What success looks like (and why addiction’s not a problem)…

Hands down the most common question that I get regarding the efficacy of our drug treatment program is “what’s your success rate?”. My standard reply is “define success for me.”

Is success being completely clean and free from drugs and alcohol? Or is success becoming more functional in society? What if a young person continues to use, but is able to hold down a job, go to school, be in positive relationships… you can start to imagine how individual and complex the idea of “measuring success” becomes.

Which naturally leads into the question of what’s really the problem? My take on addiction to substances is that it’s not actually a problem, but a solution. For awhile, drugs and alcohol have been a successful coping strategy for the young people that we work with. Maybe it’s numbed the pain. Maybe it’s provided a sense of belonging that is missing at home or at school. Maybe it’s an attempt at rebellion or individuality. Maybe it’s evolved as a strategy to help cope with mental health concerns. Addiction tends to be a symptom of a deeper problem, one that’s usually rooted in trauma, abuse and neglect.

Back to this notion of success. Many programs measure this based on completion rates, or number of days in treatment. As long as your butt’s in the seat you’re learning and growing right? Standardized testing in school was created to combat that very issue, and ensure that students were learning something through their attending school.

At Enviros, we’ve taken to using an outcome measuring tool developed by Resiliency Initiatives. It’s not perfect, and we revise the questions occasionally, but given how important this notion of resiliency is to the long term success of our clients, it’s worth measuring. Below is a comparative analysis from some clients in 2010/2011, measuring the change in “at risk” behaviors over the 3 months they were in our program.

Along with considering “at-risk behaviors”, it’s equally (or more) important to consider how clients are developing in a “pro social” way. In fact, approaching treatment from a strength’s based perspective (as opposed to a deficit based), has profound effects on a clients ability to identify and develop skills that will help them move forward in life. The school portion of our program consistently shows very strong results with getting young people re-engaged in their learning, as shown below.

Because I can’t help but think about how concepts inter-relate across systems, I wonder how we’re measuring success in other areas of life? Are we using a metric that’s easy to measure (maybe GDP? Networth?), or are we using a metric that actually matters? How would you measure the success or resiliency of our communities and society?

“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

When all you have is Gross Domestic Product, everything looks like a dollar sign.

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