Stats… STAT!

Our children relapse. We are warned “relapse is part of recovery.” But I don’t think most of us believe it. By the time your child has a few years under their belt you get comfortable. You see a person emerge that you haven’t seen in years. Someone who is genuinely happy. Focused. Funny. Confident. Surely this person is here to stay.

But the fact remains. A mom I know confessed to returning to the days of sending canteen money to her son after his recent relapse landed him back in jail. She ended her dark missive with “why, why, why?”

It’s a rhetorical question I suppose. We know why. Giving up anything for a lifetime is a pretty monumental task. Giving up something you once loved more than life itself must be harder. Then throw in the added bonus of having an addictive personality or a mood disorder. Those are some pretty good whys. Sometimes I am amazed at the fortitude required to obtain 2-3-4 years of complete sobriety. It feels like a miracle. But I don’t want to think this way. I don’t want my daughter’s future to be dependent on a miracle.

Last week my daughter called me from detox. It was her third attempt in ten days. Her voice was hopeless as she numbly reported “only 1% of addicts ever make it mom.” I also have heard this number quoted. And I don’t like it.

We know statistics are manipulated to present a particular point of view. Is this one in existence because historically we haven’t cared enough to get the math right? Or has it been cultivated to justify poor spending on treatment?

This number was ringing in my head when I sat on an opioid forum last week. Beside me sat the head of a Massachusetts hospital emergency room department. He confidently stated that “involuntarily committing addicts to treatment is not recommended because we are setting them up for a higher rate of overdose death.” I am presuming his reasoning was based on the premise that this population is not interested in quitting drugs and therefore would return to using. I don’t question that deaths are higher among the involuntarily incarcerated vs. the voluntarily committed when treatment ends. It makes logical sense. But the data is flawed. The data is flawed because of “patient selection bias.” The doctor failed to include those who were NOT included in the data: those not forcibly committed to treatment. I venture to say that most of them are dead – or will be dead. Look at it this way: it’s like playing Russian Roulette with people who don’t want to quit the game. If you take away the gun some may eventually go back to playing with the gun. But if you DON’T take away the gun… well everyone is going to die. It’s that simple.

Are there better stats regarding relapse? Unfortunately there is a dearth of long term data. One of the few long term NIH funded studies followed 1,162 addicts for eight straight years. Published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Abuse it revealed that as the length of time in sobriety increases, so do the odds of continued sobriety. Those with less than a year have a 33% success rate. Those with over a year increase their odds to 50%. And those who achieve five years can expect an 85% future sobriety success rate. Data just doesn’t exist for those with 20 or 30 years of recovery time; but those who work in residential centers find their reappearance rare.

So we know clean time breeds more clean time. I remember joking a few years back with a local officer.  I asked him to handcuff my daughter to her bedroom radiator to prevent her from scoring. He smiled, but then seriously replied “yeah, I can’t do that…and neither can you.”

Since that day I have been searching for a legal means to success.  That searching even led to attendance at a spiritually based reading group (disclaimer: it is an act of desperation for me to turn toward faith for any sort of answer.)  What I found was that many of those in attendance were living a life of successful sobriety.  History, science, and society have not been kind to those suffering from the disease of addiction so we can not blame them for remaining in the shadows.  AA and NA use “anonymous” for a reason.  But by sharing their status this group become a living example of hope and, even better, a room full of positive odds!

It is still going to take a lot of unbiased research to get us solid numbers to stand upon.  Faulty statistical analysis, unfunded federal research, a lack of evidence-based treatment, and social stigma have led us to this unsettling place. To live within the world of addiction is to stand on shaky ground.

For now I will tell you what I can do. I can share a whole new set of facts with my daughter when I visit her at the hospital. I can tell her with confidence that the 1% success rate is inaccurate. And I will tell her with even more confidence that she matters 100% to me.

These are the only true numbers at my disposal and, for today, we are relying upon them.

7 thoughts on “Stats… STAT!

  1. This is the best of your blog. A thoroughly rigorous and compelling voice. All of the stakeholders in this battle against addiction should be forced to read you and hear your voice.


  2. Sending you love, and hope and better understanding on my part because I am listening, and a mother’s tears dripping at the moment. Anything I can do to help you? Coffee? Paint? Love……

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this. Sending positive energy your way, and your daughter’s way. If you see fit, please let your daughter know that there are more people rooting for her than she could even imagine. Hugs.


  4. Sending you my love, understanding and strength. Sending love, strength and more strength and more love to your daughter. There is a reason for the slogan one day at a time. It applies not only to the addict, but to their scared to move on with life families. We all need your daughter to succeed, it’s a heavy burden for her on top of her inner demons, but only with more good one day at a times can those horrible statistics change for the better. My son used to quote me those 1 % statistics.He was trying to prepare me for the worst. My response to him was that never in his entire existence did he follow the norm, so those numbers did not now nor ever will apply to him. But still, every day of his ten years of heavy active addiction I cringed when the phone rang.He is now thankfully and miraculously 4 1/2 years clean, but anytime he has a mood swing, still frightens me.Please tell your daughter we believe in her, and as for you my dear, I am here for you as a sympathetic knowing listener, or if there is any other way I can help.


  5. Thank you for these aching but focused and determined words. For a while, I’ve been struggling with the word “anonymous” attached to the programs that have been successful for decades. In my humble opinion, The success of AA/NA is in providing exactly what humans need: to talk, to share, to have relationships/friendships, to laugh, to cry, routine, familiar faces, empathy, sympathy. After most family/friends have given up on them, here is an acceptable non-judgmental new ‘world.’ BUT the anonymous can be slippery. People within recovery as well as those outside need to know there are great lives to be led and success for so many … society needs to know about those who have overcome addiction ans provide support for those trying.
    With love, Annemarie … xoxo


  6. Annemarie, your blog is amazing! I stumbled upon it recently, and now follow it. Your words are so powerful, and heart wrenching. My heart goes out to you and your daughter. I would love to catch up with you. I now work at McLean Hospital in the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program (admin work), and I would love to share your blog with some of the folks in the department…would that be OK with you? Please, let’s try to get in touch, have a coffee…something. Miss you. Stephanie


    1. Hi Stephanie – I was wracking my brain try to remember who you might be…are you the Stephanie from our Harvard gigs? (23 long years ago!!!) And yes – please share… I am grateful! (No use just talking to myself altho I am really good at that too.) In box me your cell and I will contact you for coffee. (even if you are another Stephanie!) You probably don’t want to post here so use my email:


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