Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Social Reintegration
- Addiction and Dependence
- Drug Courts and Treatment Alternatives to Prison
- Heroin Assisted Treatment
- Mental Health & Co-Occurring Disorders
- Medication for Opioid Use Disorder
- Treatment for Substance Use Disorder
If you're looking for a referral to, or more information about, mental health or substance use treatment services:
- The American Board of Preventive Medicine provides this service to locate physicians who are certified in specialists in Addiction Medicine.
- The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a free, confidential National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA's website also offers a free, confidential Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.
Page last updated March 20, 2021 by Doug McVay, Editor.
1. Meaning of Recovery for the Individual
"Various definitions of individual recovery have been offered nationally and internationally.13-17 Although they differ in some respects, all of these recovery definitions describe personal changes that are well beyond simply stopping substance use. As such, they are conceptually broader than “abstinence” or 'remission.' For example, the Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel defined recovery as 'a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.'13 Similarly, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as 'a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.'16
"The specific meaning of recovery can also vary across cultures and communities. Among some American Indians, recovery is inherently understood to involve the entire family18 and to draw upon cultural and community resources (see, for example, the organization White Bison). On the other hand, European Americans tend to define recovery in more individual terms. Blacks or African Americans are more likely than individuals of other racial backgrounds to see recovery as requiring complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs.19 Within some communities, recovery is seen as being aligned with a particular religion, yet in other communities such as the AA fellowship, recovery is explicitly not religious but is instead considered spiritual. Still other communities, such as LifeRing Secular Recovery, SMART Recovery, and Secular Organization for Sobriety, view recovery as an entirely secular process.
"Adding further to the diversity of concepts and definitions associated with recovery, in recent years the term has been increasingly applied to recovery from mental illness. Studies of people with schizophrenia, some of whom have co-occurring substance use disorders, have found that recovery is often characterized by increased hope and optimism, and greater life satisfaction.20 This same research revealed that whether someone experienced such benefits was strongly related to their experience with broader recovery benefits, such as improved health, improved finances, and a better social life.21"
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016.
2. How Many People In The US Are In Recovery?
"Summarizing data from six large studies, one analysis estimated that the proportion of the United States adult population that is in remission from a substance use disorder of any severity is approximately 10.3 percent (with a range of 5.3 to 15.3 percent).29 This estimate is consistent with findings from a different national survey, which found that approximately 10 percent, or 1 in 10, of United States adults say, 'Yes,' when asked, 'Did you once have a problem with drugs or alcohol but no longer do?' These percentages translate to roughly 25 million United States adults being in remission.29 It is not yet known what proportion of adolescents defines themselves as being in recovery.
"Despite negative stereotypes of “hopeless addicts,” rigorous follow-up studies of treated adult populations, who tend to have the most chronic and severe disorders, show more than 50 percent achieving sustained remission, defined as remission that lasted for at least 1 year.29 Latest estimates from national epidemiological research using the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria for substance use disorder show similar rates of remission.30,31 Despite these findings, widely held pessimistic views about the chances of remission or recovery from substance use disorders may continue to affect public opinion in part because sustained recovery lasting a year or longer can take several years and multiple episodes of treatment, recovery support, and/or mutual aid services to achieve. By some estimates, it can take as long as 8 or 9 years after a person first seeks formal help to achieve sustained recovery.32,33
"In studies published since 2000, the rate of sustained remission following substance use disorder treatment among adolescents is roughly 35 percent. This estimate is provisional because most studies used small samples and/or had short follow-up durations.29 Despite the potentially lower remission rate for adolescents, early detection and intervention can help a young person get to remission faster.29"
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016.
3. What Is Recovery?
"The target of recovery is about quality of life rather than abstinence, although abstinence may be a long-term goal for clients. However, the underlying theoretical model for much recovery work is the developmental or lifecourse model (e.g., Hser, Longshore, & Anglin, 2007), which would suggest a significant lengthening of the time scale for the recovery process and so the focus on change—whether to the point of abstinence—is a long-term journey that may well take up the rest of the person’s life. So abstinence orientation may well be something that either does not ever occur or at least is not a viable goal. It is also this approach to “addiction and recovery careers” that means harm reduction does not have to be characterized as the antithesis of recovery."
