The Emperor has no Clothes – Issues of Statistics in Addiction Treatment

People who are seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction are faced with an endless list of statistics that are often confusing, contradictory and discouraging. There are many reasons why addiction treatment statistics are so nebulous and ill-defined. For example, treatment centers take privacy very seriously and admittances are often reported anonymously if at all. A person who seeks treatment at more than one treatment center within the same year may be counted each time, which makes it very difficult to track treatment episodes and frequency of relapses.

What is Success?

How can success of treatment be measured without defined and uniform reporting guidelines? For example, does successful treatment mean completion with no relapses? Some people may complete treatment and attain lifelong sobriety without a hint of a relapse while others may experience several relapses in the process of recovery. What if a person relapses after 10, 20 or 30 years of sobriety? Is there any way to track relapse after long-term sobriety? Should this be considered a failure of treatment? The actions of human beings are difficult to quantify.

Statistics regarding the success of Twelve-Step programs are even more uncertain. The problem isn’t that the programs are ineffective; there’s no doubt the Twelve Steps work for many people. Rather, the problem is that nobody really knows exactly how effective the program truly is because Twelve-Step organizations are unable to provide the hard numbers that researchers need.
Anonymity is at the root of the Twelve-Step philosophy, and the organization isn’t about to compromise this principle to provide data about its members.
The organization conducts its own periodic reviews that offer information about the long-term sobriety of its members, but little is revealed about the number of members who relapse and leave the program. It also doesn’t take into consideration people that leave the program for their own reasons and continue to maintain sobriety.
Researchers who attempt to shoehorn Twelve-Step programs into a type of therapy are bound to be disappointed by the lack of scientific evidence, as the program considers itself a “fellowship,” not a form of therapeutic intervention.
The lack of any hard and fast, evidence-based guidelines, and the diverse nature of human beings makes tracking statistics extremely difficult.
Twelve-Step programs and treatment professionals that advocate only provable, evidence-based therapy are often at loggerheads. However, a growing number of treatment professionals believe traditional therapy and Twelve-Step programs are not mutually exclusive, and that the effective treatment can include both traditional treatment and Twelve-Step programs.

The bottom line is that all the statistics don’t really matter when it comes to choosing the best treatment. People are different and treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. At Paracelsus, we respect your needs because you aren’t a statistic or a number. Treatment is carefully designed to treat one person at a time, in complete privacy and we always keep up with the latest developments in chemical dependency treatment and current research on preventative and restorative medicine. Chemical dependency, we believe, needs an integrated approach, addressing body, mind, spirit and the social environment.

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