Learn How Effective Drug Addiction Treatment Is

Multi-ethnic group counseling session, support meeting.

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The primary goal of drug addiction treatment is to help a person with addiction stop using their drug of choice. Once this occurs, treatment transitions into helping these individuals remain drug-free by taking the steps needed to prevent a relapse.

But how effective is drug addiction treatment for achieving these goals? The answer to this question depends, in part, on how effectiveness is measured.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Measuring Drug Treatment Effectiveness

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), effective drug treatment has to do more than stop a person from using drugs and help them remain drug-free. It must also achieve three additional goals; with treatment, the person should:

  • Become a productive member of their family
  • Contribute within the workplace
  • Participate positively in society as a whole

Therefore, to measure drug addiction treatment effectiveness, abstinence is not the only factor to be considered. The improved ability of the person to function at home, at work, and in the community needs to be reviewed as well. Such improvement may result if the person is able to minimize their drug use, even if they do not remain completely abstinent. We must look at their quality of life.

Whether a drug addiction treatment is effective can also potentially be measured by its ability to reduce criminal behaviors, as the two are often associated. So, there are many facets to consider when deciding whether a specific treatment actually works.

Drug Treatment Program Results

While efficacy rates can vary, research has shown that substance use disorder treatment programs are effective and that recovery is an achievable outcome. Treatment has been shown to reduce drug use as well as improve health and social functioning. Additionally:

  • Treatment leads to significant reductions in DUI arrests and intimate partner violence. 
  • Every dollar spent on drug treatment saves $4 in healthcare costs and $7 in criminal justice costs.

However, it is important to recognize that individual treatment outcomes can vary widely depending on many factors, including the individual's specific issues, the appropriateness of the services and treatment they are receiving, and the quality of the interactions between the individual and their treatment providers.

Drug addiction relapse, regardless of treatment method, is common, with research showing that 85% or more relapse within a year of treatment. That may sound like a poor success rate, but it's actually in line with treatment for other chronic diseases. For example, people being treated for hypertension and asthma have relapses of those conditions about 50% to 70% of the time.

This suggests that drug treatment programs are equally as effective, if not more so, than many of the health-based programs used to help patients manage other health conditions.

Drug Treatment Options

There are a number of different drug treatment options available. The type of treatment your doctor recommends will depend on your individual situation and needs.


Medications may be prescribed during drug addiction treatment. These can be provided to help reduce craving and relapse, manage drug withdrawal symptoms, or to treat underlying conditions that may be contributing to the addiction, such as anxiety or depression.

For example, methadone is a drug that can be prescribed to people recovering from addiction to heroin, opioids, and other prescription pain relievers. Some research shows that this treatment is effective for reducing drug use and, ultimately, improving quality of life.

Methadone treatment isn't right for everyone, though, because it can negatively interact with other medicines, such as antipsychotics and pain relievers. If methadone is taken during pregnancy, the baby can potentially go through withdrawal after being born.

Vivitrol and Suboxone are also approved drugs prescribed for this purpose.


Psychotherapy refers to different types of talk-based therapies that can occur in both individual and group settings. Research has repeatedly found that it is extremely valuable to the drug addiction recovery process.

One study even calls cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy, "very influential" in helping people with addiction develop better coping strategies and improve their mental and physical health.

Psychotherapy works by helping people change their behaviors. Old, unhealthy actions are replaced with newer actions that are more positive in nature. When this is combined with changes in biology, such as with medication, the results are often better.

Workplace-Based Therapies

Some employers offer their staff access to drug addiction treatments in the workplace. One study reviewed eight clinical trials involving the use of this type of therapy and found that these programs can be effective for helping people achieve and maintain drug recovery.

Specifically, positive long-term treatment results were reported for people with an addiction to cocaine, alcohol, and opioids. Researchers noted that workplace programs help people continue with their sobriety after their other treatment ends.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Some drug treatment therapies fall under the category of complementary and alternative. Acupuncture is one that has been found beneficial for treating depression and anxiety. However, evidence for its ability to treat drug addiction is somewhat mixed.

A 2016 study looked at 85 different research articles involving the use of acupuncture for substance abuse therapy (which included both drugs and alcohol). It noted that some found positive results but not all did, perhaps due to inconsistent research methods.

Meditation is a complementary approach that appears to offer better results. It has been connected with improved recovery, while also improving mental health via reducing feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Nutritional repletion can also play an important role in recovery. This can include consulting with a registered dietitian to improve eating behaviors, replenish nutrients in your body, and improve your overall health.

Newer Drug Abuse and Addiction Options

Some treatments are newer and, thus, less explored. This offers additional hope that more drug addiction therapies will be available in the future, giving people a longer list of options from which to choose.

For instance, immunotherapy is a form of therapy used to help a person's immune system fight off disease. Some researchers are using these same principles to develop vaccines or antibody treatments designed to help people overcome addiction to drugs.

One review of research concluded that immunotherapy looks promising as a complement to other therapies for people with an addiction to nicotine, cocaine, and methamphetamines. There is a concern that risk of overdose is higher during relapse after immunotherapy, however.

The reason for this is that vaccines stop drugs from passing the blood/brain barrier. In turn, this prevents people from getting the "high" they typically obtain from the drug. So, this option needs to be explored further before its safety and effectiveness are clear.

16 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.