Why Traditional Addiction Treatment Fails for so Many People

Why Traditional Addiction Treatment Fails for so Many People


Ultimately I believe in treatment and I think people should try it in order to get clean and sober, yet I get so frustrated with the results that I am constantly seeing. It’s no secret that existing treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction are largely unsuccessful. Yes there are some successful examples of people recovering here and there but when you look at the overall picture we are not doing so great at helping the vast majority of addicts.

Now of course there are many ways to measure success rates with addicts and alcoholics who leave treatment but for the most part, it is very difficult to find respectable numbers anywhere in this industry. For example, you can do follow up surveys that attempt to measure who has stayed completely abstinence, who has experienced decreased drinking and using over the last 30 days, who has attended aftercare therapies, and so on. No matter how you slice it though, these numbers seem to always come out depressing.

It is not that treatment fails, because it does work for some. The problem is that treatment fails for such a high percentage of people.

Why is this? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons:

1) Most people do not really want to be sober – I know this is true because I dabbled in treatment centers for a few years without really wanting to get sober. On the surface I wanted it, and I was pretty miserable, but deep down I still wanted to drink. I see the same surface-level commitment coming from most people that I see entering treatment.

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2) Some people are too lazy to change everything – it takes a great deal of energy and effort to make the monumental changes needed to make it in recovery. Most simply don’t have the energy necessary to change at this level of scale.

3) Lack of surrender – some have simply not hit bottom yet. They are still struggling to control things and they have not really surrendered to any sort of solution.

4) Lack of action is the problem, not a lack of knowledge – there is no shortage of how to stay clean and sober out there. The shortage is in the doing it. It is a lack of action and a lack of follow through that is killing success rates, not a lack of secret knowledge.

Now to some extent you can either blame the individual or you can blame the treatment industry (or you can blame them both I suppose).

Clearly some individuals who are highly motivated can and do find success through addiction treatment. In such cases you can make a case for the treatment industry and say that they are doing the best they can and that “it works if you work it.” Motivated people will find decent results.

On the other hand you can point to some recovering addicts who have put in a lot of energy and effort into their recovery but still continue to relapse in spite of their best efforts. In cases like this I think a recovery program that is more comprehensive or somehow challenged people in new ways could be the answer. In other words I fault the treatment industry and the fact that we are not really innovating much.

But the bottom line is that treatment is expensive and is probably getting to be even more costly in the future. If we throw unlimited funds into treatment solutions then we might come up with a holistic and modern approach that is flexible enough to give all people the best shot at recovery, but even this might produce depressing relapse rates (plus it is too expensive a solution to really be scalable).

So ultimately the answer lies with the individual. Treatment is what it is, we can try to fault the industry but what good will that do someone right now? The responsibility ultimately must fall on the individual to get clean and sober and that is why I advocate a holistic, self-motivated program of recovery that the individual customizes for themselves. Take charge of your own recovery and make the solution work for you. Own the responsibility for it.

No one can really hand you the solution on a silver platter….you have to create it for yourself.


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