David Best, Stephen Bamber, Alison Battersby, Mark Gilman, Teodora Groshkova, Stuart Honor, David McCartney, Rowdy Yates & William White (2010) Recovery and Straw Men: An Analysis of the Objections Raised to the Transition to a Recovery Model in UK Addiction Services, Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 5:3-4, 264-288, DOI: 10.1080/1556035X.2010.523362
4. Social Reintegration, Recovery, and Abstinence
"The WHO Lexicon of alcohol and drug terms (1994, p. 55) defines ‘recovery’ as:
"Maintenance of abstinence from alcohol and/or other drug use by any means. The term is particularly associated with mutual-help groups, and in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other twelve-step groups refers to the process of attaining and maintaining sobriety. Since recovery is viewed as a lifelong process, an AA member is always viewed internally as a ‘recovering’ alcoholic, although ‘recovered’ alcoholic may be used as a description to the outside world;
"whereas ‘rehabilitation’ is defined as:
"The process by which an individual with a substance use disorder achieves an optimal state of health, psychological functioning, and social well-being. Rehabilitation follows the initial phase of treatment (which may involve detoxification and medical and psychiatric treatment) […] There is an expectation of social reintegration into the wider community. (emphasis added)"
"According to these definitions there is a clear overlap between social reintegration and rehabilitation, whereby social reintegration forms an aspect of, but is not synonymous with, rehabilitation. Recovery, according to the WHO glossary, appears to be relatively unrelated to the term. However, since the publication of the WHO glossary in 1994, the understanding of the term ‘recovery’ has developed further and today it is much closer to the meaning of the term ‘rehabilitation’ as quoted above. As Best and colleagues (2010, p. 275) note: ‘The target of recovery is about quality of life rather than abstinence, although abstinence may be a long-term goal for clients.’"
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. EMCDDA Insights Series No 13: Social reintegration and employment: evidence and interventions for drug users in treatment. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012, p. 31.
5. Importance of Social Reintegration for Recovery
"Drug use often develops from being occasional to problematic: ties with close family members and non-using friends are gradually severed, while school and professional performance can be seriously affected and may come to a premature end. As a consequence, the normal process of socialisation, the integration of an individual from adolescence to adulthood as an independent, autonomous member of society, is jeopardised and this often leads to a gradual exclusion into the margins of society. However, this is a two-sided process. At the same time, society is marginalising problem drug users, making their access to education, employment and other social support even more difficult. Also, one should not forget that, in many cases, social exclusion already precedes drug use. Drug use often then exacerbates the already difficult life conditions of excluded individuals, making integration efforts a real challenge for the individual and for those providing support. This aspect is particularly relevant during the current period of economic difficulties in Europe, with high levels of unemployment among young European citizens and their gradual impoverishment.
"In order to protect problem drug users or recovering users from further social exclusion and to support them in their integration efforts, it is crucial that we provide individuals with opportunities and tools that are efficient, adequate and acceptable both for them and for their social environment."
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. EMCDDA Insights Series No 13: Social reintegration and employment: evidence and interventions for drug users in treatment. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012, p. 7.
6. Importance of Social Reintegration for Recovery
"Research shows that drug treatment contact impacts positively on clients’ physical and psychological health, reduces drug use and criminal activity, reduces injection and lowers the risk of non-fatal overdose (e.g. Gossop et al., 2000a,b; Prendergast et al., 2002; Stewart et al., 2002; WHO, 2009). Thus, accessing and adhering to drug treatment is a significant step towards recovery from drug dependence, but additional social support is often required. Indeed, drug use affects many spheres of life, including family and relationships, housing, education and employment, and it is also associated with social and economic exclusion. This can undermine the gains people have made while in treatment. It is therefore increasingly recognised that, in order to improve treatment outcomes, prevent relapse and ensure successful integration into society, drug dependence must not be treated in isolation; instead, the wider context in which drug use and recovery take place must also be considered and addressed (UNODC, 2008; Neale and Kemp, 2010). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2008a, p. 18) describes this approach as ‘sustained recovery management’, as a positive alternative to the current common approach of ‘admit, treat, and discharge’, often resulting in revolving-door cycles of high dropout rates, post-treatment relapse and readmission rates.
