Addiction Recovery Success Rates
Vary From 3% To 75 %
With Drug and Alcohol Rehab

The Biology of Addiction

On this page you will find more information and statistics for bio-logical chemistry causes of addiction and the four different types of drinkers. There are revealing statistics concerning relapse rates and interesting philosophies for conventional rehab facilities.

When my son became addicted, the advice that I received from professionals and friends alike with regard to drug and alcohol rehab was, “he has to hit bottom first.” Or “he’s got to want to quit.” In retrospect, this was fatal advice for us.

This philosophy is still common practice today. Waiting for a commitment seems to make sense but what if you wait to long? What if the 'bottom' for your loved one is suicide, an overdose or a car accident killing themselves or innocent victims?

I know first hand how it feels to be afraid to answer the phone for fear it's the call you've been dreading. I can also tell you that it's painful to live with guilt and self blame if you feel you didn't do everything that you could have done. Don't procrastinate until its too late or you'll likely live with regret the rest of your life.

Alcoholism is the third leading cause of death. (3) You've heard that excessive drinking is a character defect--a decadent behavior brought on by a lack of self-control. Proponents of this philosophy champion the psychological approach to treatment. The success rate for this approach is less than twenty percent, about as successful as NO treatment at all. Alcoholism and addiction are not character defects nor a sign of a weak will. It is not a bad habit that needs to be broken. It is a devastating physical dis-ease that damages both the mind and the body. Addiction, like diabetes, is a physiological disorder.

I think it's important to note that with drinking such an important part of social culture, the 'potential' alcoholic or addict who is not introduced to alcohol or drugs, at sometime during their lifetime, is rare. One use, to a potential alcoholic or addict, triggers an addiction. In addition, using alcohol, a gateway drug, lowers your inhibitions for introduction of even more potent drugs. Prevention and awareness is the key.

An addict is not a hapless victim. The addiction begins with the voluntary act of taking the first drink and so the addict must take responsibility for his or her own recovery. Just because this first drink resulted in addiction does not absolve them of responsility, but it does help explain why they can not simply stop using. (4)

Using drugs or alcohol repeatedly over time changes brain structure and function in fundamental ways that can persist long after the individual stops using. It is as if the drugs have high-jacked the brain's natural motivational control circuits, resulting in alcohol or drug use becoming the sole, or at least the top, motivation priority for the individual. Thus, the majority of the biomedical community now considers addiction, in its essence, to be a brain disease: a condition caused by persistent changes in brain structure and function.

So what causes one person to be predisposed to addiction while another is not? There are five disorders from which a majority of alcoholics and addicts suffer: (3)

  • Nutrition deficits: B-complex vitamins, basic amino acids, key minerals such as zinc, magnesium and calcium (this is true of ADD and ADHD, as well).
  • Food allergies: wheat and milk product, also grains used in distilling beer and alcohol.
  • Thyroid Disorders
  • Hypoglycemia: causes anxiety, fatigue, depression and panick attacks...affects seventy five to eighty percent of alcoholics. Sugar and caffeine triggered sugar rushes thwart efforts to stabilize glucose metabolism.
  • Candida related complex (CRC): over growth of yeast
All of the above also cause depression.

Health Recovery Center, referenced below, indicated the following results from one hundred alcoholic random clients:

  • 98% had an alcohlic relative
  • 98% had been in treatment
  • 88% had abnormal glucose metabolism
  • Many experienced deficits in essential nutrients
  • 73% had allergies-most common, wheat and dairy
  • 55% sensitive to environmental chemicals (gasoline)
  • 25% had candida related conditions (fatigue, indigestion, migraines, sinus and yeast infections, PMS, impaired immune system) (3)

There are four kinds of drinkers:

  1. THIQ alcoholics: high toerance, type A personality and are actually "sharper" after a few drinks;
  2. Alcohol allergy: first drink makes them sick, usually socially disruptive;
  3. Omega- 6 deficient: Drinking helps control depression; and
  4. Hypoglycemic: drinking makes them sick, have cravings and receive fast emotional lift from sugar in alcohol. Creates mood swings. (3)

Alcohol and Drug Rehab Pros and Cons

For thirty years, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have recognized alcoholism as primarily a physical disease and researchers have documented its organic effects on the brain and body. Why, then, considering their low success rates, do the vast majority of treatment programs continue to treat alcoholism primarily as a psychological disorder?

This $4.9 billion dollar industry is rewarded regardless of their success. If their patient fails to sustain sobriety, that failure is implied to be the patients fault, not the fault of the treatment. Failures are usually followed by additional attempts and additional monies being paid.

I believe an intervention can work provided the addict or alcoholic can be provided with restored physical, mental and emotional balance from which he can make a clear decision regarding his future. The basics should include: 1) Nutritional intervention to return sanity and function to an imbalanced brain, this includes handling depression and 2) tools for his new life, which possibly will require counseling for self esteem issues. The recovered addict may need to find new friends, different support and new habits.

