What is the success rate of alcohol intervention?

The problem with statistics is that, by Federal Statute, alcohol treatment is seriously confidential. Furthermore, outcomes over time are pretty much a guess, since it is pretty hard to track people whose treatment was confidential to begin with, many of whom have no desire to remain in contact with the treatment facility. Thus, these are educated guesses based on the literature, and on  personal experience with people in treatment and their subsequent progress.

Although not a sure thing, a well-executed intervention is often the best means of getting through to an alcoholic or addict the idea that their behavior is not only ruining his or her life, but also having a terrible impact on others.  [It worked on me!]

Success depends on a number of variables:

  • The definition of intervention
  • The skill and care with which the intervention is planned
  • The person who is the object of the intervention.
  • The definition of success
  • The source of the statistics

Intervention can be anything from threatening to move out of the home, to edicts from a judge or a commanding officer, to a clinically planned and executed process involving family, employer, friends and other people important to the alcoholic. The last is the preferred method.

The individual must be in a mental state where he or she is vulnerable to the pleas of the people in his or her life. If their life is going fine, no problems that they can perceive — or if they are the kind of person who actually isn’t much affected by the cares and needs of others — then the attempt may be doomed to failure.

If “success” means getting them into detox, then the rate is fairly high: probably above 50%. If it means completing a full course of treatment and aftercare, the success rate is substantially less, since addiction is characterized by repeated relapse.

If we measure success as continuous lifetime sobriety, it is probably in the 15 – 20% range at most, even allowing for a relapse or two.  At that, the survival rate for addiction and alcoholism is equal to or better than most other fatal diseases, so every effort is worth it.

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