How Effective is Rehabilitation for Alcoholism?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 09 May 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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The effectiveness of rehabilitation for alcoholism is a topic of debate, as it is very hard to pin down accurate statistics to provide a meaningful picture. It is generally agreed that alcoholism is with people for life and an effective program creates permanent changes to help people abstain from alcohol and avoid relapses, but does not achieve a cure. While some programs may boast very high success rates, like 90 to 95 percent, the truth is usually more complicated.

When measuring the effectiveness of rehabilitation for alcoholism, one complication is what “success” means. Various researchers define this differently. Someone who leaves an alcohol treatment program and does not relapse in three months might be considered a successful patient by some models, while others look at the patient's entire life after leaving the program and measure how long, on average, it takes people to relapse, while also looking at people who never relapse.

Another issue is that most rehabilitation programs are confidential and do not release information about patients, making it difficult to track patients after they leave the program. While programs may maintain internal statistics, they may not come with comprehensive discussions and evaluation, making it hard to see how useful those statistics really are when discussing rehabilitation for alcoholism as a treatment option.


Extensive research into alcohol and rehabilitation programs has shown that programs more likely to be successful tend to share traits like individualized care, follow up treatment, the use of group therapy and support, strong personal motivation on the part of participants, early detection, the use of medications, contracts and agreements with patients, close personal relationships with care providers, and long duration. For individual patients, different factors can influence how successful a stay in rehabilitation will be, ranging from how motivated someone feels to genetic factors believed to be linked with alcoholism.

Rehabilitation for alcoholism can usually achieve short term results, but long term success is more variable. In people at critical risk of death from drinking due to complications, rehabilitation can save a life, and may provide someone with the tools to stay away from alcohol. Longer duration programs tend to be a better choice, allowing people time to create new habits and establish a support network to avoid falling back into old patterns. Follow-up care is also very important; patients who have agreements and relationships with care providers tend to be less likely to relapse.

Every drug and alcohol treatment program is different. If rehabilitation for alcoholism is being considered, it can be beneficial to tour several programs, meet patients if possible, and read reviews and other discussions of those programs to see how well they are perceived. Ultimately, a patient may need to try several approaches to find one that works.



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