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What's the difference between Recovery and Treatment?

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Recovery from alcohol and substance use disorders has several definitions. Although specific elements of these definitions differ, all agree recovery goes beyond the remission of Substance Use Disorder symptoms to include a positive change in the whole person. In this regard, ‘abstinence’ from all substances is not the only pathway to Recovery.  In fact, its more appropriate to say that someone is "in Recovery---when they say they're in Recovery."

People often assume that the words treatment and recovery, when talking about substance use disorders, means the same thing. In fact, when a person says they are getting help at a treatment center they will be experiencing something completely different from a person getting help in a recovery program. Let’s take a look at the differences between the terms ‘treatment’ and ‘recovery’.

Understanding ‘Treatment’ and ‘Treatment Centers’

Treatment is part of the process that involves an individual going to a facility; such as, an outpatient treatment center. These treatment centers will help the individual deal with their substance use disorder and furthermore begin to address the emotional and physical issues that follow. When an individual is undergoing treatment, they will have ongoing clinical care, supervision, and assessment. They may also be involved in psychological counseling and therapy. Some treatment programs will teach the individual various recovery tools, while others do not.

A treatment center will offer valuable education and training on how to incorporate a recovery program into the individual’s life, this is especially important once they no longer receive services from the center. Oftentimes, people who are newly sober struggle with recovery, sometimes groups and meetings are simply not enough. In these situations getting treatment at a facility may prove to be a valuable and lifesaving decision.

Some people believe that treatment centers exist to only make profit and that everything a person needs to know about addiction and recovery can be found at AA, NA, or a similar mutual aid group. While these types of recovery groups are very useful, they cannot offer everything that a treatment center can. Treatment centers are not there just for money, they exist because the individuals working there want to help individuals suffering with a substance use disorder and believe that each and every one of them can overcome their struggle with addiction.

Understanding ‘Recovery’

Recovery may include visiting a local Recovery Center, peer support groups, addiction recovery workshops, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or other similar support groups. Some individuals who are in recovery from alcohol or substances may be able to avoid clinical treatment and go to recovery groups only; although research has shown that the most successful approach combines both Treatment AND Recovery services.  It comes down to the individual; however, an overall look at the entire person in the form of Recovery/Treatment may be necessary and even vital to the person’s own survival.



Treatment is the formal period that usually takes place at a live-in rehab or an intensive outpatient rehab. It may begin with a detoxification and with many therapy and counseling sessions that follow. Self-image, nutrition, exercise, and more are all covered during treatment.

Once an individual has completed a residential treatment program or rehab, they will move onto outpatient treatment and other non-clinical recovery services. They may begin this in their own home or in a transitional center; such as, a sober living home. During this period of their recovery, the individual should attend various recovery groups and meetings; these will help them to stay on the right path. These will also provide ongoing support and act as a useful resource for issues that may occur after treatment. Those who are in recovery will already have an understanding of what addiction is and what tools and techniques are available to avoid a possible recurrence. While someone observing a loved one with an addiction will never be able to fully understand the struggle they are going through, they can prepare themselves by learning about treatment, recovery, and the process that is yet to come.

Fortunately, NYC offers world class access to both non-clinical Recovery services and clinical Treatment services in any number of private settings. This website provides information about both Recovery Services and Treatment Services.  All of the Recovery Centers and Agencies listed here operate within NY State guidelines to provide services to people with an alcohol or substance use disorder.  The Recovery Centers and Treatment Centers provide access to our highly trained peers and staff to address each individuals Recovery pathway based on their own complex needs.

Beginning the path to recovery starts with connecting to Recovery support services or a treatment center.

To learn more about Recovery Centers CLICK HERE.

To learn more about Treatment Centers CLICK HERE.

In the same way that Substance Use Disorders are unique to the individual, so too is recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration defines recovery as a dynamic change process through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.

Successful population-scale recovery is built on access to evidence-based clinical treatment and recovery support services for all populations. Support services may be provided before, during, or after clinical treatment or may be provided to individuals who are not in treatment but seek support services. Support services help people enter into and navigate systems of care, remove barriers to recovery, stay engaged in the recovery process, and live full lives in communities of their choice.

By incorporating a full range of social, legal, and other services that facilitate recovery, wellness, and linkage to and coordination among service providers, these supports have been shown to improve quality of life for people in and seeking recovery and their families. Often provided by professionals and peers, they are delivered through a variety of community and faith-based groups, treatment providers, schools, and other specialized services.

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