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Drug Treatment in 2019: What Does Quality Rehab Look Like?

Addiction is a complicated disease of the brain that manifests itself in many different ways in each individual it affects. Certain drug addictions respond well to particular modes of treatment, but all addictions require a holistic and multifaceted approach to treatment.

woman on bed suffering from xanax hangover

The Potential for Relapse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behaviors despite encountering negative consequences. In addition to being chronic, drug addiction is also a relapsing disease, meaning a return to drug use is likely to occur even after completing treatment and remaining abstinent for a period of time.

Many substance abuse treatment professionals have come to believe that relapse is an expected and sometimes even useful part of the addiction treatment process. Each time someone relapses, they are given the opportunity to learn more about their behaviors.

When evaluated honestly, a relapse allows the individual to identify triggers for substance use and create a more effective plan for how to avoid them in the future. If a relapse occurs, the individual can take it as a chance to learn from their behaviors and become stronger going forward.

Effective Addiction Treatment

handing being held from slipping

Significant scientific research has been conducted over the past 50 years about what makes addiction treatment effective. Current principles for effective drug addiction treatment, as recognized by NIDA, include acknowledging that:

  • Addiction affects both brain function and behavior.
  • Addiction is a complex but treatable disease.
  • There is no single best treatment for everyone.
  • Treatment must be quickly and readily accessible.
  • All needs of the patient, not just drug use, should be addressed through treatment.
  • Sufficient duration of treatment is essential.
  • Counseling and behavioral therapies are crucial to making a full recovery.
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders must be addressed.
  • Medications play an important role in treatment.
  • Treatment plans must be individualized and continually reviewed and modified as needed.
  • Medically assisted detox, when appropriate, is only the first stage of treatment.
  • Treatment can be effective even when it is not entered into voluntarily.
  • Drug use must be monitored throughout treatment.
  • Testing and treatment for infectious diseases associated with drug use, such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis must be done.

All effective addiction treatment that is available today should incorporate the above principles into their programs. Depending on the resources available, it may not be possible for every program to cover all of these principles on their own, but referrals can be made to appropriate outside services.

What to Watch Out For

In your search for a treatment program, it is important to know what to watch out for so you can recognize signs of a bad program and not waste your time and money on them. The worldwide addiction treatment industry was roughly a $4 billion industry in 2016, estimated to reach $7 billion by 2025. As such a lucrative business, there are many treatment programs constantly competing to get their fair share of the market.

Unfortunately, such competition can lead some treatment programs to make false claims and advertise attractive services that don’t necessarily support addiction recovery but are very costly to the consumer. In your search for a good treatment program be wary of:

  • Untrained or underqualified staff.
  • High costs of treatment.
  • Inflexible treatment plans.
  • Advertising that is more focused on the amenities than the services provided.
  • Lack of evidence-based treatment options.
  • An emphasis on group work with little focus on individual therapy.
  • Fixed length of stays with no options for extension of treatment.
  • Claims of unrealistically high success rates.

All treatment programs likely enter the industry with the good intention of helping people get sober and live healthy, fulfilling lives. Some programs, however, become sidetracked by their desire to make money, even at the cost of their participants.

Addiction treatment is a challenging process to go through, and you deserve high-quality care that has your best interests in mind the entire time.

people in a drug rehab room

Signs of a Good Rehab Program

A good rehab program takes a holistic approach to drug treatment. It recognizes how addiction affects all aspects of a person’s life and will provide support in helping the person in as many of those areas as possible.

One way good rehab programs do this is by having multiple approaches to treatment and therapy available. Treatment options that all good programs typically offer include:

  • Medication management.
  • Behavioral counseling.
  • Medically assisted detox, if necessary.
  • Evaluation and treatment of co-occurring mental health issues.
  • Access to support groups.
  • Aftercare planning.
  • Long-term follow-up options.

Good rehab programs recognize that everyone’s experience of addiction is different, so the combination of services they offer will also vary. All treatment planning must be individualized and account for the person’s unique set of needs and circumstances.

A high-quality program will also have the individual’s best interests, not those of the treatment program, at the forefront of care. The ultimate goal of addiction treatment is to help individuals recover from their addiction and lead healthy lives well into the future beyond the duration of any treatment program.

Drug Treatment Success Rates

The success of drug treatment depends on how you evaluate success. Programs may be considered successful by the number of people who complete the whole program. Other programs may judge their success on how many participants maintain sobriety six months, one year, or five years after treatment. Other people may consider drug treatment successful if they were able to learn effective coping skills that allow them to live healthier and more productive lives, though total drug abstinence may not be the most important thing to them.

Some of the most common indicators, however, of the success of addiction treatment are relapse rates. Studies have found that the relapse rates for addiction are similar to those of any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or hypertension.

Addiction, like these diseases, must be managed continuously throughout one’s life. A relapse is equivalent to a flareup of symptoms that need to be addressed with further treatment.

NIDA estimates the percentage of people who relapse following addiction treatment to be between 40 and 60 percent. The type of addiction being treated and the treatment approaches being used do not make a significant impact on relapse rates following treatment.

The rates of relapse are reflective of the chronic and relapsing nature of the disease of addiction. Treatment programs that claim to have unrealistically high success rates are probably basing their claims on something other than how well their graduates maintain sobriety following treatment.

How to Find a Treatment Program

man receiving rehab treatment

If you are ready to find a treatment program for yourself or a loved one, there are many free and confidential resources available to help you. A great resources that has information about treatment programs throughout the country is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. Your personal information is kept secure and anonymous, and you can search for services based on location.

If you prefer a more personal touch to accessing services, speak with your health care provider. All health care providers should have a working knowledge of available treatment services in your area and the ability to make appropriate referrals.

It can be challenging to know exactly what level of treatment may help you the most so speaking with someone who understands your personal situation can be important. A doctor, counselor, or therapist can be very helpful in making this determination with you and pointing you in the right treatment direction.

Is It the Right Time to Get Treatment?

If you are asking yourself if it is the right time to get treatment, then the answer is probably yes. If you have been struggling with substance use for some time or are concerned about your use for any reason, don’t hesitate to seek help and guidance from medical or substance abuse professionals.

With such a variety of treatment services and programs available today, there is a program out there with the right level of services for you. You may not need the level of treatment provided through intensive residential programs, but you might benefit from gaining access to outpatient care and community support groups. No matter what your treatment needs and goals are, there are quality rehab programs available for you today. 


Addiction Treatment Markets: Snapshot. (March 2018). Transparency Market Research.

How Effective Is Drug Addiction Treatment? (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

How to Avoid Bad Rehab Treatment. (September 2014). Psychology Today.

Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. (January 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

What Are the Treatments for Addiction? (November 2018). Medical News Today.

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