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What Does Recovery Mean to You?

September is National Recovery Month, a program sponsored and administered by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). As planning partners for Recovery Month, all of us here at The Academy for Addiction Professionals have an overarching goal of bringing awareness to drug and alcohol abuse, as well as assisting to those in recovery, any way we can.

But how do we promote awareness about recovery? How do we most effectively help when the specific definition of recovery is so vague? First, we must ask ourselves a simple question: “What does recovery mean?”

As with most pressing matters in life, there is no single, clear answer. While we could probably all agree that the general concept of recovery is the process by which we eliminate the use of and dependence on drugs of abuse, the specifics are a bit cloudier. Are we in recovery when we achieve complete abstinence, or when we finally decide that we want and need to change our lives? What about relapse? Is recovery truly possible if we don’t change or resolve the underlying problems and issues that may have caused the addictive behavior in the first place? Recovery is a lifelong process, so how and when do we define success?

And what about the stigma associated with recovery? Many of those who do not understand the courage and commitment that it takes to begin the recovery process often look at those in recovery as, somehow, flawed. They do not know or understand the hurdles that had to be conquered and the strength and grit needed to get to this place.

What To Do?

Support is the key to recovery. And as we know, support comes in many forms – family, friends, clinical staff, third-party groups and more. And it is usually up to the therapist to coordinate these often disparate forces, turning them into one, unified voice advocating for the betterment of the client. This is achieved through education, understanding and inspiration. By educating and inspiring clients and those around them – families and friends – they can, in turn, become advocates for recovery and those in it. As importantly, the average person must begin to understand how some of their actions and inactions can enable recidivism, and how, in turn, they can support recovery.

As we train and educate more advocates, we achieve two goals: 1) We reduce the stigma associated with the concept of drug abuse and recovery, forcing us to confront the ignorance of the greater problem. A significant number of Americans are either affected by drugs and alcohol or know someone who is. Educating them on what recovery means and how they can help is critical. 2) We can begin to reverse the reality that is the underutilization of addiction treatment. For a variety of reasons, it is estimated that up to 90% of people that need treatment for substance abuse do not receive it.

There will likely never be a consensus on success in recovery. For each of us, recovery is different. As a result, so is the definition. Rather than trying to standardize recovery — a virtual impossibility, it is useful to take recovery one hour, day, week and month at a time. A universally-accepted understanding of recovery may never be achieved, but we may all be able to agree that each day that a recovering addict stays away from their drug of choice is a victory and should be celebrated as such.