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What is Recovery?

According to Federal estimates, 23 million Americans are living in recovery from alcohol or other substances.


How does define RECOVERY? 

Is recovery only about abstinence from alcohol and drugs?  Abstinence from substances, though often necessary for some people, is not always sufficient to define recovery.

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."

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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What do others say about RECOVERY? 

A new working definition of recovery has been released by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The definition is simple:


Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.

Such a definition is designed to encompass all phases of a person’s life. According to the working group that helped create this new definition, there are four areas that “support a life in recovery”:

  • Health: Managing one’s disease, and living a healthy life emotionally, physically and financially

  • Home: Creating a safe and secure place to live

  • Purpose: Participate in daily activities that provide a sense of purpose: volunteer, school, job, family caretaking, participate in society

  • Community: Relationships and social networking that give support, love, friendship, and hope.


Learning to live one day at a time with purpose, a sense of community, home, and health are not generally accomplished in isolation. While not all persons in recovery participate in 12-Step programs, those that do often find the sense of community strong enough to help them through difficult personal times.


The worst thing a recovering person can do is to isolate. When the person is cut off from those who work to stay in recovery on a daily basis, the valuable tool of perspective is stopped. What a person thinks in isolation may or may not be accurate. The feedback provided by others is important, as is the ability to observe another individual struggling with life issues. Witnessing others’ problems can give a fresh perspective on the person’s own sense of trouble. Watching someone else deal with serious problems, who can share their experience and hope, can give the person courage and strength. Learning to respond to life on life’s terms, as the expression states, gets easier with practice.

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