People who have managed to break their addiction to alcohol and other drugs usually refer to their new lifestyle as “recovery.” But addiction experts agree that recovery means more than just being sober.
While there is no standard definition of “recovery” in the addiction community, several organizations have developed working definitions to better understand and measure recovery efforts.
A standard definition of recovery includes ensuring that critical recovery support and services are available and accessible to all who need and want them.
One reason recovery is so difficult to define is that each recovery path is unique.
The Commission on Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMHSA) and a variety of partners in the behavioral medicine community have worked together to define recovery in terms of capturing shared experiences of people experiencing both mental health disorders and substance use disorders recover.
According to SAMHSA, recovery is “a process of change through which people improve their health and well-being, lead self-directed lives, and seek to reach their full potential”...
SAHMSA also defined four main dimensions that aid recovery, including:
- health: Overcoming or treating one’s illness (s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy decisions that support physical and emotional wellbeing
- At home: Have a stable and safe place to live
- purpose: Carrying out meaningful daily activities and independence, income and resources to participate in society
- Community: Relationships and social networks that offer support, friendship, love and hope
Previously, the Betty Ford Institute had developed the following working definition of recovery: “A voluntary lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.”..
“Recovery is possibly the best word to summarize all of the positive physical, mental and social health benefits that can occur when alcohol and other drug addicts receive the help they need,” the panel of experts wrote in an article published in 2007 the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment...
In this definition, personal health refers not only to physical and mental health, but also to social health – participation in family and social roles. Citizenship refers to “giving back” to the community and society.
Together with a working definition, SAMHSA defined 10 guiding principles that support the recovery definition.
- Recovery comes from hope.
- Recovery is person-driven.
- There are many ways to recover.
- Recovery is holistic.
- The restoration is supported by colleagues and allies.
- Recovery is aided by relationships and social networks.
- Recreation is culturally conditioned and influenced.
- Recovery is aided by treating trauma.
- Recovery includes individual, family and community strengths and responsibilities.
- Recovery is based on respect.
Stages of recovery
Sobriety – defined as total abstinence from alcohol and all other nonprescription drugs – is a necessary part of recovery, but often just the first step. In fact, experts agree that there are multiple stages of recovery, although as with the definition of recovery, there is no universal agreement on the stages of recovery.
- The Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel: Early (one to 12 months of abstinence), persistent (one to five years of abstinence), stable (more than five years of sobriety)..
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse: Early abstinence, maintenance of abstinence, and advanced recovery
- The development model: Transition, stabilization, early, medium recovery, late recovery and maintenance..
Recovery from an alcohol use disorder
Many people are able to stop or limit drinking and feel that this is all they need to recover. However, experts believe that recovering from an alcohol use disorder (or any other type of substance use disorder) is not just about staying sober, it is about building a better life without alcohol.
In recovery, you will use all of the tools and skills you learned during your addiction treatment to help you become a healthier person, a better spouse and parent, a productive member of society, and a good neighbor and citizen.
According to SAMHSA, there are some key signs that inform individuals that they are in active recovery:
- You can address problems immediately, without getting stressed and without relapsing.
- You have at least one person to be completely honest with.
- You know which topics are yours and which are other people’s, and you have personal limits.
- They take the time to restore your physical and emotional energy when you are tired.
Once you are in recovery, some experts believe that there are certain “rules” that can ensure you don’t fall behind...
- Change your life: The idea is that recovery is about creating a new life for yourself – one in which you build new healthy relationships, find sober fun, and explore ways to deal with life stressors without alcohol or drugs.
- Be very honest: Living with an alcohol use disorder can mean that you have lied to yourself and loved ones about your alcohol abuse. In recovery, honesty can help people relearn to trust themselves and deal with past lies.
- Ask for help: While you don’t want to hang out in a bar with your old drinking buddies, isolation isn’t the answer. In fact, studies have found that joining a support group can increase your chances of long-term recovery.
- Practice self-care: Self-care, including practicing mind-body relaxation, helps people in recovery be kind to themselves, let go of negative emotions, and find time to relax so they can better deal with life stressors.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction problems, contact the National Drug Abuse and Mental Health Authority (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-4357 Information about support and treatment facilities in your area.
You can find additional mental health resources in our National Helpline Database.