Comparing Alcohol and Drug Rehab Success Rates

It’s hard to find data on treatment success, and it’s even harder to trust the data that’s out there. Here we explain how we collect data and measure success. We also offer a few suggestions for evaluating other treatment programs.

Hazelden Betty Ford conducts scientific patient outcomes research to continually inform the treatment programs we provide and to ensure the most-effective care and services for the individuals and families who turn to us for help with substance abuse, misuse and addiction.

Key findings from the Butler Center for Research indicate many patients report positive outcomes post-treatment, including high ratings of quality of life, mental health and little, if any, use post-discharge.

What to Ask Treatment Providers about Their Success Rates 

If you’re looking into addiction treatment programs for yourself or for a loved one, you’ve probably run into a shortage of hard data on rehab success rates. In general, the substance abuse treatment field lacks consistently reported—and, in some cases, scientifically valid—ways of measuring the impact of alcohol and drug rehab programs.

Where does that leave you as a consumer in seeking the most-effective treatment for alcoholism or other drug addiction?

Given the absence of apples-to-apples comparison data, it’s important to ask the following questions and consider the following factors in understanding how treatment centers and drug rehab programs gather, measure and report their results.

How Are Addiction Treatment Outcomes Measured?

Like other chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension, alcoholism and drug addiction often involve cycles of relapse and remission. However, the impact and effectiveness of treatment for addiction is not as easily measured as medical care for other chronic illnesses where physiological indicators such as blood sugar readings, lipid levels or other medical assessments clearly signify change, healing and improvement. With alcoholism and drug addiction—known medically as substance use disorder—there aren't clear-cut physiological indicators or lab tests that demonstrate whether the disease is subsiding or the patient is healing.

Instead, addiction treatment outcomes are typically assessed across a variety of clinical, quality of life and behavioral domains. Hazelden Betty Ford measures and reports substance use disorder treatment results based on patient follow-up data relating to three categories of change:

  • Length of sobriety
  • Quality of life
  • Aftercare compliance

During the admissions process, patients entering Hazelden Betty Ford treatment centers are given the opportunity to sign a release allowing our Butler Center for Research staff to contact them after discharge. Callers from the Butler Center for Research then reach out to patients at one, three, six, nine and 12 month intervals post-discharge to ask how they are doing and to collect information about patients’ recovery progress and overall quality of life.

The patient data collected and analyzed by our research staff covers a variety of factors and variables, including:

  • Number of days continually abstinent from alcohol and other drugs
  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Quality of relationships
  • Level of functioning in career, job or school
  • Quality of social life
  • Compliance with after-care recommendations such as regular participation in Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 Step programs
  • Additional healthcare service utilization 

How Can I Tell if a Treatment Center's Addiction Outcomes Are Credible?

Reported rates, numbers and percentages may appear impressive, but be wary of such claims. Always ask about the scientific data behind statements promoting addiction success rates. For example, if a rehab provider claims a "96% success rate," you should ask:

  • What variables and which patient populations are you measuring?
  • How are you defining "success"—Length of abstinence from alcohol and other drugs? Improved physical health? Improved mental health? Other quality of life indicators?
  • How was the data collected?
  • Over what time period?
  • How many patients are surveyed and what is the response rate?
  • What type of substance abuse rehab program did patients participate in—Residential or outpatient? Evidence-based behavioral therapies?

Are There Standardized Addiction Outcomes I Can Reference?

Standard criteria for measuring treatment effectiveness are not available at this time, but benchmarks will be available soon to help consumers evaluate alcohol and drug rehab programs.

Given the lack of consistently reported, scientifically valid addiction treatment outcomes data across the field, Hazelden Betty Ford has joined forces with eight other leading treatment providers to develop a standard framework for patient outcomes data gathering and reporting. This work is being sponsored by the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers.

In the pilot program currently underway, participating treatment centers are using the same patient survey tool to measure the same treatment outcomes data in the same way.

Where to Find More Information about Patient Outcomes

Results from patient research are a very useful tool for anyone who is considering treatment for alcoholism and other drug addiction. Relapse rates, physical and mental health, quality of life indicators and other scientific data on patient outcomes shed light on the impact and effectiveness of different rehab programs and approaches.

Learn more about Hazelden Betty Ford’s addiction treatment results and how our Butler Center for Research collects, reviews and reports alcohol and drug rehab success rates and patient outcomes related to sobriety and well-being.