How Do You Know if an Addiction Treatment Program is Good?

Perhaps you or a loved one have finally admitted to having a substance use issue and decided to get help. That’s the biggest step anyone can take towards recovery. However, the next step is pretty big too: deciding where to get help. There are many options and the addiction treatment industry is huge. As of 2014, there were more than 14,000 treatment facilities in the US alone. The quality of facilities falls on a spectrum from terrible to excellent, which begs the question: How do I know if an addiction treatment program is worth my time, money, and effort?

Ask for recommendations.

The first course of action is to ask for recommendations. It’s true that there are shady actors out there who will refer patients for kickbacks, but if you have a therapist or family doctor you trust, their recommendation is a good place to start. However, it’s also important to ask some follow-up questions. For example, if your doctor recommends a treatment center, ask why she recommends it. Have other patients gone through the program and stayed sober, or is it just a program she heard somewhere was good? Once you’ve received a recommendation, it’s still a good idea to look for the following characteristics. 

Treatment should be evidence-based

Evidence-based treatment simply means that the facility primarily uses methods that studies have shown are effective. Commonly used evidence-based treatment methods include 12-step methodologies, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing, family therapy, some medication-assisted treatments, contingency management, and others. Treatment centers will frequently offer holistic treatments to supplement regular treatment. In some cases, these will have weak or conflicting evidence, for example, acupuncture, but the main thing is whether the core treatment methodology is sound.

Treatment should be individualized

Beware of programs that have a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. A clear sign of this is if a treatment center doesn’t seem too concerned whether you or your loved one are a good fit for their program. Any treatment center you talk to should ask a lot of questions about your addiction history, medical history, and other factors to be sure they can provide the right kind of treatment. Everyone is different and has varied histories that can make a big difference in treatment outcomes if not carefully considered in the process of choosing a facility.

 Look for qualified staff

All of the evidence-based treatment methods and individualized care in the world won’t help unless the staff is competent. Look for treatment programs that have staff with certifications across a number of disciplines. Ideally, a program will have a doctor certified in addiction medicine, therapists with graduate degrees, such as MAs or PhDs, and counselors with substance use certifications, such as LADC, LPC, CAC, or CCPD. If you have special issues such as medical concerns or mental health issues, make sure the program has the staff and resources to give you the care you require.

Comfort vs. luxury

As for the treatment facilities, look for something that is clean and comfortable but not luxurious. A shabby or overly spartan facility suggests they may be cutting corners, that they don’t care about their client’s experience, or even that they have a punitive approach to treatment–none of which bode well for recovery. On the other hand, overly luxurious facilities could mean that you’ll be paying more for perks like a nice big room and recreational facilities rather than paying primarily for treatment. It doesn’t mean the quality of treatment is bad necessarily, but if the cost is something you are looking to manage, considering the luxurious options that some facilities offer is important.

Avoid red flags.

There are some other clear signs that you should watch out for. We’ve all seen commercials for addiction treatment that looks suspiciously generic–they don’t mention a specific treatment center or even a state. These are typically services that refer callers to the highest bidder without regard for each individual’s needs or whether the treatment center is any good. Other things to watch out for include offers of free travel, unsolicited referrals, frequent and unnecessary testing, and lack of accreditation.

See if they take insurance.

For most people seeking addiction treatment, insurance will be part of the equation. Most insurance plans now cover some level of addiction treatment. However, even if you’re paying out of pocket, it’s a good idea to find out if the treatment center works with insurance. Insurance companies like to know their money is being put to good use. If a program doesn’t work with insurers, it may be a sign that insurers aren’t interested in working with them.

Longevity is a good sign.

If a treatment center has been around for a while, that’s a good sign that it is at least adequate. With all the money pouring into addiction treatment in recent years, a lot of fly-by-night operations have opened hoping to cash in but they typically don’t last long. Longevity doesn’t necessarily ensure a program is good, but it shows they haven’t done anything bad enough to get shut down.

Look for external accreditation.

Finally, look for external accreditations. The Joint Commission and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) are the two biggest. Accreditation assures that a treatment center has met a basic standard of care, based on industry performance standards for treatment outcomes and value. 

Choosing an addiction treatment program is a big decision and it pays to do your homework. The right program can get you on the right path to recovery. At Steps Recovery Centers, our qualified staff uses evidence-based treatment methods including the time-tested 12-step framework. To learn more about our treatment options, call us today at 385-236-0931 or explore our website.


Steps Recovery Center realizes the importance of maintaining a safe and effective environment for our clients and staff. As such, we are actively following all Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines. The additional measures we take at Steps Recovery Centers include implementing the following protocols: admissions screening and testing, coronavirus infection control plans, providing education to clients and staff, and daily, effective screening of all employees and clients for Coronavirus symptoms. To ensure we protect and promote the health and wellbeing of our staff and clients, we will continue to monitor any developing updates to COVID-19, including exposure statistics in the community and guidelines provided by the Utah Department of Public Health.