Patients May Not Understand What Comprises Good Addiction Treatment, Says Study

By John Lavitt 07/14/16

A recent study found that a lack of standardization throughout the industry is one of many reasons that patients are unsure of what to look for in a treatment provider. 

Patients May Not Understand What Comprises Good Addiction Treatment, Says Study

In a June 2016 study of addiction treatment preferences, a profound disconnect was revealed between what patients think they want from a treatment center, what they actually need, and what turns out to truly work from a long-term perspective. With 23 million Americans plagued by drug addiction and dependency nationwide, such a definitive issue of perception needs to be addressed. Since only about 10% of the people struggling with addiction receive any treatment whatsoever, it’s crucial that the treatment they receive is viewed as a positive from the beginning that can lead to long-term recovery and sustainable sobriety.

Surveying both prospective treatment patients as well as alumni, the study asked each respondent group to evaluate the importance of having access to 28 different pieces of information when visiting a treatment-related website. Categorized into six overarching themes, the 28 pieces of information were divided into the following greater categories: organizational status, staff, facility offerings, residential policies, financial policies, and audio/visual features. What turned out to be most surprising in the compiled results was how prospective clients greatly undervalued services rated highly by individuals that have completed treatment. These services included group counseling, facility amenities, and recreational opportunities.

Ruchi Sanghani, Recovery Brands' director of research, explained the meaning of the findings in a statement. "This was a really important area for us to investigate, because it greatly impacts how people are searching for and experiencing treatment," SANGHANI SAID WHERE? "There aren't any global indicators by which people can say, 'OK, this is what constitutes a quality, successful treatment program. I should look for these things.’ Because of this, consumers end up relying on external information to determine what will be most valuable to their satisfaction and ultimate recovery outcome. We needed to look at whether that information aligns with elements of the treatment process that consumers later find helpful in the recovery journey."

Why aren't patients able to discriminate and ultimately access information about the qualities they should be looking for in a treatment center? According to the study, patients lack an understanding of what to look for in a treatment center, particularly given a national lack of standardization and ratings of addiction rehabs. Unlike hospitals and more traditional medical providers, where ratings and reviews from established authorities are easy to find, there has been a historical gap in such information when it comes to addiction treatment. Moreover, some rehabs have stacked the deck by creating questionable external websites that claim to provide unbiased referrals and reviews. 

A major problem when it comes to the lack of understanding of rehab offerings is an overall punitive perspective towards treatment. If treatment is the aftermath of being caught, going to jail or receiving a DUI, patients may not care about what will actually work. In fact, they may be looking for an easy ride with limited services and as little to be expected of them as possible. Setting aside legal questions, rehabs need to be highlighted as sources of healing and recovery. By helping patients fully understand the decision they are making, there will be a subsequent increase in self-esteem and ownership of the recovery process. Such ownership, from the beginning, very well could lead to higher long-term recovery rates.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has outlined several principles of effective treatment on its website. Although a good start, it does not include a true methodology to address the findings of this study. An addiction treatment menu that includes greater awareness of rehab service offerings, access to past client testimonials, and an emphasis on what actually works long-term is needed to promote true recovery and sustainable sobriety.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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