Author: Justin Mckibben
Working in the blogging and social media sector of the world-wide web you get to see a lot of differences of opinion on a lot of topics; from the most mainstream to the most infamously controversial. In fact, pretty much anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account has exposure on a regular basis to a variety of intense debates and collective views. Of course another thing the internet does is provide us with perspective and statistics, and some of those data inventories actually make a strong impact on our own opinions. However, some figures may miss the mark when it comes to truly all-inclusive data. This is especially true when it comes to the measure of success in recovery from addiction.
Some people claim that the majority of support groups and programs don’t have very impressive or even adequate rates of success in recovery. Others will go as far as to claim that these support groups and recovery programs hurt more than they help. If you dig deep enough, there are plenty of people claiming that nothing out there works for helping addicts and alcoholics who need help.
But is that accurate? Truthfully, I have more than enough reason to doubt these claims for a very simple reason…
Who is truly capable of quantifying someone else’s “success”?
Instead of asking if drug treatment is successful, maybe we should be asking the real question… what is the real measure of success in recovery?
Talking about Treatment
Back in 2013 TIME magazine wrote that because there is no standard definition or what “rehab” is, there is no standard metric for measuring their success. The therapeutic community at one point said they could only claim a 30% success rate. However, the source also indicated that they only count ‘success’ by those who complete the entire program, and between 70% and 80% of people drop out of aftercare around 3-6 months after treatment. To sum that up, some people just stop reporting on their progress, so their ‘success’ could not be confirmed.
Other treatment providers will measure their success rates on how many patients report being completely abstinent for an extended time after leaving treatment. However, as we discuss later in the article, abstinence is not the requirement in the definition of success.
The fact is, because there are various addiction treatment models, to measure the success of recovery based on the numbers even treatment providers themselves gather is actually inappropriate and ineffective.
Focusing on the Fallen
When was the last time you saw a story on the news about an overdose victim? These days if we go 24 hours without seeing one it is surprising, right?
Well… when was the last time you saw a story on the news about a recovered addict who owns their own business, or is working a 9-5 and volunteering in their community? When was the last time you saw a breaking report about the alcoholic who went home to be an amazing parent to their newborn child or started a foundation to help the less fortunate?
I thought so. But allow me to blow your mind… because these people do exist!
This is probably one of the greatest injustices dealt to the recovery community. I’ve written about this before, and about how changing the communities views means overcoming stigma. Media outlets are always itching to give a dramatic account of every drug overdose or crime committed by an addict. Thus, that is all the rest of the world sees. It should be no surprise that people claim the recovery programs and support groups are failing, because no one pats you on the back for being a decent person. The only time people seem to applaud recovering addicts in the media is when they’re a celebrity.
It is easy to claim that drug addiction treatment doesn’t work when someone only focuses on the overdose rates in their community. It is easy to point to the individuals who have fallen, who need another chance at getting healthy, and say they are proof that the institutions are broken. Raising awareness on all those who still need help is important, but it is counterproductive to use them as indication that no progress is being made.
One conflict with measuring success is with 12 Step programs, mainly because they are anonymous programs. As a member of a 12 Step program I am definitely not trying to discredit these methods. The reality is true success rates of 12 Step programs are such a matter of contention because the standard of anonymity. Many people will simply not wish to be involved in studies based on their desire to remain anonymous.
When trying to debate the success rates of 12 Step programs we have to take any statistics with a heaping serving of salt. Out of the pieces of data available, those numbers are not an all-encompassing assessment.
Also, the only data for success in recovery from 12 Step groups is ongoing sobriety percentages, measured by years. And just about any member will tell you time does not equate sobriety. And limited data means the programs may help people to find a meaningful life, but if they do not remain members then they are not included in those success rates.
Some will only measure their success in recovery on a 24 hour basis, because they take life a day at a time.
Even 12 Step literature will point out that they have no monopoly on spirituality or recovery. 12 Step literature acknowledges that some people reach a point where their drug abuse or drinking caused great physical, personal and professional damage, but after intervention and treatment some can turn their lives around without a 12 Step program. Of course abstinence is often suggested as the best course of action for most recovering addicts and alcoholics. Once drugs or drinking create enough devastation, turmoil and helplessness many people find it is far too late to ever go back. Yet, abstinence is not necessarily the requirement for “success in recovery”.
Success in Recovery is Subjective: Speak Up
What truly transcends the debate over effective drug treatment is how we measure success in recovery in the first place. How do we decide someone is successful in life? Because isn’t that what recovery is; building a life that is happy and whole? So how do we calculate the extent of someone else’s transformation?
In essence, that is what we are talking about; discovering a fulfilled and meaningful shift that allows freedom to pursue happiness and connection. Given this description, success in recovery is definitively subjective. The meaning of recovery is more conjectural.
The measure of successful recovery should be a more fulfilled life.
Not just with material wealth, prestige or surface value but with connection, contribution and genuine gratitude. In the end, men and women who struggle with drug abuse or alcoholism recover in innumerable ways. Some turn to religious bodies, while others thrive on support groups. Some focus on physical fitness and mindfulness. There is no way to measure every success story, because they are life-long journeys through self-awareness. Each puzzle piece makes a different picture.
In order to show that there is hope, I hope more of us speak up about our experiences in recovery from alcoholism and addiction. There is so much emphasis on the bad, there is more of a need than ever to show the world something good. This means shattering the stigma that stands against us. People will never know we can succeed if we don’t try to show them how we already have. Recovery from addiction should be outspoken more often. Not because I think anonymity isn’t important; I have great respect for the traditions of 12 Step fellowships.
But… I do believe that if we don’t speak up for ourselves, stigma is going to keep speaking for us.
Every community, including yours, is filled with people who have empowering and inspiring success stories after overcoming drugs and alcohol. It all begins with a foundation. It is up to you to measure your success, but it’s also up to you to take action and make your success story possible. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.