What to Look for in an Evidence-Based, Scientifically Sound Drug Rehab

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Which treatments are scientifically sound?

Most people looking for drug rehab are encouraged to seek out programs that are evidence-based and scientifically sound. But it can be hard for families to know what that means and what they should look for. Families can start by asking about the scientific underpinnings of the therapies offered by the rehab, and they can ask for the success rates of the therapies offered, too.

When people are struggling with substance addiction, or when loved ones are trying to find treatment for those individuals, they are simply most concerned with finding the program that is likely to work.

In many cases, they are encouraged to look for evidence-based or scientifically sound programs as the most likely path to long-term recovery. However, many aren’t clear on what it means for a facility’s programs to be evidence-based or scientifically sound. This makes the search for a program that can show the best positive outcomes harder than it might appear at first.

A fundamental challenge is the use of language in describing trusted, science-based research; confusion can arise between the differing meanings of evidence-based practice and research-based practice. The idea of what is scientifically sound can be confusing as well. The slight distinctions between these terms can make a difference in the way treatment is pursued, and it is a good idea for individuals to keep these terms in mind when looking for the treatment center that will provide them with the greatest chance at a positive outcome that leads to long-term recovery.


What Is Evidence-Based Practice?

Addiction Treatment Therapy OptionsEvidence-based practice is quite simply the decision to follow specific actions based on their previously observed effects. An article from the journal Nurse Researcher helps to clarify this: When a program is based on the results that previous users of that program have had successful outcomes, this is evidence-based.

As a relevant example, when a number of people seeking addiction treatment enter 12-Step programs and achieve long-term abstinence and recovery from their addiction, the idea that 12-Step programs are successful is based on the evidence that there are people who have succeeded in the goal of long-term recovery.

What Is Research-Based Practice?

Research-based practice, on the other hand, is a bit different. According to the same Nurse Researcher article, a program based on research means that someone has observed a particular outcome, and has then formulated, tested, and measured the results of a study to test whether that outcome is predictable.

To go back to our example, a research-based program would take into account the fact that there were positive outcomes from the 12-Step program but would not leave it there.

A good example of this is a study that was recently shared in Addiction Research and Theory investigating individuals who entered a 12-Step program. The study was designed to measure their state of mental health immediately after the program, within three months of finishing, and within 12 months of finishing. This research demonstrated that while the mental health of the individuals immediately after the program was split pretty equally between a positive, flourishing state and a negative, languishing state, after three months nearly 41 percent were flourishing while just more than 9 percent were languishing. At 12 months, slightly less than 40 percent were still flourishing, while the number languishing had gone up only slightly to about 12 percent.The difference between these two examples is that while the evidence based practice can make it seem that a treatment is successful for some, there’s little indication as to why, and whether there may be other factors contributing to the outcome. With a research-based practice, scientifically sound studies can help quantify the reasons for outcomes, making outcomes more predictable and therefore showing the practice more certain to have that outcome. Interestingly, to obtain reliable research-based results, solid evidence-based reasoning is required in the process of developing the study.

What Does It Mean for Something to Be Scientifically Sound?

The American Educational Research Association presents a definition of scientifically based, or scientifically sound, research; this includes research with the following attributes, among others:

  • Rigorous, systematic, and objective methods to obtain knowledge
  • Logic and evidence-based reasoning
  • Research design that provides reliable results
  • Use of experimental controls to verify that results are not due to some other factor
  • Appropriate data analysis methods
  • Peer review, repeatability of results, and ability to build on findings

When a research-based program follows these processes, the results are considered to be reliable enough to depend on.


What This Means for Drug Addiction Treatment

Diagnostics of Mental HealthExperts in addiction treatment look for research-based modalities that result from scientifically sound processes.

While this is a very large field with a number of implications, research has basically determined that addiction is chronic in nature and a disorder of the brain – much like diabetes is a disorder of the body. What follows from this, and what further research has shown, is that while addiction can be treated, it is a continuing condition that must be managed.

As described in an article from the National Institute of Drug Addiction, this research-based finding means that addiction treatment is most likely to result in long-term recovery when treatment helps a person learn to manage the addiction, starting with medically assisted detox and continuing through behavioral therapies, and post-treatment tools and strategies that support the individual in continuing addiction management techniques.
These processes are most thorough and robust in residential treatment programs where the person can fully detox from the addictive substance with medical support, spend time in therapy that teaches what addiction management looks like, and prepares the person by supplying tools and support structure that can be accessed after treatment is completed in order to sustain abstinence and maintain long-term recovery.


What to Look for in Scientifically Sound Rehab Programs

Options for TreatmentThese elements are all important when looking for a scientifically sound rehab program. Research-based practices that result in predictable outcomes and long-term recovery are the types of programs to seek out.

Because of the slight difference in the definitions of evidence-based and research-based practices, some treatment centers may use these terms interchangeably. In order to determine whether a rehab center that claims to be evidence-based is actually using research-based strategies, some questions to ask might be:

  • Are your practices based on outcomes or on current research?
  • What are your research sources?
  • Are you aware of the most current studies on drug addiction treatment?
  • How do you measure your success rates?
  • Do you follow a comprehensive series of treatment practices customized to your clients?
  • Do you use medically supported treatments and proven practices for therapy?

By carefully investigating the facility’s methods and basis for treatment before committing to a program, a person struggling with addiction can find the program that has the most research and evidence behind it.


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