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Why Can't Most Meth Addicts Stay Clean?

Even those meth users who go to rehab have a long-term success rate of just 12%, says a new study.

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By May Wilkerson

08/02/12

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Most meth addicts relapse within three years of seeking treatment, according to a new study from Australia. And although those who attend residential rehab reportedly have more than double the success rate of those who go to detox, or receive no treatment, even those who go to rehab have a high rate of relapse—at 88%. The study, published in the journal Addiction, looked at long-term meth use in three categories: users treated in a residential rehab, those treated in a detox program, and those who weren't undergoing any treatment. Residential rehab programs, which typically integrate counseling and recreational activities with in-patient treatment, had a high short-term success rate—with 48% reportedly staying clean after three months. But those who went through short-term detox (usually a few days at a hospital or facility) were just as likely to relapse as those who had no treatment—with only 15% staying clean after three months. What's more, even those who went to rehab had a low rate of success when it came to the longer term: just 12% reported staying clean after three years, compared to 5% who did not go to rehab.

Rebecca McKetin, co-author of the study, says many rehabs and detox centers are tailored to users of alcohol and heroin, but few are geared towards meth users, which may help explain the higher rate of relapse. "Their utility for methamphetamine users is not well understood," she says. "Many people were disappointed with the outcomes for residential treatment, because there is an expectation that these types of long-stay residential treatments produce long-term recovery, and we found that this was not the case for most people." Despite the often-high cost of rehab, McKetin says it is worth it—and the short-term success rate is promising. "It may not be perfect, but in the absence of better [treatments], we need to offer people some respite from their addiction in times of crisis." According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 314,000 teens and adults in the US were current meth users in 2008, but use of the drug seems to have fallen in the last few years.

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