What are the chances of staying clean and sober following a trip to drug rehab or alcoholism treatment?
The question depends on two main variables:
1) What you are measuring exactly. Staying sober forever? At least one year of continuous sobriety? Staying mostly sober with only the occasional slip? What about people who switch to a different drug of choice? Etc.
2) Who you are asking and how exactly they collect their data.
It is not an easy question to get accurate data on. The problem is due to shame when it comes to reporting sobriety.
Think about it for a moment. Let’s say you have 100 people who attend alcoholism treatment at an inpatient facility. They are told that they will get a phone call 30 days after they check out of rehab to see how they are doing. Everyone leaves treatment and many of the people relapse. Everyone gets the call and they are asked if they are still sober or not. Why would anyone lie?
They would lie and they do lie in order to deal with their shame and guilt for having relapsed. This tendency has been verified when the survey is done with people who are also getting drug tested and having the actual results revealed. It is natural to want to report optimistically in order to deal with our feelings of shame.
So depending on who you ask, the statistics for post-treatment success can vary wildly. Some treatment centers will make all sorts of qualifications on the people that they survey. For example, if someone relapsed after leaving treatment, did that person also follow through with all of their aftercare recommendations? If not, the rehab may not count them as being a failed participant, because that person did not follow through. Therefore they can now report a higher rate of success and it will appear that their treatment center is more successful at treating addictions. But does this really mean that they are more successful, just because they get creative in how they measure the success rate? Not necessarily.
If you stick around in recovery and listen to various people you will hear all sorts of different success rates and percentages. You will hear someone say that 100 percent of alcoholics and drug addicts will stay clean so long as they “follow this simple program” upon exiting treatment. You will also hear people say that as little as 3 out of 100 people will remain clean and sober for the rest of their lives. And you will probably hear everything in between as well. And of course, they cannot all be right, especially when success rates at the polar extremes are being predicted by different people.
Another thing to keep in mind: I have been sober now for over 13 years, yet my success rate post-treatment is only 33%. I failed 66 percent of the time after leaving rehab. If you count the times that I attended counseling then my “failure rate” increases to about 90 percent and therefore my own “success rate” was only about 10 percent. I had to keep trying until I finally “got it.” Does that make me a failure though? Some statistics would probably make it look like that is the case.
So who is right? What is the real success rate of recovery? What does going to a rehab do to your chances of long term sobriety?
Your personal odds are based on your own personal actions
The real truth about addiction and recovery is that every individual determines their own personal rate of success. You are not a statistic and obviously no one ends up being 5 percent sober.
Recovery is pass/fail. You either relapse or you remain sober. There is no in between. There is no partial success. You either remain sober and build a better life or you go back to chaos and misery. It is entirely pass/fail.
And in the end you are either going to succeed or go back to addiction. And whether or not this happens is not determined by the role of some dice. Your actions determine your success or failure in recovery. Your willingness to take positive action are what determine if you succeed or not.
If you want to remain clean and sober then you need to do the work that is required. Most people simply don’t commit to doing the hard work in recovery and therefore they get poor results.
When I was trying to get clean and sober I got discouraged because I heard people talking about the odds at AA meetings and such. I heard that my odds were roughly 2 to 5 percent in terms of really succeeding. Some people put the odds as high as 10 percent. But no one was suggesting that half of everyone who tried remained sober. Or even 20 or 30 percent. I never heard anyone suggest that when they were fear-mongering.
At other times someone would be trying to prove the effectiveness of the AA program. And they might say something like “Close to 100 percent remain sober forever IF they apply the principles of this simple program in their life.” Sure, but that is a really big “if.” You can put a qualifier in there and it becomes this big “if” and of course 100 percent will stay sober. That is sort of like saying “nearly 100 percent of people who are sober don’t ever drink.” Well, sure. It is easy to make these claims in retrospect. “See that person who is sober in AA? They applied the principles of the program. Now see that person in AA who relapsed? They failed to apply the principles of the program.” All this is really doing is putting a condition on the people who succeed, saying that they actually worked the program. And it also makes a giant assumption, that the people who relapsed must not have been trying. They did not apply the program, so therefore they should not really count towards the data. Therefore, 100 percent of alcoholics who want to stay sober can do so, as long as they work this program of recovery perfectly.
