What is the success rate for alcohol rehab?

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Getting the exact figures for the success rate of alcohol rehab treatment is a bit of a challenge. One reason for this is because there's no standardised way to measure the success of residential treatment.  

Many centres base their success rates on unreliable metrics like: 

  • Completion of the programme 
  • Client interviews 
  • Sobriety rates immediately after alcohol treatment 
  • Internal data 

A 2018 study on the effectiveness of inpatient withdrawal and residential rehabilitation interventions showed that 59% of those who completed treatment had better treatment outcomes [1].

 In the study, success was measured based on: 

  • Successful completion of treatment. 
  • The patients who did not show up for any service within six months after completing their treatment. 

The CDC estimates that over 70,000 deaths occurred in 2019 involving opioid addiction [2].  

Alcohol addiction resulted in more than 95,000 deaths each year. That's 261 deaths per day [3].  

Although the CDC does not keep data for each drug, it records the number of deaths resulting from the most popular drugs, e.g., meth, cocaine, alcohol, etc. Deaths resulting from meth overdose have surged in eight years [4].  

Most of the deaths involved American Indians and Alaska natives, citing a need for culturally tailored treatment options. 

Alcohol addiction accounted for 12.8 deaths per 100,000 people in the U.K [5]. 

In addition, 358,000 admissions to hospital in 2018/19 were mainly due to alcohol use. This was 6% higher compared to 2017/18. In 2018, there were 5698 deaths [6]. 

A recent report showed the burden of drug and alcohol addiction to the NHS. Hospitals are struggling with many people whose drinking habits land them in A&E or mental health [7].  

The NHS estimates the cost of treatment as approximately £3.5bn a year. Yet alcohol services in the NHS and the community have been cut, resulting in an overwhelmed health service. 

Alcohol problems are going untreated, with most patients ending up in hospitals over and over. Unfortunately, the government only funded 25% of the hospitals that were worst affected [7]. 

With such statistics, most people are concerned whether residential rehab would help control the situation. 

What is the success rate for alcohol treatment? 

The answer is not clear for several reasons: 

1). There is no standard definition for the term 'rehab.' 

Since there's no standard definition for rehab, there's no standard metric for success for rehab centres.

Some facilities measure success by the number of people who complete rehab. Others consider sobriety in the follow-up months and years after "graduation" as a measure for success. 

Yet, there's an issue with this measure of success as it doesn't cover the issue of relapse.

There's a concern that most facilities citing 90 to 100% success rate base their figures on those who complete their length of stay. Some ground their figures on immediate sobriety rates after treatment. 

2). Relapse rates 

Some studies show high relapse rates after medical detoxification and dedicated treatment programmes [8].  

For example, the relapse rate for substance abuse disorders is estimated to be between 40 to 60% [9]. 

A study by Stephen Maisto, Kevin A. Hallgren, Corey R. Roos, and Katie Witkiewitz argued that transition post-treatment differs in each individual [10].  

It argues that 'heavy drinking' following treatment is not a sign of rehab failure.

This is because relapse is part of the recovery journey, as addiction is a relapsing disease with no cure. The only goal of treatment is to manage alcohol addiction. 

Most facilities fail to report on relapse success rates because: 

  1. It's difficult to track clients for months or years after treatment. 
  2. Lack of a global standard for success. 

How successful are alcohol rehab programmes? 

Research on rehab success varies widely [11]. 

  • A study by Butler Center for Research at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation stated that about 89% of patients who complete alcohol rehab are sober one-month post-treatment. 
  • 76% of patients who complete treatment report maintaining sobriety at three months. About 69% are still sober after six months, and more than 70% are sober after nine months. 
  • 85% to 95% of people who successfully complete drug rehab report maintaining sobriety nine months after discharge. 
  • About 80% of patients report an improved quality of life after completing an alcohol or drug treatment programme. 
  • About 43% of those who go to rehab successfully complete treatment, while an additional 16% are transferred to another treatment centre for further treatment. 

In conjunction with Syracuse University, another study by Right Step, the Research Institute on Addictions, and Promises Behavioral Health reported that their patients lived a sober life 97% of the time one month after discharge.

In addition, the patients treated for other drugs remained abstinent 96% of the time within one month [12].  

