Out of all the people I know who were in treatment before me and in the group after me, as well as with me and who completed the entire course of treatment most of them, i.e. a high majority of at least 3/4s, are still in recovery.
This suggests to me that those who seek treatment, whether 12 step based treatment or via taking the steps, with fearlessness and honesty, do actually recover long term. So why is this sort of statistic not well know?
There can be no greater motivation to recover than knowing that the vast majority of people who do engage in treatment do actually recover!
I recently came across an excellent article on this by Dr. Omar Manejwala, former Medical Director for Hazelden Foundation, one of the nations oldest and largest addiction centers in the US.
I will quote from his blog here.
“…the recent tragic overdose death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whom many have noted was reportedly abstinent from alcohol and drugs for over two decades, raises another set of important questions:
Do people who get sober actually stay sober?
Can’t you ever be free of addiction? Are you always at risk of relapse?
Is there some period when, like cancer, you are considered to be “cured”?
Isn’t staying sober for a long time at least somewhat protective?
In my experience treating thousands of addicts, I’ve learned that cases like these can often diminish hope and create a perception that these conditions aren’t treatable, or that addicts can never be trusted.
When is an addict or alcoholic sober long enough to be considered at least relatively safe? Do most people with addiction who have been sober a long time eventually relapse? In scientific terms, what is the natural history of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction?
I’ve seen numerous experts speak up in the wake of Hoffman’s death, but few have offered hard science on what we really know about how a person’s duration of sobriety is related to their chances of being sober in the subsequent years. Fortunately, there are data to support the idea that recovery is durable, and that the vast majority of people who stay sober for a long time will continue to stay sober afterwards.
The most thorough attempt to understand what happens to addicts and alcoholics who stay sober is an eight-year study of nearly 1200 addicts. They were able to follow up on over 94% of the study participants, and they found that extended abstinence really does predict long term recovery. Some takeaways from this research are:
Only about a third of people who are abstinent less than a year will remain abstinent.
For those who achieve a year of sobriety, less than half will relapse.
If you can make it to 5 years of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than 15 percent.
Of course, there are many people with 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years of abstinence…. My experience is that people with decades of abstinence clearly can and do relapse, but the incidence is very low. Like Hoffman and many others, it’s always heartbreaking when it happens. I’ve seen it triggered by opiate prescriptions, acute pain and other life stressors. Often the people who relapse have stopped engaging in the recovery-oriented practices that served them well during their earlier sobriety.
Every death from addiction is tragic. But cases like Hoffman’s are definitely the exception and not the rule.”
Copyright Omar Manejwala, M.D. 2013.