote controlled cocaine or heroin use.

So looking at the challenges in collecting the information they come down to;

  • Can you follow up with the people?
  • Do you have permission to follow up with them?
  • Will they tell you the truth?
  • Do they define success as abstinence for 5 years?

Drug and Alcohol Success Rates – Tabulating Data

At this point we have collected all the possible data that we can and it is time to put it together and see how we are doing. Since we can’t follow people around for 5 years and regularly drug test them we only have their word to go on as to if they were clean and sober for the five years following their treatment. That's a pretty big assumption, for a comparison you can look at questionnaires with teenagers about sexual activity. When running anonymous questionnaires with teenagers about sexual activity, girls in the 14 – 18 age group will generally state no they never have had a sexual partner. Boys in the same age group will almost always answer, yes they have had many. So there is a major discrepancy here and either the boys are playing up the number, the girls are playing down the numbers or there are a few girls that have had a considerable number of partners. I think the answer is probably in the All Of The Above category, which basically makes your statistics useless, in this case teenage pregnancies is a much more reliable measure.

The same holds true when following up on drug and alcohol rehab success rates. Some people will tell the truth, some will not and some will not respond. This is going to skew your statistics in a huge way, probably giving a much higher success rate then actually exists since the ones that have not relapsed will tell you they haven’t and be proud of it and are unlikely to tell you they have, some of the ones who have relapsed will not be truthful and tell you they are sober.

How can you tell who has relapsed and is back to their previous drinking or drug behavior and who hasn’t? Then there are the non-respondents, what do you do with these? Traditionally when doing statistics this group will not be included in the totals so if you followed up with 1,200 past clients, 200 did not respond your survey size is 1,000 past clients for your drug and alcohol rehab success rates survey. My opinion however on this and it is just an opinion, chances are the relapse rate in the non-respondents is going to be considerably higher then in the people that did respond. Why? Again comes down to they develop a bond with the people that treated them and they don’t want to let them down, it is easier to just not respond then to lie.

I hope you can see the difficulty here when stating statistics on drug and alcohol rehab success rates? It is basically impossible without being able to follow people around for the rest of their lives. It is not like statistics for average household income compared to gross domestic product. That is something you can qualify and quantify reasonably easily and accurately, behavioral issues are much more difficult and I am skeptical about any statistics I read about drug and alcohol rehab success rates.

Drug and alcohol Rehab Success Rates – Examples

A few years ago when researching drug and alcohol rehab success rates I came across a center, I will not mention their name, in the United States that claimed an exceptionally high success rate, if memory serves it was in the high 80’s. I started doing some additional digging on how they measure and define success. Basically non-respondents are removed, of course, they attempted a follow up with all clients 1 year after they were discharged from the center, if the client was admitted for using methamphetamine for instance they only asked, “Are you using methamphetamine now?” Not have you used it in the last year, only are you using it now. If the client responded, no they are not using methamphetamine then that went down as a success. Fair enough right? Client was admitted for meth and is no longer using meth, success? Well if the client did tell them that they were no longer using meth but had switched to heroin, still considered a success by their scale since they only worried about the meth for their statistics.

So technically their statistics on drug and alcohol rehabilitation success rates are “true”, but they are not truthful.

An example on how I put the drug and alcohol rehab success rates numbers in a previous article is as follows:

When doing follow-ups only a percentage of clients will respond. Therefore, this will make any assessment skewed. This means that when a centre offers a success rate what they are saying is: Of the zzz people contacted xxx responded. Of those responses, yyy said that they are still abstinent. Note the word ‘said.’ So, any success rate mentioned is only a percentage of the people who responded. And then there is no way of telling whether they have told the truth. So, for example, say you asked 100 people and 60 respond. Of the 60 responses 30 said that they are abstinent. You could say that you have a 50% success rate. However the truth is that you have a 30% success rate based on the responder’s reply. The bottom line is that it is meaningless.

Now with all that said, I am not going to tell you that you shouldn’t go to a residential rehab, if you are still reading this far down and you are not doing it for research purposes chances are you should give me or someone else a call as quick as you can. From the research we do have people stand the best chance of lasting recovery by doing an initial stint in a residential rehab, the longer the better, followed by long term aftercare and support.

The purpose of this long post is basically to show you when comparing residential rehabs the drug, the alcohol rehab success rates they show need to be defined as to what they actually mean since what they say and what they really mean can be radically different.

drug and alcohol rehab success rates

My personal background has been in marketing; believe me I can say ABC in such a way as to make you think I said XYZ when in fact I said nothing at all. The purpose of this entire website has been my coming clean, figuratively speaking, and trying to refer people to the best drug and alcohol rehabilitation center to suit their specific needs from what is available in the area and in your budget. Since I believe that most of the centers are all well meaning and ethical, however they are in competition with one another and one will probably suit you better then the others as they all have different programs.

A perfect example of using statistics for marketing a rehab without actually saying what a drug and alcohol rehab success rate is, is the following.

Here at ABC Treatment Center we have an 86% program completion rate, placing us amongst the best drug and alcohol treatment centers in the world.

What does that mean? Well it means that 86% of people that book into the center stay for the amount of time they booked for. ie: if you booked two weeks you don’t leave after 1 week and if you booked for 4 weeks you stay for that amount of time. How do I know? I invented the metric; well maybe I didn’t invent it but I used it extensively and many places followed suit afterwards. In this example it is true by the metric used. Does it mean anything towards drug and alcohol rehab success rates? Well only if you define success as staying at the center you paid for, for the full course that you paid for.

It is no different then saying 86% of people who book their hip surgery show up and have their hip surgery.

However in the defense of the centers that use that metric, the ones in Thailand are exceptionally high for completion rates, meaning you stay for the time you paid for. Reason they are nice, comfortable and well away from your normal triggers and friends. It’s also not easy for you to leave the center, they are not prisons and if you choose to leave early they will allow you to do so, legally they can’t actually stop you anyways. On the other hand if you are in a center just around the corner from your home or your favorite bar? Well pretty easy to say the heck with it I am out of here, it’s my buddy Bob’s bachelor party tonight.

So when looking at drug and alcohol rehab success rates be sure to ask what they call success and how they measure it. Either way though, remember most people in this industry are their because they have been affected by drug and alcohol in some way in their own lives and genuinely want to help you.