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Success rates vs. the truth

February 21, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Throughout conversations with professionals in the addiction treatment field, it seems a common thought is that there is no real way to calculate a success rate of a facility.  Why then, do so many treatment centers continue to post success rates throughout their websites and brochures?

Don Grant, Executive Director at Harmony Place (Los Angeles) isn’t a fan of treatment facilities boasting any success rate, as he says there’s no way to judge that.  He went through treatment 12 years ago and feels like there might be a few people out there that are like him.

“When I left treatment I relapsed, and they called me to see how I was doing,” he says, “and with all the self-righteous indignation I could muster, I told them I was still sober of course, and I was drinking while I was talking to them.”

Because the facilities don’t know who is being truthful, it’s hard to determine a success rate, Grant says.  “The other problem is that you don’t get a good statistic because you’re not able to include those who relapsed because they’re not calling back or filling out a survey,” he explains.

Facilities may calculate their success rate as the amount of people who are admitted and leave the facility as a sober person.  Or others, as Grant suggests, may send out surveys and then calculate the number of sober clients by analyzing data on the returned surveys. In this case, how far does the facility follow and survey the client?  6 months, 2 years, forever?

Does your treatment facility claim a success rate?  How is it calculated?  I’d love to hear from you all.

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I work in court-ordered treatment so the way our facility measures "success" is thru the completion of our 6-month aftercare program and negative urine screen administered via probation.

We must first define "success". Abstinence has been the traditional way of defining it but I would suggest we think more globally on functioning as well (employment, re-arrest readmissions, family functioning, etc). If a client leave a facility and is using far less and able to keep a job, not getting arrested and his/her relationships have improved, is that a "success"?

I agree on a more clear definition, but, if we clearly define it, shouldn't we also define it based on what the "facility defines" success.
Some programs will define it as someone who completes their program, regardless if they hear days,months later the person is back in tx somewhere else. Others will define it as staying sober 90 days after program completion, others , when the person completes their aftercare program etc... You see my point.

So, back to the question & definition.

A while back I sat in a meeting with the White House director of President Bush's so-called Faith-Based Initiative, John DiLulio. I was a counselor at a jewish rehab. The leader of this rehab, a recently ordained Rabbi, told this government official that his rehab had a %95 success rate. This was a total lie and I didnt say anything because I would be fired on the spot and I wanted to think about what approach to take. This success rate would not have even been accurate if he was only counting whether or not %95 of the clients who were enrolled at the beginning of the day were still enrolled at the time of that afternoon meeting. This government official, responsible for 10's of millions in tax breaks and direct funding to rehabs totally bought it without question or follow up and smiled and said thank you for the great work.

I feel that most people outside of the addiction treatment field, such as this government official, don't understand the idea that success rates really "don't exist." Another group that is unaware of the truth behind "success rates," is the families and patients looking for treatment and care.
It's something that I believe should be addressed and hopefully treatment centers will find a new way, other than showing percentages, to get individuals in the door for treatment.

We often get asked our success rate at the Welcome Home Addiction Recovery Academy. As mentioned in your blog post, numbers are difficult to base success on. What I love are the phone calls and letters we get months and years later expressing gratitude and letting us know where our former students are at. Many of these letters even come from people who dropped out of our program who wouldn't have been considered successes at the time or on our records.

For example, last week I got an email from the mother of a woman who was in our program for 8 months before dropping out about a year ago. Her mother wanted to report that she is still sober, still going to weekly support groups, has her own apartment, has a job, is still exercising daily and eating healthy, has repaired many relationships with family, and more. Though she never graduated our program, I would say this is a success. I wish people would ask about the real stories, not just for statistics.

I completely agree. To me, success STORIES are much more powerful and important than success RATES. I recently sat down with Helene Cross, former CEO of Fairbanks, and she told me that one of the biggest gifts she ever received was a phone call from a former patient. He had attended the recovery high school connected with Fairbanks, and actually graduated as the first Hope Academy valedictorian.
He had called Helene because he wanted to know if she would write a reference letter because he was applying for medical school. So, this young person, who was addicted and according to Helene "was in pretty bad shape," went through Hope Academy, attended Indiana University and graduated with a 3.99 in mathematics, and was applying for medical school.
So I would agree with you. Helene's story, the one you told, and I'm sure countless other counselors and treatment center professionals have stories similar-- These are what should be told when asked of success rates. Not 80% or 95%.
Thanks for your comment!

Having been in tx, 17 yrs ago, having been sober all 17 yrs, I'm not a fan nor convinced success rates tx facilities tout are accurate at all, perhaps not even close.

I say that for two reasons, although I can think of more: One, the facility I discharged from, successfully mind you, never, never called to follow-up or anything like that.
Two, having been a lic chemical dependency counselor (LCDC) the last 9+ yrs,I know a little something, not all mind you again, regarding follow-ups, call backs etc... regarding client maintenance etc...

Just like the fellow from the article, clients could be telling me exactly what I want to hear, if I can even make contact, which is a shot in the dark at times. I wish there was a more certain way to measure success straight from the horses mouth. Until then, trust what the client tells you is not very reassuring when one is selling their program to someone who needs tx.

"To thine own self be true"

Shannon Brys