Addiction Recovery

With my dog Tessa on Rhossili Down overlooking the beach at Llangennith, Gower, South Wales, in August 2007. I lived on the Gower for 14 years and left a large part of my heart there. Photograph: Alan Clark. (Click to see full image)

In my last blog post, I wrote about one of the key factors underlying recovery from addiction—hope. The section was taken from my forthcoming new eBook, Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. But what is recovery from addiction? Here is a section from my book which addresses this issue.

There have been various definitions of recovery proposed over the years. For the purpose of this chapter, I am going to use a definition proposed by leading addiction recovery advocate William (Bill) L White [1]:

‘Recovery is the experience (a process and a sustained status) through which individuals, families, and communities impacted by severe alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems utilize internal and external resources to voluntarily resolve these problems, heal the wounds inflicted by AOD-related problems, actively manage their continued vulnerability to such problems, and develop a healthy, productive, and meaningful life.’

There are a number of features about addiction recovery that need to be understood. Firstly, recovery is something done by the person with the substance use problem, not by a treatment practitioner or anyone else. Professional treatment or engagement in mutual aid groups may facilitate recovery, but they do so by catalysing and supporting natural processes of recovery in the individual. 

The second feature of recovery from serious substance use problems is that it does not occur in isolation. The maxim ‘I alone can do it, but I can’t do it alone’ is particularly pertinent to recovery. As I will discuss later, connection to other people is a key element facilitating recovery.

Although formal treatment may help people, recovery occurs in the community rather than in the clinic. Treatment is generally the start of a recovery journey and is not needed by everyone. For those people who access local treatment services, the vast majority spend far more time in their community than in the treatment service. For those who attend a residential rehab, they continue their recovery journey upon returning to their community, where all they have learnt will be put to the test. 

Recovery is a process that generally takes a long period of time and requires sustained effort. Recovery initiation and recovery maintenance are qualitatively different processes. Recovery is not a linear process. The person may make small gains followed by a major step forward. The person may falter, slide back, re-group and move forward again. Relapse is not a failure; it is part of the recovery process. It can be followed by a major move forward in the recovery journey. 

Recovery is much more than just stopping use of drugs and alcohol. It is about repairing the damage caused by drug and alcohol-related problems, including problems which may have arisen as a result of poor treatment practices. It is about actively managing the person’s continued vulnerability to the problems that arose from drug and alcohol use, and the initial problems (e.g. childhood trauma) that may have been a causal factor in the person’s descent into problematic substance use. 

Ultimately, recovery is about gaining and maintaining a healthy, productive, and meaningful life. It should be pointed that not everyone who finds recovery gives up all drug and alcohol use.  

Recovery is better predicted by someone’s assets and strengths, rather than their deficits and weaknesses. People can make progress by identifying and building on their personal assets and strengths. Successful interventions to facilitate recovery focus on helping individuals to build recovery strengths, more often referred to as ‘recovery capital’. As will be described in more detail below, recovery capital is the quantity and quality of internal and external resources that one can bring to bear on the initiation and maintenance of recovery.

Recovery from addiction is holistic. It encompasses a person’s whole life, including mind, body, spirit, family, community, culture and wider society. Treatment and support services need to address the multi-faceted needs of the recovering person. As addiction is generally a symptom of a deeper underlying problem, such as trauma, recovery is greatly facilitated by addressing such an underlying problem. 

The trauma experienced by indigenous peoples around the world following European colonisation produced a trauma that has been unwittingly passed down the generations. The consequences of this transgenerational trauma—sometimes called intergenerational or historical trauma—include mental health problems, addiction to drugs and alcohol, violence and suicide [2]. Connection to culture plays a major role in healing transgenerational trauma and its consequences amongst Indigenous peoples [3]. 

Everyone’s recovery is different and deeply personal. However, whilst there are a multitude of pathways to recovery, there are a number of key factors that facilitate recovery from serious substance use problems. The importance of these factors has been illustrated in the narratives of recovering people about their journeys into and out of addiction. 

1 William L White, Addiction recovery: Its definition and conceptual boundaries. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 33, 229-241, 2007.

2 For more information see my blogs Historical Trauma and The Impact of Colonisation on The Carrolup Story website, developed by John Stanton, Ash Whitney and I.

3 Please see my blogs Reducing Suicide By Connecting To Culture and Intergenerational Healing: Joe Solanto on The Carrolup Story.’ Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. Copyright © 2021 by David Clark

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