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What We Can and Can’t Learn from Troubling Rehab Statistics


It is impossible to say how many people leave rehab having successfully recovered. Addiction is not a simple illness and it can be extremely difficult to measure recovery. However, there are experts who put the number of people who find success at rehab at just 5%. This is a number that has become fairly well-known, especially in having been repeated during Season 2 of HBO drama Euphoria.

If there is any truth to the notion that only 5% of people who go to rehab actually recover, it is understandable that addicts and their loved ones feel deeply troubled. They may well ask what the point is, and whether the recovery rate is really any different for those who don’t go to rehab.

Rehab Statistics

The good news is that this statistic does not render rehab pointless. In fact, the 5% is a vague estimate made using very little scientific data. We will go into why the statistic itself should not matter to you. Then we can discuss if there is actually anything to be learnt from it.

Defining Success:

One issue with the statistic is that defining success in terms of addiction is notoriously difficult. There is a belief, in part encouraged by certain addiction recovery practitioners, that success in recovery requires 100% sobriety. A single drink means you are no longer sober, even if it was not alcohol you were addicted to.

However, this is a bizarre way to look at recovery from any illness. People who have recovered from cancer may experience recurrence months, years, or even decades later. That does not mean their initial treatment was unsuccessful, even if the later recurrence is terminal.

The same is true with mental illnesses. People who have suffered from major depression and successfully recovered understand that future depressive episodes are possible. If they do experience a depressive episode again, that does not negate their health and happiness in between.

The fact is that if you look at recovery success as complete sobriety over the course of a lifetime, you will get very skewed results. Yes, many people relapse and return to rehab, but that doesn’t mean that treatment was unsuccessful.

Absence of Data:

Most 12 Step rehabs do not have a clear definition of success aside from lifelong sobriety. This is just one reason that there is a massive absence of data in this regard. If you are measuring recovery across lifetimes, data becomes irrelevant before it can be used statistically.

Another reason 12 Step rehabs provide very little data is because of the anonymity that is at the core of their program. They will generally never ask patients if they are willing to provide data to third parties regarding their recovery. This ensures that any data coming from these rehabs cannot be verified.

The statistic that 5% of rehab entrants recover is therefore based on very little data, as well as unclear standards. This should provide some reassurance that rehab can indeed help you. Furthermore, different rehabs provide very different outcomes. The best rehabs, including Seasons Recovery Centers which boast a success rate of 85%, offer treatment based on science.

Nonetheless, the 5% statistic does shine a light on some of the issues faced in addiction recovery in the United States.

Are Subpar Rehabs To Blame?:

When you compare a success rate of 85% to a success rate of 5%, questions need to be asked. Different recovery centers will undoubtedly have different outcomes, but they should not vary this drastically. After all, while outcomes of appendectomies differ from one hospital to another, a hospital that left most appendectomy patients permanently injured or dead would be shut down.

The problem is that in the United States, rehabs are not well regulated. Many rehabs provide treatments that are not based on science. They are also not required to hire professionals who have actually studied medicine or psychotherapy, or who have even taken a crash course in rehab treatment.

This is a systemic problem that does require major change. For most people, there is very little they can do on an individual basis. However, as someone battling addiction or someone with a loved one battling addiction, you can ensure that you do the necessary research in order to choose a reliable rehab.

There is no reason to accept that only 5% of rehab patients recover. On the contrary, good rehabs have rates that are far higher. Do not settle for a rehab that promises little chance of success. Choose a reliable rehab center that provides treatment based on science and can boast a high rate of success.

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