In the real world I am not sure that this sort of logic is very helpful. Nor does it paint an accurate picture. In the end you still have thousands of struggling alcoholics and drug addicts, many of whom seek recovery through some sort of treatment, and a whole bunch of them do not manage to stay sober afterward. We can’t just discount all of those people because “they weren’t really trying.” They showed up, the went through detox, and they obviously had a desire to turn their life around. Yet many of them still failed, and yet when it comes to the statistics, we want to blame the individual and protect the sanctity of the recovery program. “The program is perfect and it could never fail, if these people just applied the program then they would be sober today. But they failed to apply the principles so that is their own fault.” This is how our logic goes when it comes to statistics and relapse.
And it isn’t necessarily wrong. It does really come down to the individual and their actions. Anyone can stay sober if they follow a simple set of directions (most importantly, don’t drink or use addictive drugs, ever). After that the rest is just details and consistent action.
If you do what the average person does in recovery then you will get average results. And what is the average result?
Think about the average for a moment.
You have thousands of people struggling to get clean and sober on a regular basis. We don’t know the exact rate of success but we know that it is probably somewhere in the range of 2 to 30 percent being successful (however you end up choosing to define “success” in this case).
So the average person who is struggling to get clean and sober end up failing. The average result is relapse. It is somewhat rare for someone to remain clean and sober if you base it strictly on the numbers. Most people relapse but a few succeed. It may be 98/2 or the ratio may be more like 70/30. But clearly, more people relapse than what remain clean and sober forever.
The average outcome of treatment is relapse and failure.
And we know that this largely comes down to the individual. It is not about what treatment center you attend or what recovery program you choose to follow. It is all up to the individual and the actions that they take. It is about willingness and commitment.
So if you want to relapse in recovery then you can do so simply by making an average effort. Because it comes down to the individual and the actions that they take, if you want an average result then you should simply make an average effort.
An average effort is a modest effort. Think about this carefully. If you go to rehab and you make a modest effort you are going to relapse. It is as simple as that.
I am not saying this to try to intimidate anyone. I am not trying to fear-monger here. I am not trying to scare people.
I worked in a drug and alcohol rehab center, full time, for over 5 years straight. I lived in a rehab center for almost two years prior to that. I have watched a lot of people struggle to get clean and sober. I have watched a whole lot of people relapse. And I have talked extensively with the people who have succeeded.
So I am telling you this now because I want to increase your odds of staying sober after treatment. I want to tell you the secrets that I have learned over the years.
And the biggest secret is not really what anyone wants to hear. It doesn’t sound much like a helpful trick at all, because it is simple the hard truth.
And the hard truth is this:
Most people relapse because they are not willing to put the hard work into their recovery. Period.
Most people fail because they are not willing to commit to taking massive action. They don’t try hard enough. They don’t push themselves enough. And in the end they are not consistent enough.
Your odds of staying clean and sober following treatment are directly proportional to the amount of positive action that you take in life.
How to drastically improve your odds of staying clean and sober
Take massive action.
You need to get busy in recovery. You need to shake things up and get really excited about making positive changes in your life. You need to push yourself really hard in order to get the positive momentum going that will allow you to build a new life in recovery.
Recovery is nothing if not change. And obviously there are two kinds of labels that we can put on change: Positive changes and negative changes.
Obviously we want to be making positive changes in our recovery. And we want to be doing so consistently.
There is a danger in recovery of complacency. Maybe you are not running in the complete wrong direction and making negative changes, but maybe you sort of run out of steam and stop pushing yourself to make positive changes.
This is just as dangerous. In fact, this is how complacency happens and can eventually kill you. It may feel pretty harmless to just get lazy and stop pushing yourself to make improvements, but this is what can eventually lead to relapse.