"Consequently, the aim of social reintegration measures is to prevent or reverse the social exclusion of current and former drug users (including those who are already socially excluded and those who are at risk of social exclusion), but also to facilitate the recovery process and help sustain the outcomes achieved during treatment."
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. EMCDDA Insights Series No 13: Social reintegration and employment: evidence and interventions for drug users in treatment. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012, p. 22.
7. Drug Dependence Treatment and Sustained Recovery Management
"Drug dependence treatment—within an acute care, symptoms-focused paradigm—has fallen short of properly addressing the complex, multifactorial nature of drug dependence that often follows the course of a relapsing and remitting chronic disease. There is disillusionment with the 'admit, treat, and discharge', revolving door cycles of high dropout rates, post-treatment relapse, and readmission rates. As a response to this situation there is a shift towards a more long term perspective of sustained recovery management (White 2007; White and Davidson, 2006) that is much broader and holistic in scope (Bradstreet, 2004) than linear recovery models."
TreatNet. Drug Dependence Treatment: Sustained Recovery Management. Vienna, Austria: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008, p. 14.
8. A Sustained Recovery Management Approach to Substance Dependence Treatment
"The recognition of drug dependence as a multi-factorial health disorder, which often follows the course of a relapsing and remitting chronic disease, has spurred calls to shift the focus of drug dependence treatment from acute care to an approach of sustained recovery management in the community. Sustained recovery management applies many of the central components of recovery capital and the Sustainable Livelihoods framework. Service wise, a sustained recovery management approach offers the following:
" Uses a strengths-based approach, considering the resources available in the clients life;
"Building social capital is a visible, central element of sustained recovery management. It encompasses four of the eight domains of recovery capital in Figure III above, namely, family and social supports; peer-based support; community integration and cultural renewal; and healthy environments."
TreatNet. Drug Dependence Treatment: Sustained Recovery Management. Vienna, Austria: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008, p. 18-19.
9. Recovery Capital
"In this context, “recovery capital“ is the sum of personal and social resources at one’s disposal for addressing drug dependence and, chiefly, bolstering one’s capacity and opportunities for recovery” (Cloud and Granfield, 2001).
"Recovery capital can be used as a tool for drug dependence treatment professionals practitioners, to identify the strengths of their clients, support them in building up and maintaining a sustainable livelihood, while looking holistically at all domains of life. This approach meets individuals 'where they are' and supports them along the continuum of treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration.
"Building recovery capital is a strengths-based approach. It involves identifying and building upon the client’s major personal and social assets, which may have been developed earlier in life or are newly acquired. These assets can support treatment engagement and enhance motivation for treatment, the treatment process and ongoing recovery from drug dependence problems.
"The eight domains of recovery capital identified by the Treatnet working group (shown in Figure III) are:
"A lack of such assets could hamper the recovery process and desired outcomes."
TreatNet. Drug Dependence Treatment: Sustained Recovery Management. Vienna, Austria: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008, p. 17.
10. Four Dimensions of Recovery Capital
"Cloud and Granfield delineate four dimensions to recovery capital: social, physical, human and cultural.
Munton AG, Wedlock E and Gomersall A (2014) The role of social and human capital in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. HRB Drug and Alcohol Evidence Review 1. Dublin: Health Research Board. Citing Cloud W and Granfield R (2009) Conceptualizing recovery capital: expansion of a theoretical construct. Substance Use and Misuse, 43: 1971–1986.
