Evolve Adolescent Behavioral Health

How People in Recovery Define Recovery

There’s a funny thing about recovery: the people who define what recovery is aren’t necessarily in recovery themselves.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re a doctor, for instance, you don’t have to have an illness to be able to identify and treat it.

But it is a curious thing.

It’s so curious that we wanted to know if there were any definitions of recovery out there that weren’t written by medical physicians, researchers, or addiction clinicians. Again, it’s not that the definitions these groups of people have written are bad. In fact, most are very good, and we think they get closer and closer to defining what’s at the heart of recovery with every passing year.

But we wanted to know how the people who are in recovery define recovery, so we looked around and found a study that did just that. In 2012, researchers asked 238 people in recovery how they define recovery. In 2014, they published their findings in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs in a paper called “Elements That Define Recovery: The Experiential Perspective.”

Without further ado – since we’re clinicians and want to get out of the way – here’s what they said:

Recovery is…

…being honest with myself

handling negative feelings without using drugs or alcohol.

…being able to enjoy life without drinking or using drugs like I used to.

…a process of growth and development.

…reacting to life’s ups and downs in a more balanced way than I used to.

…taking responsibility for the things I can change.

We couldn’t agree more.

Funny thing about recovery: if you want to know what it is, you just need to ask people in recovery.


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