Have you ever thought to yourself, “What is recovery?” Is it simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol or is it something more? Many people would argue the latter. In fact, one study found that most people who self-identify as being “in recovery” define it as a continuous process that never ends.1 Instead of pinpointing it as a single event on a timeline, most people view their recovery as a physical, mental, and spiritual process that affects all aspects of life and changes the way they live as a whole.
Although the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines addiction recovery as a process that incorporates continuous growth and change, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and improved health, wellness, and quality of life, not all would agree.2
One group of researchers took data from one 2015 internet survey of more than 9,000 people in recovery and studied it to further understand the perspectives of people who identified as being in recovery.3 As a result, they were able to identify five different classes or typologies of individuals in recovery, based on their personal understanding of what recovery means.
The study’s process involved asking each participant to rate several elements of recovery based on their personal beliefs. The elements were categorized into the following aspects of recovery:
- Essentials of recovery
- Enrichment of recovery
For each individual element of recovery in the above categories, survey respondents told researchers whether the item:
- Definitely belonged in their definition of recovery
- Somewhat belonged in their definition of recovery
- Did not belong in their definition of recovery, but may belong in other people’s definition of recovery
- Did not belong in a definition of recovery
The results gave researchers a big-picture view of the different ways people who have experienced substance use disorders define recovery.
Why Does This Matter?
Just as the medical and clinical definition of drug and alcohol addiction has changed over time, so have treatment methods. Likewise, the definition of recovery will continue to change based on people’s understanding of it.
The study referenced above is important because it provides a greater understanding of what recovery means to people who have overcome substance use disorders in America today. This can help addiction treatment providers tailor their services to the individual needs of people in recovery.
Regardless of how a person defines “recovery,” some treatment services may still need to remain the same and, of course, not all people in recovery will fit into a single category. However, having distinguished typologies can help treatment providers better meet the needs of people who are recovery from substance use disorders.
5 Types of People in Recovery
- 12-Step Traditionalists
- Highly adhere to the principles outlined in the 12-Step Program
- Consider abstinence an important part of recovery (more than 90% do not drink alcohol or do drugs)
- Most likely of the five types to attend regular 12-Step meetings (85% attended more than 90 meetings)
- Strongly endorse spiritual aspects of recovery
- Most common of the five types of people in recovery (was the largest group in the study)
- More than 80% identify as being in recovery
- 12-Step Enthusiasts
- Place similar importance on the principles of the 12-Step Program, like 12-Step Traditionalists
- Consider abstinence an important part of recovery (85% do not drink alcohol or do drugs)
- Likely to attend 12-Step meetings, but less so than 12-Step Traditionalists (80% attended more than 90 meetings)
- Moderately endorse spiritual aspects of recovery
- Strongly endorse all principles of the 12-Step Program but are less likely to endorse the importance of helping others, giving back, and being in relationships
- 75% identify as being in recovery
- Younger and have been sober for a shorter period of time than the other four types
- Do not completely endorse full abstinence in recovery (one-fourth of respondents still consumed alcohol)
- Less likely to attend 12-Step meetings (38% attended over 90 meetings)
- Endorse the idea that recovery is physical and mental but has nothing to do with spirituality or religion
- Largely define recovery with an emphasis on personal growth, health, and wellness
- 60% identify as being in recovery
- Consider abstinence an important part of recovery (more than 75% do not drink alcohol or do drugs)
- May attend 12-Step meetings (65% attended over 90 meetings)
- Generally endorse spiritual aspects of recovery although 25% believe spirituality may belong in other’s definitions of recovery
- Not likely to believe that the following things are essential elements of recovery: learning how to get support, helping others, giving back, being able to have relationships, and having non-using friends
- More independent and less rational
- 75% identify as being in recovery
- Less likely than the other four types to stress the importance of complete abstinence in recovery (25% abstain from drugs but drink alcohol)
- May endorse spiritual aspects of recovery but many do not (more than 60% do not believe recovery is religious in nature)
- More likely than the other four types to endorse natural recovery (more than 10%)
- Strongly endorse the process of growth and development and being able to enjoy life
- 50% identify as being in recovery
If you’d like to read more about these typologies and the results of the study, please see the full study here, published in the international journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Different Roads to Recovery
With this study in mind, it’s important to remember that there are many roads to recovery and there is no single treatment that works for everyone. When it comes down to it, the best treatment for addiction is a comprehensive and individualized approach that addresses the whole person, not just the addiction.
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, it’s never too late to get help. Call (512) 605-2955 to speak with a Nova representative about the best treatment options for you.