You may find the following statistics concerning traditional drug and alcohol rehab interesting:

"Abstinence achieved through conventional treatment 617 follow up studies at the end of one year resulted in:

  • No treatment resulted in a 76% failure rate
  • Use of antabuse resulted in an 80% failure rate
  • Full (conventional) treatment resulted in an 80% failure rate
  • Health Recovery Center's success rate is claimed to be 75% successful

Time doesn't heal. In a study of 299 alcoholics treated at six different centers, one year later indicated:

  1. 82% resumed drinking
  2. of the 55 that remained abstinent:
    1. 54% were overtly disturbed and unstable;
    2. 24% had no sense of excitement or interest in life;
    3. 12% replaced addiction with AA or a new purpose and
    4. 10% were independent successes" (3)
See additional studies and statistics based on psychological rehab approaches.

My hat goes off to those individuals who are able to grit their teeth and quit because they 'hit their bottom'. The alcoholic or addict looks normal and walks around like other normal people. She doesn't appear to have a physical problem or disease. Loved ones who can't understand may be heard saying, "why can't you see what you're doing to your life? Why can't you get your shit together?" So, with lots of coffee, some support and a ton of will power, some are able to attain sobriety with this white knuckle approach. How long can they sustain this state of recovery? As you can see above, most of them can't. What if it didn't have to be that hard?

  • The Previous Director of NIAA (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse) concluded publicly "The treatment of alcoholism has not improved in any important way in 25 years. Only a minority of patients who enter treatment are helped to long term recovery."
  • According to Narcotics Anonymous: “Addicts are men and women whose lives are controlled by drugs. These are people in the grips of a continuing and progressive illness whose ends are always the same: jail, institutions or death.”
  • Narconon Arrowhead notes, “Addiction is not unraveled in 28 days.”

It is surprising to me how many addicts and their families truly expect that long term sobriety will be attained after one month of rehab. When that doesn’t happen, the guilt and shame tears everyone apart and undermines future success attempts, alienating loved ones.

Minnesota is internationally recognized for the most widely accepted method of chemical dependency treatment. It was created in the 1950s and they cling to the glory of their first innovative steps, the core idea that addiction is a multidimensional disease, with physical, spiritual and social effects. Ironically, they treat the disease primarily as a psychological disorder, addressing the underlying problems of festering emotions and low self esteem while ignoring the physical chemical imbalances.

Hazelden, a very well known and celebrated inpatient facility, was interviewed and their clinical-care manager, Jean Strobel replied, "We teach people the importance of eating a balanced diet every day. But the idea of putting a lot of different pills in your mouth isn't a good thing to teach a chemically dependent person." VP Michael Schiks said, "we've been instrumental in working with alcohol problems in holistic fashion." The example given was integrating chaplains and psychologists as well as chem-dep counselors into one, multidisciplinary treatment team. (3)

According to Natural Health magazine, there were just four holistic programs. Julia Ross (quoted below) was able to locate three others. I am providing this combined list of Holistic Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centers.

The good news is that slowly an undetermined number of conventional rehab programs are beginning to use a more holistic approach to drug and alcohol rehab While this type of rehab doesn't work for every one, a seventy five percent success rate beats a seventy five percent failure rate.

Narconon, quoting a seventy percent success rate, goes a step further than the conventional rehabs by addressing long term detox. They are instrumental in implementing niacin or niacinamide flushes using a sauna to help rid the addict of residual drugs stored in fatty tissue. Otherwise, these toxins will resurface to cause cravings, anxiety and depression, sometimes for years to follow. Cravings create a major road block to long term sobriety.

In interviewing alcohol and drug rehabs, the answers I would be watching for are: 1) the testing for chemistry imbalances and specific test methodology; 2) Replenishing the drug and alcohol starved brain with amino acids in order to replenish neurotransmitters. An example of the types of supplements that will help restore sanity and balance to the brain are any or all of the of the following along with important co-factors for absorption: tyrosine, tryptophan, GlyceroPhosphoCholine, Inositol, Phosphatidylserine just to name a few; 3) Follow up studies that not only reveal sobriety results but actual recovery success, including how the patient has adjusted to their new life without their substance of choice. Have they simply substituted different substances such as coffee and cigerettes (note: cigerettes are used by fifty percent of the addicts and is believed to be a precursor to addiction); and 4) References: someone who can tell you about their experience with this treatment plan.

Since mitigating the underlying imbalances made so much sense to me, every time I researched a drug rehab facility, I asked if they used supplements and a holistic approach. They all said yes, of course, but as I questioned them further, I found they were uncomfortable talking to me about specifics. I believe they all feel that they have nutritional or holistic approaches. To them that most likely means teaching and providing balanced diets, maybe some vitamins, minerals, and holistic treatments such as yoga, exercise, and possibly acupuncture. I feel sure that their psychological programs are refined and unsurpassed but you'll see from Julia Ross's comment below that this program, standing alone, results in a ninety plus percent failure rate.

The second thing you will want to know when interviewing a rehab treatment facility is, of course, the sobriety success rates. We all know that most businesses know how to emphasize their successes and de-emphasize or omit their weaknesses. Unfortunately, the layman doesn’t know what they don’t know so they may not be asking the right questions. If it were me, I would ask alot of very specific questions about their studies, how many years they followed up etc. If the director doesn’t seem to have the answers, pay attention to that. (See Julia Ross’s comment below under Traditional Recovery Centers).

