"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.