11. Role of Social Capital in Recovery
"The research literature on substance abuse treatment has consistently reported evidence to support the view that the relationships people maintain with their families, friends and other social contacts are critical to understanding why people start to abuse drink and drugs, why they persist to the point of addiction, and how they respond to treatment designed to move them to abstinence.
"The most successful treatment programmes are those that recognise the role of social capital and develop interventions that provide support via self-help groups, peer support, and families. Effective recovery programmes need to address other elements of substance abusers’ social environments, including the need for stable accommodation, the capacity to manage financial affairs, and constructive activities that provide a positive alternative to relapse. While good cost-benefit analyses have yet to be done, the available evidence suggests that recovery programmes are likely to be cost-effective. Savings can be made by reducing demand for health care, enabling people to make a positive contribution to their communities.63"
Munton AG, Wedlock E and Gomersall A (2014) The role of social and human capital in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. HRB Drug and Alcohol Evidence Review 1. Dublin: Health Research Board.
12. Drug Courts, Social Reintegration, and Stigmatization of Drug Users
"Although drug courts provide an alternative to the immediate incarceration of drug users, these courts are still connected to a criminal justice system that treats drug use as a crime. Therefore, when participants enter the drug courts, there is an institutionalized stigma attached to drug use.192 Drug courts perpetuate this stigma because they are based on a system of rewards and punishments. When participants act 'badly' (either by testing positive for drugs or breaking other imposed conditions that create a presumption of drug use), they are treated as pariahs, not patients. For continuing 'bad' behavior, drug court participants can be eventually incarcerated, which is the ultimate representation of societal segregation and ostracism."
Woods, Jordan Blair, "A Decade after Drug Decriminalization: What can the United States learn from the Portuguese Model?" University of the District of Columbia Law Review (Washington, DC: The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, 2011) Volume 15, Number 1, p. 30.
13. Treatment Effectiveness at Reducing Levels of Offending
"Overall, lower levels of acquisitive offending and high-cost offending were recorded at follow-up. Among those who continued to offend, improvements in offending behaviour at follow-up, in terms of a decrease in its volume and/ or the costs associated with it, were observed. Crack users, injecting users, users with high SDS [Severity of Dependence Scores] scores, and those with previous treatment experience were more likely to offend than others at any point. However, neither referral source nor the type of treatment modalities received, were significantly associated with the level of acquisitive offending at any point (within the adjusted model)."
Andrew Jones, et al., "Research Report 24: The Drug Treatment Outcomes Research Study (DTORS): Final Outcomes Report" (London, England: UK Government, Home Office Ministry, Research, Development & Statistics Directorate, December 2009), p. 10.
14. Effectiveness of Treatment on Employment and Social Reintegration
"The Drug Treatment Outcomes Research Study (DTORS) was one example of European research with encouraging results regarding employment (Jones et al., 2009). This study investigated drug use, health and psychosocial outcomes in 1 796 English drug users attending a range of different types of treatment service. Follow-up interviews were conducted between 3 and 13 months after baseline (soon after initial treatment entry). Regardless of the type of treatment received or drug use outcomes, employment levels increased from 9 % at baseline to 16 % at follow-up. This was accompanied by a corresponding increase in the amount of legitimate income earned per week. The proportion reporting being unemployed but actively looking for work decreased slightly from 27 % to 24 %, reflecting the increase in employment and a 5 percentage point increase in those reporting being unable to work (because of long-term sickness or disability). The proportion of participants classed as unemployed and not looking for work also fell from 24 % to 11 %. Treatment attendance was also associated with changes in housing status; the proportion staying in stable accommodation increased from 60 % to 77 % at follow-up. It should be noted that the findings of this study were weakened by use of a non-experimental design, failure to separate outcomes according to client type and treatment modality, and insufficient detail on the nature of the employment obtained."
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA Insights Series No 13, "Social reintegration and employment: evidence and interventions for drug users in treatment" (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012), ISBN: 978-92-9168-557-8, doi: 10.2810/72023, p. 67.