Six months later, participants abstained from alcohol 92% of the time and from other drugs 94% of the time. 

Medscape reported that some seek programmes designed for long-term sobriety from alcohol. However, 80% of them relapsed within one year.

The figure dropped to 60% for those who remained sober for 2 years. Those who remain sober for at least 5 years have a less than 15% chance of relapsing [13].  

Studies show that meth rehab success rates are lower. Out of those who struggle with meth addiction and complete treatment, 61% will relapse within a year-the number rising to 74% three years after addiction treatment.

Furthermore, there's a 73% relapse rate five years post addiction treatment [14]. 

Another study by Alexandre B. Laudet, Robert Savage, and Daneyal Mahmood reported that longer addiction programmes had a achieved 84% success in terms of long-term recovery [15].  

Again, the study shows that holistic services designed to suit the needs of the individual are most successful. 

Long-term addiction treatment programmes are considered effective because they give patients time to detox. They also equip the client with tools that will help them in their journey towards long-term sobriety.  

what is the success rate for alcohol rehab

Alcohol addiction treatment success rates 

Drug addiction treatment success rates also gives conflicting figures due to several factors.

For one, there's no standard definition of key terms such as "recovery" or "success." Questions linger as to how long a "desired" or "healthy" behaviour must be maintained for a treatment to be considered a success.  

Also, there's concern as to whether recovery refers to "abstinence" or the absence of certain problematic behaviours.

These concerns are difficult to answer because there's little research that follows up at clients for years post-treatment.  

The success of treatment services differs depending on the type of rehab facility. Private rehabs report a 60% and 80% success. Alternatively, least performing clinics struggled to reach 20% success [16].  

In the NHS study, the success rates for alcohol treatment were determined based on: 

  • Percentage of clients completing treatment.  
  • Percentage of clients positively discharged  
  • Percentage of clients negatively discharged  
  • Percentage of clients dropping out before treatment ends.

A client who is positively discharged is one who completes the treatment programme. Whereas a person who is negatively discharged failed to complete treatment.  

Clinics with patients who successfully completed treatment had a 60% success rate. The poorly performing treatment centres had a high dropout rate.  

In most facilities, treatment entails medically assisted detox combined with the 12-step programme. There's a lack of formal research on the effectiveness of the 12-step programme.

It's prominence in addiction treatments and the success stories from recovering addicts is cited as proof of its effectiveness.  

Alcoholics anonymous is known for their use of the 12-step programme. Yet, it's difficult to determine the success rate of this programme in the aa because most members don't participate in studies as it would breach their anonymity. 

But, there are studies that show 40% of people drop out during the first-year [17].  

Although aa claims a 75% success rate, some studies argue that their success ranges between 8 to 12%.  

A study by John Clark Miller argued that the 12-step is ineffective. In the study, the 12-step beliefs and teachings resulted in remission rates of 15-20% for alcohol abuse and 0-15% for substance abuse [18].  

Some professionals claim that the 12-step process is too rigid. Others argue that this treatment programme is one way to treat alcohol and drug addictions.  

There are also cases where patients made spontaneous recovery. The patients were able to walk away from their drug use out of their own volition using their willpower [19].  

They developed a physical aversion to the drug or alcohol after bottoming out and experiencing some life-changing event.

Such cases show that it is possible for an individual to beat the addiction without attending a rehab programme.  

There has also been extensive research citing the success of cognitive behavioural therapy on addiction treatment.

A study by Kathleen M. Carroll and Brian D. Kiluk showed that CBT continues to be one of the most effective evidence-based approaches for substance abuse treatment [20].  

The researchers point out that CBT has proven to be effective in most landmark studies involving drug and alcohol such as Project MATCH, and Project COMBINE.  

One of the distinguishing features of CBT is that it has proven to have durable effects. Treatment effects persist through a follow-up period with patients showing significant improvement post-treatment.  

When a patient meets all the criteria for substance use disorder and is diagnosed with one or more mental illness, they are considered as having dual diagnosis. 

 There are a variety of rehab facilities offering different treatment options for people struggling with co-occurring disorders.

The mental health services administration states that integrated treatment which addresses the mental health issues and the drug use as the best dual diagnosis treatment [21].  

