About Treatment and Recovery

Does treatment work?
Research shows that substance use disorders are medical conditions that can be effectively treated, just as many illnesses are treatable. SAMHSA notes, “A major study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association is one of several that demonstrate the effectiveness of treatment for substance use disorders. The study found that treatments for drug use disorders are just as effective as treatments for other chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes.”1

NIDA indicates that relapse does not mean that treatment has failed. “The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse is not only possible, but likely, with relapse rates similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment failure. For the addicted patient, lapses back to drug abuse indicate that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed.”6

How does treatment benefit society?
Recent cost benefit studies consistently find that benefits to society of addiction treatment are greater than the costs of addiction treatment. As people participate in treatment and find recovery there is reduced crime, improved health, lower health care costs and improved employment and social functioning. Helping one person achieve recovery from a substance use disorder through effective treatment programs and other support services can improve many lives.

Materials from SAMHSA’s 2007 Recovery Month campaign say, “Many studies show a positive return on investment when money is spent on treatment. Research suggests at least a 2:1 benefit-to-cost ratio, with other studies allowing for a return of $7 for every dollar spent on treatment.Another study discovered as much as a $23 return for every dollar spent on treatment.

While the return on investment varies from state to state and program to program, evidence supports the overall positive financial gain to society when investing in the treatment of people with substance use disorders. … Research has consistently found that people who have untreated substance use disorders typically have high rates of repeated contacts with the justice system and a greater chance of re-incarceration. However, when inmates receive treatment for a substance use disorder, re-arrests have shown to drop from 75 percent to 27 percent.”1

What is Recovery?
SAMHSA defines recovery from alcohol and drug problems as “a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness, and quality of life.”

The distinction between treatment and recovery is important. The Recovery Services Community Programs Web site explains that “recovering from alcohol and drug use disorders is a highly individualized experience, and everyone who goes through the experience has an individual definition of recovery. In addition, recovery is achieved via many different pathways.  Within the RCSP projects, an emerging definition goes beyond abstinence alone to include a full re-engagement—based on resilience, health, and hope—with one’s family, friends, and community.”

Produced by the Northeast ATTC, NAADAC, Central East ATTC, and the ATTC National Office.
Funded in part by a grant from SAMHSA/CSAT and a variety of other sponsors.