Addiction therapy is used all over the world to help people find sobriety. Many people claim that it helped them to get sober, but there are others who are skeptical about its efficacy.
In 2013, The New York Times published an article that said that only one in 10 people with a substance use disorder seek treatment. Most people who needed help didn’t seek it out.
Some may have been in denial that they had a problem. Some may have encountered barriers to treatment, such as a lack of insurance. Others may have doubted that addiction therapy actually works.
Learn more about whether addiction therapy is effective, what goes into addiction therapy, its success rates, and how to choose the right addiction treatment program for yourself or a loved one.
Table of Contents
What Is Addiction Therapy?
Addiction therapy can involve a variety of treatments to address a person’s substance abuse issues. Some interventions target specific behaviors while others address underlying issues that contribute to substance abuse. All addiction therapies aim to help the person find a strong footing in recovery.
Some therapies work to identify why someone developed an addiction in the first place. For example, they may explore a person’s past trauma to determine if it played a role in them developing an addiction. The goal is to figure out if there was a trigger so that the person can work to better cope with it to reduce the risk of relapse should the trigger present itself again.
Many addiction therapies are backed by science while others fall into the alternative treatment category. Some facilities focus on one primary form of therapy, and others may incorporate many forms based on what they believe is best for an individual client.
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Every person who finds sobriety is at risk for relapse. When someone relapses, this does not mean that their treatment failed. It can happen if the person did not have their treatment plan continually modified and evaluated as they continued on the road to recovery. When a relapse occurs, it can indicate that the person’s treatment needs to be adjusted, reinstated, or changed, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
It is estimated that about 40 percent to 60 percent of people will relapse after receiving treatment, according to the NIDA. Following a relapse, the person should return to treatment to determine if changes are necessary to help them maintain their sobriety better going forward.
It is important to remember that addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes and high blood pressure. Getting the symptoms under control is only the first step. People will need to maintain their treatment regimen on a long-term basis to reduce their risk of relapse.
Rates of Recovery
Success rates vary widely by the facility. Thomas Jefferson University cites the following statistics:
- About 72 percent of people who attend inpatient treatment complete their program. After five years, about 22 percent remain sober.
- Roughly 43 percent of people who attend outpatient treatment complete their program. After five years, about 18 percent remain sober.
- About 33 percent of people who attend detoxification complete their treatment. After five years, about 17 percent remain sober.
What Makes Addiction Treatment Effective?
The length of treatment appears to have an impact on the success of a program. According to information published by UCLA, the average success rate of many rehabilitation programs is under 25 percent. This report states that the short length of treatment programs is partly to blame for the low success rates.
Staying in a residential treatment program for at least 90 days is the minimum recommendation by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Ultimately, the longer someone remains involved in treatment and aftercare activities, the better their chances of success.
Treatment programs should also be tailored to the individual. Each person has different needs that must be attended to. For example, if someone has significant past trauma or a secondary mental illness, the treatment for their substance use disorder must also include treatment for these issues.
Parts of Treatment
The first step in addiction treatment is helping the person get through the withdrawal stage. This is imperative since the symptoms of withdrawal can be challenging to cope with.
People might receive medications to reduce their symptoms, which can make them more comfortable during this process.
Detox is an important step on the journey to recovery, but therapy makes up the backbone of rehab. Treatment in a rehab center may involve many types of therapy. During this stage of care, people get help with learning how to manage their cravings so that they do not experience a relapse.
Once a person completes addiction therapy, they will work on developing a long-term plan to reduce their risk of relapse. They may include continued counseling, both in individual and group settings.
Behavioral Therapies for Addiction
Behavioral therapies help people to change their behaviors and attitudes regarding drug use. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people to avoid, recognize, and cope with the situations that put the person at the highest risk for drug use, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
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In therapy, clients will devise strategies to deal with temptation in the outside world so that they don’t return to substance abuse after treatment.
Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) helps people to make more of their motivation to get treatment and change their behavior. Contingency management (CM) helps people to remain free from drugs by giving them privileges or rewards for passing drug tests or taking part in recovery-related activities. For example, if they participate in counseling, they can earn a privilege, such as watching a movie or getting a massage.
Family therapy is another option. This allows the person and their loved ones to come together so that they can talk about their issues and heal together.
What Influences the Success Rates of Addiction Therapy?
The success of addiction treatment is measured by whether a person remains sober. It can be tough to measure since different facilities have different timelines for this. Also, relapse is often part of the recovery process, and again, it doesn’t signify that treatment has failed.
Once a person achieves sobriety, some factors may put them at an increased risk for relapse. Stress is one of the biggest factors that can contribute to relapse. Evidence suggests that there is an association between chronic distress, psychosocial adversity, and addiction vulnerability, according to research published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
If someone in recovery experiences a major stressor, such as being unable to find stable employment, homelessness, the death of a loved one, or trauma, they are at risk for relapse. This is especially true when it comes to an increased vulnerability to use nicotine or alcohol to cope with stress, according to information published in the Handbook of Stress and the Brain Part 2 Stress: Integrative and Clinical Aspects.
The person who relapses may not always go back to the substance they used before. Some will use a different substance of abuse as part of their relapse. In times of intense stress, they may use whatever substance is readily available.
Having more than one addiction can also reduce the rate of success for those who get sober. One study showed that if someone quits smoking cigarettes, this can increase their chances of maintaining their sobriety, according to information published by Harvard Medical School. Often, smoking cigarettes can serve as a trigger for other substance abuse, such as drinking or using cocaine.
Though relapse may be part of the recovery journey, the key is to limit its effects. The sooner a person can get back into treatment after a relapse, the less substantial the adverse effects of that relapse will be.
Choosing a Treatment Program
The first step in finding an effective treatment program is to fully evaluate the facility. Look at its success statistics and assess it in light of the parameters that the facility’s staff chooses to define success.
Looking at places that have the CARF accreditation is important. When a program has this accreditation, it means that it demonstrates a high level of care while meeting multiple requirements and that each client receives tailored treatment, according to CARF International.
Once a facility receives this accreditation, it is monitored to make sure it is maintaining its standards. This ensures that those who are accredited are truly worthy of it.
The Bottom Line
In short, yes, addiction therapy actually works. The specifics of what works for one person might be very different than what works for someone else. As a result, treatment must be tailored to meet the unique needs of each client in addiction therapy.
(February 2013) Effective Addiction Treatment. The New York Times. from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/04/effective-addiction-treatment/?_r=0
Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment
Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
New Life Drug Rehabilitation Facility. Thomas Jefferson University. from https://jdc.jefferson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1037&context=nexusmaximus
What is the CARF Accreditation Process? CARF International. from http://www.carf.org/Accreditation/AccreditationProcess/
(August 2009) Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732004/
(February 2005) Handbook of Stress and the Brain Part 2 Stress: Integrative and Clinical Aspects. from https://www.elsevier.com/books/handbook-of-stress-and-the-brain-part-2-stress-integrative-and-clinical-aspects/steckler/978-0-444-51823-1
(June 2008) Quitting Smoking Increases the Chance of Staying Sober. Harvard Medical School. from https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/quitting-smoking-increases-the-chance-of-staying-sober
(September 2010) People Can Overcome Their Addictions, But Not Quickly, UCLA Psychologist Says. UCLA Newsroom. from http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/people-can-overcome-their-addictions-170880
How Long Does Drug Addiction Treatment Usually Last? National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment
(1998) Therapy Manuals for Drug Addiction Manual 1: A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach: Treating Cocaine Addiction. National Criminal Justice Reference Center. from https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/abstractdb/AbstractDBDetails.aspx?id=180294