People have asked me throughout my recovery: “What is the percentage of alcoholics who stay sober?”
It is a tricky question because the person asking it is usually basing it on at least one assumption. For example, we might be at the drug rehab that I used to work at, and they will be talking to me about treatment there, and then they will ask that question. So really what they are asking is: “What is the percentage of people who stay sober after going through a treatment like this one?”
Then there are people who might ask this question when you tell them that you have been to AA meetings. They are really asking “What percentage of people stay sober who go to AA?”
And so on. So there are a lot of different ways to ask the question. They all seem to involve a different group of people:
* Those who are alcoholic but have never sought professional help or AA, but tried to get sober on their own.
* Those who are alcoholic and have entered into an inpatient rehab facility.
* Those who are alcoholic and have gone to an AA meeting.
* Those who are alcoholic and who actively participate in AA and continue to attend over a long period of time.
And on and on and on.
All of these different groups, and the question just sort of lumps them all together.
The most common assumption behind the question though is this one:
“What percentage of alcoholics remain sober after seeking help of some kind?”
That is the general and most common assumption behind the question, so let’s tackle that one.
If you look at the numbers in this addiction infographic that is based on government data, you will find that while almost 10 percent of adults have some sort of addiction problem, only about 13% will ever seek help for it. That right there is a scary statistic in its own right. Most who need help do not ever seek it.
Next, you will see that of those who seek help and do attend treatment, only 1 out of 5 people will still be clean and sober after 90 days of leaving rehab. Ouch. A 20% success rate at the 90 day mark, and most people would like to think of abstinence as being “permanent.” The numbers get even worse if you go out to six months or a year.
Furthermore, the churn rate in AA is deplorable, as pointed out by the 75% drop out rate in the first month of AA attendance. Furthermore, AA World Services found in their census data that a full 95% of all who attend an AA meeting leave within a year and never return. Shocking to say the least. Most who visit AA do not stick around. They simply leave, and reject the program.
Of course, a small percentage do stay and use the program to better their lives, and that is fine. But you have to be at least somewhat alarmed at how many reject the program outright.
If you really want a rough estimate that sort of gives a decent answer to the question, you can always say “about 5% stay sober.” This is not far from the truth. In all actuality, you can see a sort of drop off rate as people try to stay sober for longer and longer. In other words, if 100 people try to get sober, about 5% of them will make it to 90 days sober.
Now take all of the people who made it to 90 days sober. About 5% of THOSE people will make it to 2 years sober.
So there is sort of this drop off rate that slides, and it is a pretty scary slope. Make it to 90 days and you are not out of the woods yet. Make it to 2 years and you are STILL not out of the woods yet.
However, if you make it to 4 years sober, then your chances of achieving “permanent sobriety” jump significantly. The statistics show at that point that if you make it to 4 years sober, you will probably stay sober forever. Of course with addiction there are no certainties.
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