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Alcohol Treatment: Success Rates

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Alcohol treatment facilities often boast about having the highest success rate. To their credit, many of them have developed unique and innovative techniques and strategies. But are today’s treatment regimens showing a higher rate of success than programs of the past?

Approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population struggles with a substance use disorder. It costs our country about $360 billion annually to deal with this growing social and financial crisis; roughly half of this total amount is directly related to alcohol abuse.1

So, what is being done to deal with this crisis, and how successful are these efforts? More to the point, what key factors must be considered in the treatment of alcoholism?

Why “Success” Is Complicated in Alcohol Treatment and Recovery

Alcohol concept

Unfortunately, hard data about alcohol treatment programs’ success rates is sparse. There are various reasons why this “information gap” exists. The main culprit is a lack of consensus about how to define “success.” Also, many treatment centers will not release patient data; this is out of concern for patient confidentiality.

For a long time, alcohol treatment success was measured by whether a relapse occurred after treatment. Experts now view alcoholism as a disease. So, while patients may start winning the battle against this illness in the course of recovery, a relapse (or return to old drinking habits) might occur along the way. This does not translate to treatment failure; it simply means that more support or new strategies are needed in combating addiction’s force.

Would it be more appropriate to assess a program’s success by whether it helps patients more effectively manage their disease? That is, if an individual leaves a treatment facility with the tools to live a happier, more fulfilling life, then it makes sense that such a program should be considered a success, right? The problem for scientists is that this type of success defies being quantified!2

The Keys To Effective Treatment

Research to date suggests that these principles should form the basis of a quality, evidence-based alcohol treatment program:

  • Addiction is a complex but treatable disease. This illness affects brain function and behavior.
  • No “one size fits all” here. There is no single strategy that’s right for everyone. Each patient’s unique needs should dictate what and how care is given.
  • It doesn’t matter how you get there…just get there. Treatment doesn’t need to be voluntary in order to be effective.
  • Fast and fabulous. People need to have quick access to treatment.
  • Sticking it out pays big dividends – Staying in treatment for an adequate period is critical to achieving lasting success. Research shows that a longer stay in formal treatment is more effective in treating the root causes of addiction. Fewer relapses tend to occur after longer stays in treatment.
  • Tick tock…it all starts with detox. As phase one of a complete treatment program, detox involves working through withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision.
  • Treat the whole patient. All of a patient’s needs should be evaluated and addressed – not just the alcohol abuse. This includes treating any other mental issues too. Each of them impacts the others.
  • Behavioral therapy is vital. Counseling sessions are the most commonly used forms of treatment.
  • Medications may be essential, too. Medically assisted medications may support psychotherapy.
  • Treatment plans must be reviewed often. Plans must adapt to the patient’s changing needs.
  • Prevent collateral damage. Treatment should include tests for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Patients should be taught how to avoid contracting these.3

In terms of a specific treatment regimen, research suggests that patients who receive behavioral therapy, a drug addiction medication or, better yet, both strategies will experience stronger, long-term abstinence.4

Only three medications have been approved by the FDA for treating alcoholism: disulfiram (sold under the brand name of Antabuse®); naltrexone (sold as Vivitrol® and ReVia®); and acamprosate (Campral®).5

First Detox, Then Recovery

Alcohol treatment should address the physical symptoms related to alcohol addiction,of course. But it should also address the underlying thought processes for the addiction.

Man in detox

The physical part of the equation is handled through detox. This work precedes the actual rehab. Alcohol detox is a “drying out.” During this period, the patient stops drinking “cold turkey.” Often this induces discomfort in the form of withdrawal symptoms. But the end justifies the means. A stronger person comes out of it. This person is better prepared to take on therapy and other treatment steps in pursuit of recovery.

Counseling is added to the treatment regimen. Whether in individual or group format, these sessions help a patient analyze what brought about the addiction. They also offer practical strategies for staying sober. In group counseling, patients hear the personal accounts of recovering alcoholics. Strength comes from knowing they are not alone. These programs are viewed as a success when patients go through complete treatment and then return to their normal lives without the use of alcohol.3

Located in Palm Springs, California, Michael’s House is a residential alcohol treatment center that treats  the whole person — mind, body and spirit. The bottom line: we are here to help people live happier, healthier lives. And nine independent studies report that we are very successful at it! Call us today at 760.548.4032.

Start the Journey Today!



1 McKay, James R., Ph.D.,, “Treating Alcoholism as a Chronic Disease: Approaches to Long-Term Continuing Care.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Web. Accessed 12 June 2017.

2Drug Rehabilitation or Revolving Door?The New York Times. 22 December 22 2008. Web. Accessed 12 June 2017.

Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” DrugFacts, National Institute on Drug Abuse. July 2016.

4 Huebner, Robert B., Ph.D.,, “Advances in Alcoholism Treatment.” Alcohol Research and Health, Volume 33, Number 4, Pages 295-299. 2011. Web. Accessed 12 June 2017.

5 Leavitt, Stewart B., Ph.D., Editor, “Evidence for the Efficacy of Naltrexone in the Treatment of Alcohol Dependence (Alcoholism).” Addiction Treatment Forum. March 2002. Web. Accessed 12 June 2017.