What Does It Mean to Be In Recovery?

What is recovery? Is it a destination, goal, method or something entirely different? The term is widely used throughout the healthcare system, but when applied to substance addiction, recovery has specific meaning and measurements. In 2007, The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment published “What Is Recovery?” that defined it as a “voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health and citizenship.” Similarly, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offered its own definition in 2005 that characterized it as a “process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life.” Recovery is a personal state and process, not a method, and personal definitions of recovery are important because they influence treatment and aftercare decisions. Unpacking the implications found in the definitions above helps people understand what recovery entails and how they can set their own paths to recovery.

Cornerstones of Recovery

A voluntary sobriety is the first cornerstone of addiction recovery, and it means total abstinence from alcohol and non-prescribed drugs. The abstinence must occur willingly as forced sobriety through incarceration and other inhibitors is not a sign that healing has taken place. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment categorized sobriety in three stages, which included the following:

  • Early Sobriety: The first year
  • Sustained Sobriety: Years one to five
  • Stable Sobriety: Five years or more

Statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published in 2008 demonstrate how the relapse curve changes dramatically the longer sobriety is sustained. While approximately half of recovering addicts relapse in the first year, the rate drops to 34% for people in their second and third years, and drops to 14% at the start of year four.

While sobriety is a cornerstone of recovery, the two are not interchangeable. Recovery is a larger multidimensional process that exists on a continuum of improved comprehensive health. The World Health Organization defined health in 1985 as a state of physical, mental and social well-being, which means more than simply being free from disease. In terms of addiction recovery, improved health is another cornerstone, and it can include the following:

  • Quality of life improvements as measured by independence, social support and physical and mental health
  • A healthy level of citizenship characterized by living with respect and regard for those around you
  • A period of self-redefinition that includes transcending shame and stigma and rebuilding a life in the community
  • The restoration of healthy social relationships, meaningful daily activities and a positive and supportive home life

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website notes that many different pathways can take addicts into recovery, but they are all self-directed, empowering and supported by a personal recognition that change is necessary. Hope is yet another recovery cornerstone as people are always empowered by a growing belief that change is happening.

Addiction Recovery Now

Sobriety reflects a status at a particular moment of time, and this status can change without active efforts to maintain it. For this reason, professionals often consider detoxification the doorway to treatment and not treatment itself. Recovery is a maintained lifestyle aimed at preventing relapse and improving all areas of life. People overcoming addiction always use the terms “recovering” and “in recovery” instead of “recovered” to acknowledge the ongoing nature of the process.

If you need to start a recovery or need help maintaining one, our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to talk. If you need treatment, we can even check health insurance policies for benefits. Please call our toll-free helpline now.

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