The Truth About Drug Treatment

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According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 1.8 million people were admitted to drug treatment in 2005. That number has steadily increased since 1995. Much of the cost of drug treatment is paid for by taxpayer monies, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars each year. State and federal agencies oversee and license treatment facilities throughout the country giving consumers a sense that facilities are safe, effective and staffed with well-trained, caring individuals. Unfortunately the poor outcomes of treatment tell a much different story.

Ask any drug treatment program or facility about their success rates and you will hear a litany of answers. Many treatment providers do not even understand the question. They will begin talking about completion rates and lengths of treatment as indicators of their treatment program’s success. Some drug treatment providers tell the truth, that they don’t keep those kinds of statistics but that they believe it’s approximately 20%. Then still other treatment providers become defensive. They explain how addiction is a lifelong disease and that relapse is an expected part of recovery. Success, they will tell you, cannot be measured in terms of abstinence or moderation, but instead in terms of lengths of time between drug and alcohol use.

The truth is every drug treatment program in the U.S. teaches people that they are likely to relapse at some point during their perpetual recovery. While much of the independent research has moved in the direction that addiction is a learned behavior, not a disease, and that the most effective approach to helping people is through a brief intervention and education; drug treatment has continued moving in the direction that addiction is an incurable disease like cancer and that the only answer is ongoing medication, support group meetings and lifelong treatment. Furthermore, drug treatment uses their own lack of success to bolster the idea that people need more treatment.

While people enter drug treatment programs in the hopes of overcoming their drug problems, they quickly learn that they can never achieve this end. For many this notion of powerlessness and incurable disease takes away motivation, inspiration and any hope for a successful future. After twenty-eight days of being told everyday how powerless they are and that relapse is inevitable, sadly most people leave treatment and go back to using drugs and alcohol where they can find at least a brief moment of pleasure.


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