My personal experience for nutritional healing came as a result of my own chemical imbalance which caused me to become depressed after losing my son. Coffee, support, and will power alone could never have mitigated my depression. Supplements, and I don't mean just the vitamin variety, made all of the difference and allowed me to then balance other areas of my life including exercise and diet. I have to believe that it would also make all of the difference in the success of a recovering alcoholic or addict, as well.

Some people reason that their patients are not the holistic type; that a more holistic approach will tend to attract patients with a higher level of cognitive functioning, people that research and understand the concepts of the use of amino acids. It may be true that a user's mind is in a fog and denial. I feel that it is unlikely, however, that the user will be the one reading and researching options. More likely it will be their desperate loved ones. This is why I'm hoping to provide awareness, for another approach, to parents and professionals, including teachers. In addition, some think that this treatment plan becomes more successful (seventy five percent) because the clients who find their way to this treatment have already failed traditional treatment more than once. I believe that different things work for different people. A holist approach is not an easy answer because it is difficult to sustain a preferred chemical balance without changing many habitual ways, but I think a brain that is functioning more optimally will allow the addict an opportunity to view life differently and choose new options going forward.

If you'd like to learn more about nutritional therapy, I suggest you spend some time researching or Julia Ross's book, Mood Cures. See a listing of Holistic Drug Rehab Centers including outpatient rehab and inpatient rehab.

Julia Ross, M.A., shares in her book, The Mood Cure, written in 2002, that in 1974 she became one of the first professionally trained psychotherapists in the country to work in alcoholic recovery using psychological and spiritually based programs. Even though her team was enthusiastic about their programs, at the end of the day, despite the creative work of the professionals and the commitment of the addicted clients, the “relapse rates went up to 90 percent and higher.” These rates have remained the same over the years with the rising potency and availability of drugs. Ross discloses, “This 90 percent figure is the inside story. It is the figure that all the treatment program directors I know of admit to. Some tell me their relapse rates are even higher.” (1)

Many times an addict, not feeling that they can take the time off work or afford to spend thousands of dollars, is set up to fail as he/she tries to conquer an addiction in thirty days. Addictions are multifaceted, complicated and even if the physical addiction happened with one use, chances are depression, relationship, and self esteem issues did not happen overnight or in thirty days.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a wonderful network of psychological and spiritual support, but it is not a recovery or rehab program. AA represents less than four percent of the alcoholics in the U.S. Their success rate is unknown. Calling sponsors and attending meetings will not address the physical symptoms of disrupted biochemistry including cravings, anxiety, depression, insomnia and mood swings. In AA they say alcoholism is a powerful and cunning disease. One of their slogans defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. With an eighty five to ninety percent failure rate, traditional rehabilitation clearly is not effective. Isn’t it time to look at a different solution?

According to Joan Larson of Health Recovery Center, "(there are) studies of the destructive effect of alcohol on the mind and body through its power to inhibit access to key amino acids, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes, hormones, and essential fatty acids-the natural chemicals that support life and sustain sanity. ...I began to wonder about the value of the conventional approach to the treament of alcoholism. For all the spiritual resources provided by AA and the psychological insights available in counseling and group therapy, no attempts were being made to undo the damaging effects of alcohol on the delicate chemical balance that keeps the brain and central nervous system functioning normally. Why weren't we trying to fix what alcohol had broken?" (3)

During the time that Chad was missing, a teacher came to me one day. He had been heavily involved with alcohol and drugs personally when he was younger. His advice, I believe, was the best advice that I could have been given, albeit too late. He said, “You’ve got to kidnap your son or have him put in jail because he will not be able to make a decision to get off this drug on his own. His mind will not even begin to clear up for three months.”

This is why entering a treatment facility by choice or by court order can make a lot of sense. Not only are you away from your drug, but the renewed social contact helps reactivate more normal functioning of the dopamine system. The brain is amazingly adaptable and will work on whatever is at hand. Without drugs, it will work on getting well. (2)

Incidentally, he also shared that it was his belief that the drug awareness education provided by school programs is typically very inadequate primarily due to the fact that the kids aren’t told the entire truth. They are told that drugs ruin your brain and ruin your life. This is an abstract concept to an immature teen.

What happens when a peer tells you how great a drug is and to try it? Are you going to believe him or your teacher? Teenagers are very impressionable and they want to be grown up and fit in. They also believe they are invincible and have no idea what it means to not be able to control the use of a drug.

What if it was explained that the ‘high’ these drugs produce is incredibly powerful but you will chase that same high for the rest of your life and never achieve it again. What if they were told what would happen to the pleasure center of their brain; that the dopamine receptors would become irreparably damaged; that they wouldn't feel pleasure in the same way ever again? A recovered user who would volunteer to tell his story in the schools would provide a powerful testimonial to Middle and High School Students. Maybe, just maybe, they would think twice.


(1) The Mood Cure by Julia Ross, M.A.

(2) Men's Health Magazine, October,2005 issue "The Addicted Man"

(3) check for an article called "Taking the Cure" located on this site under related articles

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