Does Drug Rehab Work?

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  • Written By: S. Mithra
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2020
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The question of whether drug rehab works relies on several factors, such as the type and length of addiction, the duration of the rehabilitation program, and what kinds of long-term support are provided to the recovering addict. Not enough research has been concerned with evaluating, in a controlled setting, programs in comparison with each other. Therefore, raw numbers are unreliable, but suggest that addicts rarely quit without any relapse. Most addicts have the potential to recover.

All studies agree that the longer an addict participates in a treatment program, the more likely it is that drug rehab works. Therefore, it is logical that lifetime commitments to recovery, as the philosophy of 12-step programs dictates, helps the addict to maintain their pledge of abstinence. Also, when the addict's goal is complete abstinence, drug rehab works better than for those who believe moderation is an acceptable goal.

For some reason, there appears to be a leap in the success of recovery at the three-month mark. Many intensive, inpatient programs offer residential treatment for up to three months. In this kind of supportive, drug-free environment, people can more easily transition to living by themselves. When residential support lasts only a month, success rates plummet. The cooperation of family, friends, and employers are crucial in helping drug rehab work well.


Researchers have discovered that the least effective method of drug rehab is short-term detoxification. This kind of interventionist medical treatment, where the addict stays in a hospital for 3-10 days while he or she physically withdraws from the drug, doesn't work. While this is an expensive treatment, it appears that those who go through temporary abstinence, for a week or two, are no more likely to enter long-term recovery than those who have not withdrawn at all.

Data directly from commercial drug rehab centers should be approached with skepticism, as these businesses are seeking to sell their product. Some respected facilities boast a drug rehab rate of 75-87%, which is unusually high. It seems that the average of all types of programs for all drugs hovers below 50% for those who successfully complete the program. This number doesn't take into account the many people who drop out of voluntary treatments, who can be said to have failed.

Some scientists believe that 15% of addicts are able to recover with very little support, but this is always disputed. Once they admit to their addiction, they may be able to break their habit without entering a program, yet are difficult to research. These are probably addicts in their early stages of establishing the routine of addictive thoughts and behavior. It's important to realize that, with alcoholics, 90% of them relapse at least once in the first four years of recovery. They eventually continue with success and show that persistent drug rehab can work.


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Post 12

This is anecdotal evidence I know, but at the facility where I work the persons I know who have success in recovery are the ones who do 12 step programs upon returning to their communities. There is no perfect program, but my clients state the support they receive from AA and NA has been invaluable. There is plenty of evidence to support the theory that spirituality plays a large role in who gets better from all kinds of illnesses. Studies have shown that persons who pray or have someone pray for them are more likely to get well than those who do not have a spiritual practice.

In reference to length of treatment: the longer the treatment process, the better

chance the person has of staying in recovery. By the way, there are also studies which suggest that faith-based rehab programs in prisons have the greatest success rate and the lowest rate of recidivism when inmates are the released to their communities.
Post 11

It's likely that 12-step therapy isn't for every addict, but sneering at the spiritual aspect of the 12-step model doesn't mean it doesn't work.

There are no foolproof rehab programs. Period. Every single program depends utterly on the addict's desire to be well again. Without that purpose firmly in place, every program, therapy and behavioral model is doomed to fail. This is because addiction is every bit as much mental as it is physical. Once the addict has cleared withdrawals, has gotten the junk out of his system, the physical problem is ameliorated. What's left? The mental aspect. Certainly, there is an organic element to this, in that the brain's chemistry changes, etc., but the underlying problem is frequently mental.

Studies obviously don't show everything. However, talk to any person who has worked with addicts, particularly in a clinical setting, and you'll quickly be told that most addicts also have an underlying personality disorder. Frequently, the personality disorder is the cause of the addiction. They've been self-medicating to treat their disorders. However, *only* those with a desire to get well and stay well succeed in treatment, whatever form that treatment takes.

Dissing the 12-step program and citing these statistics really doesn't accomplish much. Those who succeed in the 12-step groups, or with any therapy model, tend to have long-term sobriety and recovery, measured in decades. As the old maxim goes: "It works if you work it." If you don't work it, you get nothing.

Post 9

Reputable research, limited though it is, estimates that only 3-5 percent of those in 12 step programs, which includes the vast majority of programs in the US, retain sobriety.

A medical disease relying on a spiritual cure is bound to fail. Would you try to treat cancer with such a program?

One would have to conclude that it's not that the afflicted individuals have failed the program; the program has failed them.

Post 8

If someone thinks it does work, then give me a good reason it works or it doesn't work.

Post 7

it does not work. it just gets them to do more drugs.

Post 4

@ CMSmith10 & aplenty- You both make good points. My sister in law has been to rehab for drug addiction more times than I care to recollect, but she is still her same destructive self. She has actually become worse. We finally moved away from her a few years ago and our lives have improved considerably. My wife was one of her biggest crutches, always coming to her rescue even if it meant foregoing responsibilities to her family or work.

We decided to seek counseling and after doing so, we came to the realization that she has to want to change, and the only way to push her in that direction is to let her fall. She has to realize that

there is no longer a safety net for her every time she screws up. After this, a few of her family members told her that we are done being a part of her life until she seeks help. The saddest part is there are a few people who refuse to stop enabling her. They give her money, bail her out, and constantly play the role of a superhero every time she gets in trouble. She is never held accountable for her actions, so she will continue to foolishly stumble and slur her way to the grave. We are happier, but we still wish that she would seek help, at least for the sake of her kids. We have just decided to take our hope 3,000 miles away.
Post 3

One of the most important factors on whether or not rehab works is the person's ability to change their ways after rehab. Rehab is almost always pointless if someone leaves rehab and falls right back into their former comfort zone. To break a severe drug habit a person must change their associations, daily habits, and daily routine. A person must identify his or her triggers and work to remove those from their lives, or recognize the ones that cannot be removed. Facilitators of addictive behaviors must change with the addict, or the addict must be able to disassociate him or herself with that person.

A close relative has been in and out of rehab for almost half his life, but it did not finally work until he was able to change his surroundings and associations. The people around him had to change, becoming enablers of good behavior rather than bad behavior, or they had to move on.

Post 2

Drug rehab works if the drug addict wants it to work. If they go in with the attitude that it's not going to work, then it won't. I know this from personal experience. It's all in what you put into it. If an addict really wants to get better and really wants the help, then rehab definitely can work for them. You have to go in with an open mind and a willingness to let your former ways go.

Most rehabs use a 12 step program that has been proven to work. It worked for me. The most important piece of information that I left rehab with was "One is too many and a thousand is never enough".

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