There are studies on the rehab success rates for dual diagnosis treatment. A study by Stephen J Schoenthaler, Kenneth Blum, and Rajendra Badgaiyan reported that residential treatment for dual diagnosis resulted in positive treatment outcomes.

The study reported that Co-occurring DSM IV mood disorders such as anxiety and depression as well as drug abuse involving opioids or cocaine declined between 66 and 95% at months one, six, and twelve [22].  

Those who attend treatment have an opportunity to work on their mental and physical health.

The safe environment, plus the support of a team of experts is cited as one of the reasons rehabilitation facilities have a higher success rate than self-treating the addiction.

Medical professionals also state that advancements in medical detox also contribute to successful rehabilitation.  

Other treatment methods such as individual therapy and group therapy also have positive results in terms of their success. There's extensive study showing the effectiveness of individual therapy.

A study by Erin J. Campbell, Andrew J. Lawrence & Christina J. Perry showed that individual therapy is a new and effective approach to treating alcohol and drug use [23].

Research evidence shows that these interventions do play a positive role in helping the person remain abstinent.  

Most facilities go further and offer alumni programmes to patients after "graduation" to reduce the chances for relapse.

Since relapse is considered a normal part of the recovery process, drug and alcohol rehab centres propose support groups to their clients.  

The idea behind the alumni programme is to help the patients build upon the recovery process and form bonds with those who were in the programme with them, leading to the much needed strong-support system.  

Rehab options are either inpatient or outpatient programmes. Some studies show that inpatient and intensive outpatient programmes can have similar benefits [24].  

For those who are impaired by the drug or alcohol use, inpatient care offers better treatment outcomes than outpatient.  

Another study to consider is by Genie L. Bailey M.D., Debra S. Herman Ph.D., and Michael D. Stein M.D. The study involved a survey of 164 patients with opioid addiction (80% had gone through detox before).

It showed that 27% of the patients relapsed the day they were discharged from their short-term detox programme. 65% of them relapsed within 30 days [25].  

Some argue that this high rate of relapse is the reason why most practitioners recommend patients stay in treatment for 90 days. This doesn't mean experiencing inpatient treatment for 90 days.

Rather, it means a combination with about 30 days of inpatient detox followed by some form of outpatient treatment.  

What are the odds of getting sober?  

The odds of getting sober are high as advancements in medication-assisted treatment plus therapy have increased rehab success.  

Many treatment centres quote their success rates, with some claiming to achieve 90% success in recovery. But such figures are misleading as different facilities have different ways of measuring success.  

Furthermore, many facilities have failed to cover how they help their clients with relapse prevention comprehensively.

Many place the blame of relapse on the patient, arguing that it's up to the patient to help themselves avoid relapse. 

Still, it is generally accepted that relapse is part of the recovery process. Although approaches to relapse vary widely, most facilities try to cushion their clients by providing free aftercare options. 

Alcohol is a complex disease that affects everyone differently. As such, rehab centres offer a contingency management approach that includes medical detox and individual therapy based on the patient's needs.  

Medications such as benzodiazepines for alcohol are a more effective treatment approach. Medicines have become an accepted solution as they help patients better manage the withdrawal symptoms better. 

Spontaneous recovery research proves that there's more than one way to treat addiction. However, self-recovery may not work if you have a long history of substance use.

In addition, the physical and mental effects of detoxing without medical supervision can be dangerous. 

Overall, there's the consensus that the longer an alcoholic maintains sobriety, the better their chances for long-term recovery.

However, the threat of relapse is always present, and the goal of treatment is to help you manage the addiction. 

To Conclude: 

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease without a cure. As such, people should be cautious of rehab work that promises to cure alcohol or substance addiction.  

The purpose of a treatment centre is to help you on your journey to recovery. Rehab success varies depending on the type of facility, their programme and what they consider success. 

Since there's no standard definition of success, rehab centres define success based on various factors, for instance, the number of patients who complete treatment.  

Rehab aims to help patients manage the condition and work with them to end the addiction over time. It is possible to maintain sobriety and overcome addiction with proper guidance and support.

Rehab centres work to provide that needed guidance and support. 

Most insurance companies cover alcohol addictions. Therefore, it is possible to get the best rehab centre using insurance. Reach out to your GP to find out which treatment option is best for you. 

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Pete has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. To read more about Pete visit his LinkedIn profile.