In early recovery you need to take massive action. It should feel like a lot of work, because it is a lot of work. You should quit drinking, stop using drugs, and probably get a medical detox in a professional facility. You should find support, learn how to recover, and start taking action every single day. You should rebuild your life based on the suggestions and advice of other people. These are not easy things to do and they require effort and energy. You have to cultivate the willingness to dive into this new life and make a massive effort.
If you want to relapse then do nothing. Or, do something negative. Both of those things will result in the same outcome. Doing nothing is going to end up in relapse just as surely as engaging in negative actions. Both roads end in relapse. This is why complacency is such a huge enemy in recovery. It is a downward spiral that ends in disaster.
The only alternative is to take massive action. To seek positive growth in your life. To strive to improve your life and your health. These are the concepts that unlock long term sobriety.
Most people understand the direction that they need to move in early recovery. But they often do not grasp the intensity that is required. They underestimate the effort needed to maintain sobriety. They think that it will be much easier than it really is.
The good news is that they often underestimate the rewards of sobriety as well. So they are in for a nice surprise if they are willing to put in the hard work.
What most people get wrong in early recovery, and how to fix it
The biggest problem that people have in early recovery is that the believe it is all about elimination. They try to quit drinking. They try to quit using drugs.
These steps are obviously necessary, right? You have to stop putting the chemicals into your body if you want to have a shot at recovery.
But the real solution is much more than elimination. If it were as simple as eliminating the drugs or the booze then recovery would be easy.
Instead, we need a replacement. We need to create something positive. We need to build something.
In fact, we need to build an entirely new life in the absence of our old addiction.
This takes time, energy, effort, and commitment. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Most people get this wrong because they expect their life to get better the second that they stop putting chemicals into their body. Or they believe that they should not have to do much work beyond this abstinence in order to get the rewards of sobriety.
In order to build this awesome new life in recovery you are going to have to put in some work. Your overall health has been compromised in many different ways due to your addiction. Your job in early recovery is to start building your life back up in greater health.
For example, most of us are spiritually bankrupt when we first get clean and sober. So we must rebuild our spirituality in early recovery. Most programs do a good job of addressing this concept.
But our addiction destroys other areas of our health as well. For example, our mental, emotional, social, and physical health are all compromised due to addiction. We must also make an effort to start building those things back up in recovery.
Most people get this wrong because they either:
1) Don’t take enough positive action. They fail to take massive action.
2) They assume it is only about elimination.
3) They don’t use a holistic approach. For example, they focus only on spirituality and then they get physically sick and this causes relapse (just a common example I have observed often).
So how do you fix this?
First of all you must think of the holistic approach. Do not limit yourself to spiritual growth. Expand your efforts and try to improve your health in all five categories.
Second of all, you must take massive action based on the suggestions of other people. If this were the only thing that you did you would likely succeed. Simply squash your own ego and get out of your own way so that you can learn from others. Take their suggestions and put them into action. Get out of the driver’s seat for a while and let someone else tell you what to do. This is hard because most of us do not like being told what to do.
A long term strategy for success
One thing that you should know about recovery is that if you are continuously testing new ideas for personal growth then you have the secret of success.
The best way to do this is to take suggestions from other people. If you never listen to others and get ideas from them then you will miss out on a lot of wisdom. This is the shortcut to success, in fact, though it still requires hard work. Because you have to do more than just ask for advice. You have to actually listen to people. You have to take action.
But if you can turn this into a habit and continually try to push yourself to improve your life, then you will constantly be experiencing greater and greater rewards. This is a simple but challenging path to personal growth. Constantly seeking to improve your life and your life situation can protect you from relapse.
If you have not surrendered and hit bottom yet then your chances of success are not very good at this time. But if you are at your bottom then attending inpatient rehab is a very wise choice. It is all about willingness and commitment to taking positive action. If you are willing to put in the work then you can overcome the odds and experience a new life in recovery.
What about you, have you been successful post-treatment? How has it worked out for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!