How Well Addiction Treatment Works

Many people don’t believe treatment works. So it’s a surprise to some to learn how well addiction treatment works.

As Time Magazine wrote in 1997, “Yet treatment for drug abuse has a failure rate no different from that for other chronic diseases. Close to half of recovering addicts fail to maintain complete abstinence after a year, about the same proportion of patients with diabetes and hypertension who fail to comply with their diet, exercise and medication regimens.”1

The following chart, taken from the National Institutes of Health website ( compares relapse rates for addiction with some other chronic diseases.


 So treatment does work, just not as well as one might like. You can’t overestimate the benefits that accrue to those 40-60% who maintain sobriety for a full year and beyond. For the rest, however, multiple treatments will be required. Since addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease (for more click on Definition of Addiction), this is to be expected.

The fact that it’s predictable doesn’t make relapse any less excruciating to bear or terrifying to watch. But if you know relapse is a good possibility, it’s far less shocking and demoralizing if it happens.


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1.  Addicted, Time Magazine, May 7, 1997.

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