Defining Addiction Treatment Success

 

As the brave new world of outcomes measurements comes to substance abuse treatment, one of the most important things is to agree on a simple, easy-to-understand definition of success.

This definition needs to be one that both allows treatment facilities to measure and continually improve their effectiveness while also being easily understandable by addicts and families in the process of choosing a treatment center.  The definition should also be one that meet the needs of commercial payers focused on determining if a treatment program is providing quality treatment.

The question families of alcoholics or drug abusers most need answered is this – “If we invest in this treatment program, does our loved one have a fighting chance of becoming and remaining clean and sober in the future?”  Payers, of course, want the same question answered, albeit in a less emotional way.

With this question in mind, Vista Research Group has chosen to define treatment program success as follows:

What percentage of the patients who left treatment one year ago have
abstained from all drugs and alcohol for at least the last 30 days?

This definition allows for the possibility of relapse, which we all know is far too common in the chronic disease of addiction.  If an addict has the tools and ability to return to sobriety after a relapse or two during the first year after treatment, they will still be considered to be a treatment success if they’ve been clean and sober for the last 30 days at the one year post-treatment point. 

For clinicians interested in other definitions of success, Vista’s Outcomes Research will also report the percentage of patients who have been abstinent for the entire first year after treatment.  And for those patients who have not been abstinent for the last 30 days, the research will include a pre- and post-treatment comparison of the frequency and severity of usage of the patient’s primary drug of choice.