Drug Addiction Recovery

Every day Americans are educated over and over again about the meaning of recovery: celebrities tour the country describing their miraculous redemption due to 12-step rehab; columnists instruct readers with drug and alcohol problems to attend AA post haste; schools lecture about the AA recovery message.

In 2011, SAMSHA issued a Dec. 22 press release, entitled, “New Working Definition of ‘Recovery’ from Mental Disorders and Substance Use Disorders.” The release describes this process:

The definition is the product of a year-long effort by SAMHSA and a wide range of partners in the behavioral health care community and other fields to develop a working definition of recovery that captures the essential, common experiences of those recovering from mental disorders and substance use disorders, along with major guiding principles that support the recovery definition.

Here is the resulting formulation:

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.

Principles of Drug Addiction 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.

Furthermore SAMHSA’s Recovery Support Initiative identifies four major domains that support recovery:

  • Health: overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) as well as living in a physically and emotionally healthy way;
  • Home: a stable and safe place to live that supports recovery;
  • 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;
  • Community: relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

What to say about this definition? First, it emphasizes functionality above all — how well the person deals with his or her environment and life — rather than focusing on substance use and demanding abstinence. Secondly, it indicates that there is not one true path to recovery: “Recovery occurs via many pathways. Individuals are unique with distinct needs, strengths, preferences, goals, culture, and backgrounds — including trauma experiences — that affect and determine their pathway(s) to recovery.” Note, especially, the recognition of culture and personal values: “Recovery is culturally-based and influenced. Culture and cultural background in all of its diverse representations — including values, traditions, and beliefs — are keys in determining a person’s journey and unique pathway to recovery.”

The definition never mentions “powerlessness.” In fact, it points in quite the opposite direction: “Recovery is person-driven. Self-determination and self-direction are the foundations for recovery as individuals define their own life goals and design their unique path(s) towards those goals.” Also, “Recovery is built on the multiple capacities, strengths, talents, coping abilities, resources, and inherent value of each individual. Recovery pathways are highly personalized.”

Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility: Individuals, families, and communities have strengths and resources that serve as a foundation for recovery. In addition, individuals have a personal responsibility for their own self-care and journeys of recovery.

In place of powerlessness, this new approach highlights a belief in the individual. This vision underlies the two culminating principles among the ten listed in the new definition: “is based on respect;” and “emerges from hope.”

Recovery means developing a sustainable, value-driven, purposeful life—a life worth living, one that contributes to other people’s lives, that is productive, that is healthy. And, of course, it isn’t static—you don’t get there by stopping anything—only by continuing to live a meaningful, engaged life.

For more readings on drug addiction recovery, please visit the following links:

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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