How to Talk About Successful Outcomes with Prospective Patients: Reframing the Recovery Conversation

Colin Davis,1 a former conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, said, “the road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.”

He was right. Achieving success requires failure—sometimes a lot of failure—along the way. No journey is complete without a few steps backward. And getting to the point of “being successful” is sometimes a matter of perspective. Success isn’t just about reaching goals, it’s also about seeing your efforts, despite the setbacks, as positive steps toward achieving your goal.

Usually when we encounter a roadblock, we automatically see the whole experience as a failure. But an obstacle is actually an opportunity to amplify our success, if we choose to change our perspective.

Success is in the eye of the beholder. Which makes success incredibly subjective—and often difficult to measure, especially in addiction treatment.

Immeasurable Success

The goal for a patient is always long-term recovery, but no two paths are the same. In addiction treatment, you’re confronted with highly individualized experiences. Every patient has a different idea of what recovery looks like for them. And when they do get there, a whole new journey begins: maintaining sobriety and staying in recovery.

This is tough because the facts are harsh. Twenty-one million Americans struggle with addiction,2 and about 10% seek treatment. When in treatment, 75% of people reach recovery,3 although sustained, long-term sobriety often takes anywhere from two to five attempts at recovery to achieve.4

In most professions, success is based on outcomes. The ideal result of any addiction treatment plan is sustained sobriety—and that’s where identifying and measuring successful outcomes becomes tricky. When we talk about sustained sobriety, what exactly do we mean? One year of sobriety? Five years? Until the end of the patient’s life?

There isn’t a correct answer, because you just can’t measure the immeasurable. But success demonstrations are integral to every digital marketing strategy. So what do we do?

Focus on Recovery Indicators

The Recovery Research Institute5 has been integral in finding a solution to this problem. They agree that measuring recovery has been a challenge for addiction treatment as a whole. Their solution? Use recovery indicators instead.

In a recent study,6 RRI identified 28 of these indicators. They formed a group of 146 participants, all of whom work in addiction treatment. Twenty-six percent were also in recovery. They asked these participants to rate each indicator’s importance concerning recovery on a scale of one to 10.

A few of the indicators are:

  • Using alcohol appropriately
  • Refraining from using street drugs
  • Experiencing no cravings
  • Taking care of mental health
  • Coping with problems without turning to drugs/alcohol
  • Eating a good diet
  • Sleeping well

Now, we have a helpful framework for measuring recovery success—a starting point as we continue to refine how we talk about successful outcomes and set patient expectations.

Setting Benchmarks

We have the opportunity to take these recovery indicators a step further. The RRI study establishes that these indicators are statistically significant measures of recovery success. So what if you used these measures to create recovery benchmarks?

Drinking less than three drinks per week could be a benchmark. Or going one week without craving a drug could be a benchmark. Even exercising five times a week could be a benchmark.

Until recently, the only benchmarks we had for success were the number of days in recovery. But as the RRI study clearly demonstrates, recovery is much more complex than simple counting days of sobriety. Recovery isn’t just about avoiding your addiction. There’s the additional component of treating your body with respect at every level.

Northern Illinois University7 partnered with Rosecrance,8 a leading behavioral health center, to measure recovery benchmarks by examining behavioral, social, and personal parameters. Their research has found that those in recovery9 typically have improved or restored family relationships, a better outlook on life, and elevated self-esteem. 

Again, recovery is much more than avoiding certain substances for a prolonged period of time, and your prospective patients know this. Communicating the importance of these recovery benchmarks in your patient’s journey is important for setting realistic expectations for treatment and broadening the scope of what successful outcomes look like.

Incorporating recovery benchmarks into your digital marketing strategy helps set expectations and build trust with your prospective patients. If you’re interested in learning more or have any questions on how to get started, our industry experts would be happy to help. Contact us at 888.307.7304 to schedule a strategy session today.


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