Do Rehab Centers Work?

Vilma Ruddock
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There are many rehab centers in the United States that improve the lives of alcohol and drug abusers. Those that work offer evidence-based treatment programs that meet the needs of each substance user to help maintain long-term sobriety and rehabilitation. Many of these centers, however, do not have data to demonstrate their own effectiveness.

Assessing Effectiveness

Most alcohol and drug rehab centers in the United States measure their effectiveness only by the percent of clients who complete their program. They have no system to track their clients for other useful data on long-term abstinence and other outcomes, such as family, social, work, school, and criminal rehabilitation.

Sources of Data

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), there are only a few databases in the United States that assess how well rehab centers work in general. The conclusion of these studies and the ONDCP is that substance abuse treatment works, although who it works best for is not yet clear.

The most current database is the large-scale Drug Abuse Treatment Outcomes Study (DATOS) of 96 drug treatment programs in 11 major U. S. cities, started in 1989. This study, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), surveys patients treated in a variety of public and private settings, including:

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  • Outpatient methadone centers for treatment of abusers of heroin and other opioids
  • Medication-free outpatient rehab for a variety of types of substance abuse
  • Short-term, in-hospital or free-standing rehab centers
  • Long-term residential rehab facilities

Results of the DATOS Surveys

Reports of results from the DATOS database at one year and five years after treatment show improvement in outcomes in all types of rehab settings. The 2008 Encyclopedia of Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery (pages 303-307) presents an overview of published results from the database:

  • At one year after treatment, overall there was a 50% reduction in outcomes, such as drug use, illegal activity, and psychological problems for all drugs.
  • The five year follow-up data showed similar findings.
  • Cocaine was the most common drug used. Only 28% of users relapsed to weekly cocaine use during the year after discharge from treatment. At five years after treatment, only 25% of users were still using cocaine.
  • For alcohol, daily alcohol use decreased from 22% to 4% at five years, while criminal activity went from 40% to 16% at one year, but increased to 25% at five years.
  • Teens had a reduction in weekly use of marijuana and illicit drugs at one and five years after treatment
  • For opioid use, as reported in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, a study found that only 28% of opioid users who were treated in outpatient methadone rehab centers were still in treatment at five years.

Elements for a Successful Outcome

From the reports of the DATOS studies, according to the Encyclopedia of Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery and the ONDCP review, the following facts emerged:

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  • The longer a user stays in a rehab center, the greater his chance of a more successful treatment.
  • The more severe the substance use problem, the greater the chance of dropout from a program or relapse to drug use.

  • If the substance use and a user's circumstances are severe, her outcome will be better in long-term treatment in a residential center.

Therefore, a user should choose a setting that best suits her set of circumstances.

NIDA Recommendations

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also states that a substance user's success depends on how long he stays in treatment and recommends the following:

  • For an initial treatment or retreatment, a drug rehab center should last at least 90 days.
  • Some people need a minimum of six months and for others, treatment may needed for years, especially those with more severe dysfunctions from their substance use.
  • People on methadone maintenance benefit from at least one year of treatment.

An Effective Drug Rehab Program

NIDA states an effective drug rehab center uses research-based guidelines in their treatment programs, regardless of the treatment setting. To help a user to get off drugs, maintain long-term sobriety, and rehabilitate his or her life, look for a rehab center that offers:

  • Treatment medications for the drug of abuse and behavioral therapy, at a minimum
  • Other types of treatments to address the multiple dysfunctions substance abuse can create in many aspects of a person's life
  • A plan for follow-up, coordinated, continuing care, and repeat treatment, if needed

A comprehensive outpatient rehab center can be as effective as an inpatient one, according to NIDA.

A Chronic Disease

As drug abuse and addiction is considered a chronic disease like diabetes or high blood pressure, relapses are expected and should be planned for. At the end of treatment, a drug rehab center should provide a client with support services and a coordinated, long-term plan to stay engaged in a program and manage relapses.

Long-Term Considerations

Rehab centers work when their programs follow NIDA and other research guidelines for individualized, comprehensive treatment. To improve the chance for a successful outcome, a substance user should choose a center that suits his circumstances and will support her long-term abstinence and rehabilitation.

Although there are many rehab centers in the U. S. that offer effective treatment and services, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only about 10% of the millions of substance abusers enroll in them.

Finding a Rehab Center

To find a rehab or behavioral health treatment center, search the following sites:

There are many drug and alcohol treatment centers in the U. S., which you can research to find the one you need. If you or someone you love needs help, then using the above resources allows you to locate an effective treatment center.

Do Rehab Centers Work?