What is “recovery”, anyway??

I’m involved in a research study about addiction recovery, and I thought this probably needed to be shared. I trust you’re having a sunny(ish) and pleasant(ish) day.

Definition of Recovery

Although millions of individuals and family members who are “in recovery” know what “recovery” means to them and how important it is in their lives, up until relatively recently there was no formal, accepted definition of recovery. For the general public and for those who research, evaluate, and develop policies about alcoholism and drug addiction, recovery is a concept that can sometimes seem unclear. Even worse, to the general public, the term “recovery” is seen as “someone who is trying to stop using alcohol or other drugs.” Clearly, it’s time for a change.

Essentially, recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction is a complex and dynamic process encompassing all the positive benefits to physical, mental and social health that can happen when people with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, or their family members, get the help they need.

Recently (November 2014), the Alcohol Research Group at the Public Health Institute posted its definition of recovery. According to the Group, “Recovery is a goal of alcohol treatment, and recovery-oriented systems of care are being developed to support that goal. Alcoholics who no longer drink, and are trying to pursue an improved way of living/being, say that they are ‘in recovery.’

Prior to this latest update, there were two major efforts to develop a definition for recovery. Here is a quick overview of the findings and suggested definitions:

In 2007, according to the Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel, What Is Recovery?:

“Recovery from substance dependence is a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.”

In 2005, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offered the following Working Definition of Recovery:

“Recovery from alcohol and drug problems is a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life.”

Expanding on this definition, SAMHSA articulated twelve “Guiding Principles of Recovery”:

  • There are many pathways to recovery.
  • Recovery is self-directed and empowering.
  • Recovery involves a personal recognition of the need for change and transformation.
  • Recovery is holistic.
  • Recovery has cultural dimensions.
  • Recovery exists on a continuum of improved health and wellness.
  • Recovery is supported by peers and allies.
  • Recovery emerges from hope and gratitude.
  • Recovery involves a process of healing and self-redefinition.
  • Recovery involves addressing discrimination and transcending shame and stigma.
  • Recovery involves (re)joining and (re)building a life in the community.
  • Recovery is a reality. It can, will, and does happen.

In May 2011, a SAMHSA blog posting released Recovery Defined: A Unified Working Definition and Set of Principles that reflects SAMHSA’s move into a “behavioral health definition” of recovery that is inclusive of both addiction to alcohol and drugs as well as mental health recovery.

SAMHSA Working Definition of Recovery:

“Recovery is a process of change whereby individuals work to improve their own health and wellness and to live a meaningful life in a community of their choice while striving to achieve their full potential.”

SAMHSA Principles of Recovery

  • Person-driven;
  • Occurs via many pathways;
  • Is holistic;
  • Is supported by peers;
  • Is supported through relationships;
  • Is culturally-based and influenced;
  • Is supported by addressing trauma;
  • Involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility;
  • Is based on respect; and
  • Emerges from hope.

Four Major Domains That Support Recovery–SAMHSA’s Recovery Support Initiative:

  1. Health: Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) as well as living in a physically and emotionally healthy way;
  2. Home: A stable and safe place to live that supports recovery;
  3. Purpose: Meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society; and
  4. Community: Relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

For more information visit the NCADD website at: www.ncadd.org.

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27 responses to “What is “recovery”, anyway??

  1. Fascinating to open up recovery to all sorts of things I never would have used it for. I’ve always thought that people in all walks of life could use recovery to their benefit. This proves it. Thanks Abbie!

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  2. One can merely say this is a really good post on a subject affecting many. Recovery as a perceived word is shambolic in its simplicity. Biochemically the process is multifaceted and one hell of a journey to escape the cause. Funny how the afflicted person knows this and yet outwards folk just say get over it 🤔

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  3. Very interesting post. I like the holistic definitions of recovery that are given in this article especially the ones that do not specifically mention substance abuse. I am in recovery from substance abuse but also from bulimia/OCD/shopping addiction/self-harm/borderline personality disorder/PTSD and clinical depression. When I was just in recovery from substances but the other addictions and mental health problems were still present my life was still very troubled. Although I was 11 years clean at the beginning of this year I still had a nervous breakdown and multiple psychiatric relapses during my recovery. I am aiming for “total recovery” from all addictions and mental health problems which I have now achieved. I think this total recovery is very well defined by the definitions in this post.

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    • Hey thanks for the comment!! I was really pleased with how all-inclusive this article is, too! I mean, what is an addiction if not a mental dis-order? It just has to be treated differently. I don’t know if this will help your path, but I just passed the 23-year mark and it still feels like a tight-rope, many days, trying to manage all of the OTHER (mental health- my list isn’t as long as yours but it’s not too far off) things going on between my ears.
      Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. They’re WAY valuable in this section of the blogosphere. 😉

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  4. Jane, would you agree that the most important aspect of the whole topic under discussion here is the absence of any distinction between ’addiçtion’ and ‘dependence ’? The subject is very well covered but falls short of considering those of us who suffer just as much from years {68} of living on prescribed medication as those who voluntarily experiment with any toxic stimulant. You know how long I have had to use many drugs etc to keep alive, but I’ve never been, or been called, an addict. Ciao x Anton

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    • You raise a good point, but by definition, you’re not an addict unless and until you continue to use in spite of increasingly negative consequences.
      For example, I’ve taken medication for an extended period of time with no negative consequences, hence, I am not addicted to them. (Thinking of blood pressure meds) However, if I began shirking responsibilities or having accidents because I was taking a medication, but I continued even with bad things escalating as a result, then, I would be looking at an addiction.
      Thank you for the thoughtful comment!

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      • Hi Abbie, thanks for your comments. My case is unusual as I have had an acute anxiety neurosis & phobia since I was 5 years old but refused to give in to it. I fought fear with fear. I was a war correspondent all my working life until a helicopter crash ended that. Also five strokes, cancer for 17 years & three ulcers slowed me down.☺ But my main point in reply to yours is that I treated myself when I could but had to seek medical help for physical emergencies. For all mental problems I had no choice because psychiatrists just didn’t believe me, especially at school. I drank to alleviate symptoms which worked well when coupled with pills and prayers. But I never got hooked on anything. I must have been very lucky, or maybe the prayers are really good! Cheers. Anton

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        • What an interesting life you’ve had! Thanks for sharing, and I do believe that prayer can do more than we give it credit for. 🙂

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