What is the Definition of Recovery from Addiction?

recoveryMost people understand what it means to be addicted to a substance or behavior, but what is the definition of recovery? You often hear this word in conjunction with addiction and rehabilitation. It is what people work towards when they enter a treatment facility. The term seems ubiquitous, and in truth, there is no professional consensus that defines it. For an addict entering inpatient drug rehab, recovery is the path to a healthier lifestyle.

Is Recovery about Abstinence?

In a word, yes – that is how science defines it. Recovery is about not using whatever drug has governed your life in the past. It means not getting caught back up into the cycle of drug abuse that leads to addictive behavior. Abstinence in certainly a part of that process, but there is more to it.


Some professionals will say that recovery starts when an addict recognizes a problem exists. They look closely at their behavior and the things they do and become aware. Recognition is a two-step process.

A person must identify an addictive pattern. What drug drives their compulsion for example? Do they abuse more than one substance?

An addict comes to the realization that they need help to stop using drugs. At the beginning of recognition, many abusers tell themselves it is simply a matter of stopping. That is something they can do anytime they want. Drug abuse changes the way the brain functions, so using a chemical substance becomes more than just a desire to get high. It is a need that drives their every action.

Emotional Exploration

Once you get past the recognition and abstinence phases, the definition of recovery gets hazier. A person in recovery cannot just leave a facility and go back to their life as it was before. Drug rehab facilities tackle the process in two steps: physical and emotional.

The physical stage is about withdrawal. The management of withdrawal is medical. Treatments help make the process less physically damaging and painful, so the client can tolerate it.

The emotion side of recovery is about dealing with the mental health issues that led to drug abuse in the first place. This requires extensive individual and group therapy. Residential rehab facilities immerse their clients in this emotional exploration to help them understand why they become addicted in the first place.

Emotional exploration is also a preventative measure. By understanding what role drugs fill in a person’s life, they can look for healthier way of managing a problem. An individual who took drugs to deal with stress might discover exercise is a natural high, for instances.

Is Recovery a Realistic Goal?

The threat of relapse is always going to be an issue for the recovering addict, but that doesn’t mean recovery isn’t realistic. The statistics on relapse can be daunting. On average, 40 to 60 percent of drug users end up seeking treatment more than once for their addiction. In some cases, it depends on the drug. Relapse rates are higher for alcohol and heroin abuse and lower for prescription pain medication.

The current theory is in the rehabilitation community is there are five main reasons that recovery fails.

Lack of proper long-term planning
Refusal to address psychological causes of addiction
Lack of coping skills
Returning to unhealthy relationships
Self-esteem problems

Dealing with each one of these individual problems is part of a successful recovery program.

Recovery is process that lacks true definition. It is about giving up the substance abuse, but most professionals agree that is not enough. Ultimately, it is about success. Finding a way to stay drug free and improve quality of life at the same time. Recovery is both an emotional and physical journey.

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