When examining the success of drug and alcohol addiction treatment, it’s important to understand the overall goals of treatment. Of course, the primary goal is to address a substance use disorder, leading to long-lasting sobriety. However, there are a variety of other goals that clients need to achieve for treatment to be successful. Treatment should also help them return to a productive life as a member of a family, community, and vocation.
Active addiction affects multiple areas of your life, including social, medical, psychological, vocational, and legal factors. But does drug treatment have success in all these areas?
HOW EFFECTIVE IS DRUG TREATMENT?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “most people who get into and remain in treatment stop using drugs, decrease their criminal activity and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning.
Addiction often leads to crime, unemployment, homelessness, and other serious consequences. Treatment can address these issues by offering legal help, helping to improve social and vocational skills, and helping clients to find housing. Addiction can also lead to medical and psychological problems that are also addressed in treatment. Pressing medical needs are addressed as a first priority and are usually treated with a high level of care.
Research supports that evidence-based treatments help in all of these areas and people who remain in treatment experience positive changes and stop using drugs. However, research also shows that between 40 and 60 percent of people who stop using drugs eventually relapse. First, it’s important to note that that number may include people that only went through detox, didn’t complete a full continuum of care or didn’t receive treatment that was ideal for their needs. For instance, people with co-occurring mental disorders are often difficult to diagnose. If they return to their normal lives after treatment having never addressed the underlying issue, they are likely to relapse.
Still, high relapse percentages don’t necessarily mean that treatment failed. But why?
WHY IS ADDICTION TREATMENT SUCCESS MEASURED DIFFERENTLY?
You might assume that the best way to measure the effectiveness of a treatment program is to look at how often treatment has led to a permanent, lifelong back to normal. That would be the best metric if addiction wasn’t a chronic disease. Chronic diseases are ones that persist for a long time. In many cases, a chronic disease will last for the rest of a person’s life. In addition to being chronic, addiction is also complex and progressive.
There are a variety of potential causes and underlying factors behind each case of addiction, and it takes time and a variety of therapies to address everything that needs to be addressed. However, even though its chronic, addiction can be managed successfully, leading to lifelong recovery. But, as NIDA pointed out, it requires a commitment to recovery. Plus, it’s not the only disease like this.
ADDICTION VS. OTHER DISEASES
Addiction may have relapse rates as high as 60 percent, but it’s not the only treatable, chronic disease with relapse rates in this range. Diabetes has 30 to 50 percent relapse while hypertension and asthma have 50 to 70 percent relapse rates. Though there are a variety of treatment options like medication, dietary changes, and medical procedures that can manage these diseases, people still relapse often.
However, just because someone with diabetes eats a little too much sugar one day and experiences a relapse of their symptoms, doesn’t mean that the plan that a dietitian gave them was ineffective. It may mean that treatment needs to be reinstated, re-addressed, or altered, but it doesn’t mean giving up.
The similarities between addiction and the ones mentioned above don’t end there. They all have a variety of risk factors that can contribute to relapse.
Genetic factors, environmental factors, and psychological influences can cause people to experience these diseases in the first place and continue to relapse into them over their lifetimes.
Plus, like addiction, hypertension and type two diabetes can be caused by lifestyle choices that lead to lifelong consequences.
And, like addiction, a continued commitment to monitoring your health, keeping up with ongoing treatment, and maintaining good habits learned in treatment can lead to a long healthy life.
Still, addiction treatment is an important step in the process and gives clients a foundation of knowledge and tools that can help them prevent relapse. But it still takes a continued commitment to recovery, even after treatment has ended. Treatment centers will often have aftercare programs that connect you to community services that can continue to help you after you complete treatment. Still, it’s important to continue to use those services to guard yourself against relapse.
WHEN IS TREATMENT NEEDED?
Addiction treatment is a necessary step for many people who are seeking relief from active addiction. But when is it really necessary? According to the fifth and most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, addiction falls under the category and diagnosis of substance use disorders, or SUDs. However, SUDs can cover a wide range of disorders associated with the use of psychoactive substances, and the manual simply rates them from mild to severe.
For example, a person may binge drink on the weekends for an entire semester of college. This is a dangerous behavior that can lead to a variety of complications including auto accidents, injuries, alcohol poisoning, and other problems. However, a person who binge drinks for a season may never develop an addiction to alcohol, but they still have a substance use disorder.
Addiction is defined as a complex disorder, affecting the brain, that is characterized by compulsive substance use despite it causing harmful consequences. For instance, if your family relationships are suffering as a result of your drinking, but you still can’t resist compulsions to drink, you may meet the qualifications for addiction. Here are some other indicators that you might be addicted to a substance:
- Trying and failing to quit
- Hiding drug use from friends and family
- Suffering work or school performance
- Withdrawing from normal activities
- Losing interest in hobbies
- Using drugs to maintain normalcy, not for recreation
- Drinking or using drugs alone
- Feeling anxious or depressed if you haven’t used
Addiction is best addressed in a treatment program where you can get to the bottom of underlying issues, address any co-occurring mental disorders, and learn how to go about preventing relapse.
However, addiction isn’t the only substance use disorder that might need professional help. In some cases, you might become chemically dependent on a substance before addiction develops. Chemical dependence is when your brain and nervous system become reliant on a chemical after a period of use or abuse. If you try to stop or cut back, you will experience symptoms of withdrawal. Certain substances, like alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines, can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms. In such cases, the safest way to stop using is by going through medical detox.