The Percentage of Drug Rehab Relapses


It is likely the most sought-after statistic in all of addiction medicine: the percentage of people who relapse following drug rehabilitation treatment.

It would be a great statistic to know. It would help to answer a very basic question about the efficacy of the 12-step program, and it would also provide insight into how it could be changed.

Unfortunately, it is also the one statistic that cannot be found, and when one is published, cannot be relied upon. The simple facts are that treatment facilities neither keep nor publish statistics on how often a certain addict might return for treatment, or whether the drug of choice is the same one or a different one.

The Anonymity Factor

Most treatment programs are predicated on the framework of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step program. Consequently, none of that information is even collected. The program is anonymous and therefore cannot know with any degree of certainty just how successful—or unsuccessful—the 12 steps are or where it stands as a broad-based program.

For a time, even the biggest names among the 12-step treatment centers in the United States would only publicly claim a success rate of no more than 10 to 15 percent, meaning that the percentage of drug rehab relapses hovered near eight or nine in every 10 patients. But if nobody is keeping track of these patients, nobody can claim to know whether or not the 12-step model of addiction treatment is even remotely successful.


The worst place to seek unbiased input is in those who are in recovery thanks to the 12 steps because they tend to want to shout their success from the rooftops, and they can quickly turn anything into the opposite of data, which is anecdote.

The reality is that the anonymity of the 12 steps as laid out by Alcoholics Anonymous may have served a population desperate to keep the specter of addiction buried, but now it only betrays them because there is no way of knowing whether or not it really works, and for whom, and why, and how.


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