Probability of Success in Addiction Treatment

Probability of Success in Addiction Treatment


We’ve all heard the statistics regarding success rates when it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction recovery.

The numbers, for the most part, are not good. The scary stats that you often hear or read about are not encouraging.

It can seem as if the odds are stacked against you when it comes to turning your life around.

But I want to challenge you today to take those statistics with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that most people who first attempt to get clean and sober are nowhere near serious (yet). Lots of people who struggle with substance abuse will dabble in recovery at first, sometimes several times over, before they finally get serious about changing their life.

But just because most of us dabble and fail in early recovery–some of us several times–does not mean that we never get it.

I got it, finally.

I went to rehab 3 times total. The first two times I obviously “failed.” But just because I relapsed after those first two trips to rehab, that doesn’t necessarily make them total failures. Obviously the goal is long term sobriety, and I screwed that up. Twice.

However, seeds were planted.

This is part of the process. This was part of what I had to go through in order to get to the place of sobriety and success that I am at today.

Recovery is difficult and it takes a lot of work and a huge commitment. So the first two attempts that I made at rehab, I was looking for shortcuts. I did not really want to do all of that hard work, I did not want the huge lifetime commitment to therapy and meetings and such–I just wanted to escape from the misery of my addiction. But I wasn’t yet willing to dive head first into “full time recovery.” I was trying to see if I could get away with….less effort.

So if you are measuring the entire pool of struggling addicts and alcoholics who are seeking some form of treatment, meetings, or therapy–you are going to see a lot of this attitude at first. No one wants to have to dedicate their whole life to sobriety, to meetings, to therapy, to treatment. No one wants to have to go “all in” and admit that their problem is that extensive.

Success rates in recovery reflect this phenomenon. Actual success in recovery requires a full on, all in, go-all-out approach. If you hold back even a tiny bit then you are going to relapse and fail.

It takes time and experience to learn this fully. I had to fail at rehab twice before I could realize just how hard it was going to be, just how much effort and dedication and willingness it was really going to take.

So another way to look at probabilities of success would be to look at the timing of it all, and the number of trials: If a struggling addict or alcoholic goes to inpatient rehab one time, can we expect them to stay clean and sober forever, simply based on one single effort?

Realistically, I am leaning towards “no” in this case. From what I have experienced and what I have observed in others, it often takes more than that. However, this doesn’t mean that you stop trying. This doesn’t mean that you give up. This doesn’t let an addict or alcoholic off the hook, because “treatment probably won’t work for me anyway, right?” That is not the right approach.

Instead, you realize that most people who are successful in addiction treatment have persisted, even through failures and setbacks. Relapse can, and often is, a part of recovery. I personally went to rehab 3 times over a period of several years and I struggled a whole lot during that time. But after the third rehab I managed to finally “get it” and I have experienced over 17 years of continuous sobriety now (and each day seems to get better and better than the last!).

So we could look back at my own track record, in which I failed after going to 2 inpatient rehabs, and say that my success rate in recovery is only 33 percent, because I failed 2 out of 3 times! That doesn’t sound very encouraging, does it? And yet here I am today, living a pretty amazing and successful life of sobriety of over 17 years now, and things keep getting better and better. If I could go back in time and coach myself through those two “failures” when I relapsed after treatment, what would I tell myself?

I believe that I would say “Now you know what doesn’t work, time to try again.”

All of your life in addiction–all of the misery and the chaos and the repeated failures–all of that becomes normal for you until suddenly you surrender, you ask for help, and everything changes.

That moment of ultimate surrender is the only thing that really matters when it comes to all of these scary statistics and success rates in recovery. The person has either surrendered completely to their disease and accepted a solution (recovery program) into their life, or they have not.

So when we see the poor relapse rates and we see that so many people struggle to get clean and sober, what we are really witnessing is a whole bunch of addicts and alcoholics who have not yet surrendered. They are still in denial, they are still clinging to some part of their addiction, and they are not yet ready to be clean and sober.

It is not that treatment or recovery is impossible for such people. It is only too early for them, it is an issue of timing. Only after they have reached a point of maximum misery and fully hit bottom will they become ready to do the work of recovery.

If 1 out of 20 alcoholics makes it to one year sober, then you just have to decide that you are serious about your recovery, and you are going to prioritize it over everything else in your life. Then as you do the work, as you commit fully to a recovery program, you become that one person out of 20 that makes it–without even realizing that you are special in any way. You will be too busy working on your recovery, learning about sobriety, and making new healthy connections with supportive peers to realize that you have beaten the odds.

Don’t let the scary statistics worry you, and definitely do not let them become your excuse for inaction.

Instead, make a commitment to yourself that you are going to dedicate your entire life to working a program of recovery, and then reach out and ask for help in order to do this. This is the best way to insure your own success in addiction treatment. Good luck!