Often, treatment facilities are asked to provide their success rates.
First of all, that is challenging because there are so many ways to measure success. Is success the percentage of people who successfully complete their program? Is success the number of people who stay clean for six weeks, six months or a year after treatment, or is success measured as those who maintain long-term sobriety of five years or more?
Secondly, sadly, sometimes relapse is part of the treatment process. Using the disease model of treating substance abuse and accepting that it is a brain-based disease much like diabetes or hypertension, to a degree, relapse is part of the learning process. However, with substance abuse the impact can be far greater and hit much faster.
For example, if you are diabetic, you have been provided with a special diet of what you can and cannot eat. It’s your birthday and you’ve been following your diet on a regular basis, but you really want a piece of birthday cake. What do you do? Some, who have been diabetic for a long period of time aren’t going to rock the boat of their diet and will have that bowl of sugar-free ice cream. Others say, one piece of cake isn’t going to kill me.
Now, let’s say you are an alcoholic. It’s your birthday and you’ve gathered with some friends to celebrate. They don’t know you are in recovery. One offers to buy you a beer. You need to make a decision, fast. How will one drink affect you and your recovery process?
The answer depends on several factors. Maybe you say yes, have one beer and tell your friends that you need to stop – you have an early morning. As soon as you leave, you call your sponsor and discuss what happened. The next day, you go speak to your sponsor again and go to an AA meeting. You are very careful to steer clear of those who may encourage you to drink and spend more times in meetings. Maybe this is simply a momentary lapse and you right the course quickly.
Another option is that you accept the invitation to have a beer, and have multiple drinks before the night is over. You feel guilty and know you should call your sponsor, but you had so much fun with your friends, you realized how much you miss them. One night of drinking leads to two, you miss meetings, ignore calls from your sponsor and in six weeks, you are back in full addiction leaving your loved ones wondering what went wrong.
Scenario three is optimal. You went to a treatment program and did well, but relapsed after 10 months of staying clean. You incur a traffic infraction, which sends you back to a treatment facility. Again, you do well, but this time around, you pay much more attention to the triggers that could cause you to relapse. Upon completing the program, you surround yourself by people who are supportive of your efforts in recovery, and when your next birthday comes around, you enjoy an alcohol-free dinner and evening cheering for your favorite sports team. You’ve learned from your past mistakes, you’ve grown in your recovery and you understand how much there is to lose if you go back to a life of drinking.