What comes to mind when you hear the word “recovery”?
In pop-culture, the expression is often couched in the idea of “struggle” and is understood as “someone who is trying to stop using alcohol or other drugs.”
Thankfully, there’s more to it than that.
Perhaps it’s a word problem. One definition of recovery is, “the return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.” This is close. But when we’re talking about substance use disorders, the word means something even more.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) wrote a working definition of recovery after meaningful engagement with people in recovery, family members, advocates, policy-makers, administrators, and providers. Their summary statement is that 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.” SAMHSA expands with “four major dimensions” and “guiding principles” of recovery here.
In 2007, The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment published a formal definition authored by The Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel: “Recovery from substance dependence is a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.”
It’s worthwhile to note the inclusion of the word lifestyle. The idea is that recovery from addiction isn’t merely trying to get back things you’ve lost or getting back to where you once were. It’s about a new and healthy way of life.
Then there’s “citizenship.” Citizenship demonstrates the beautiful truth about recovery — that this lifestyle gives back. People who once thought of themselves as liabilities are now assets in their circles of influence.
For many people, recovery — as a lifestyle — is always dynamic, growing, and improving. It’s a continuous progression of healing and transformation.
Stigma exists due to a dearth of information. Yet, words and definitions alone aren’t enough to change popular misunderstandings about addiction and recovery. Perhaps the most profound way to beat pop-stigma is the slow way: through tangibly changed lives. We can hope that attitudes will change when the culture sees people in recovery as increasingly vital assets to family, friends, workplaces, and public policy.