Over the years, I have heard of success rates of treatment that were all over the board and have come to the conclusion that “success rates” don’t really tell us a whole lot. Part of the problem seems to be that everyone has their own definition of success. I have been involved in compiling stats and quite honestly, some of numbers gathered seem arbitrary and far from giving us an accurate picture of the effectiveness of our treatment.
Here are some variables that I have seen used in measuring success.
- Drug Screen results or clients word on whether they are using or drinking.
First of all, it is difficult to get a drug screen from someone no longer in treatment and taking someone’s word for it doesn’t seem very reliable. Even if you do get the drug screen, if it is a year after treatment it doesn’t really tell how they have done for the past year.
- Stable employment
How do you define stable? What if they are in school or are self-employed?
- No Arrests
Does this count misdemeanors? What if they are arrested for something that happened prior to treatment?
- Completion of the program
I actually like this one because I feel like if you have a good program, then completing does represent some success. I do realize that they could relapse 10 min after they complete the program.
- Attending support groups
While this is important, it doesn’t mean that someone who isn’t involved in a support group isn’t successful in their recovery.
So, what is success in treatment? Is it total abstinence? What if there was just one slip in the past year? What if they went on a month long binge, but have since gotten “clean” again? What if they are no longer using their drug of choice but have started drinking alcohol? Just taking a snapshot one year after treatment doesn’t really give you an accurate picture.
I know that the federal and state governments have to have some kind of measurements for accountability purposes and to determine where to put funds. It seems to me, however, that this leads to agencies focusing more on the stats and less on what is best for the clients. Every agency wants their numbers to look good, but not too good, as that would raise a red flag as well. Just about every agency will have a screening process to determine if the client is appropriate for their treatment. This is, of course necessary, but the problem comes when you start to screen out the difficult clients or the ones that you are afraid will hurt your numbers.
I am not here to criticize those gathering data. The fact is we have to come up with the best measurables that we can. I am just suggesting that when you come across someone’s success rates, that you question what those numbers are really telling you.