The process of recovering from addiction begins before treatment, with the recognition that substance use has become unmanageable and needs to be changed. It continues through the treatment phase and into the new way of life that follows. ‘Long-term recovery’ describes what recovery looks like over time. It is defined by each person who enters it; there is no set time period that qualifies as ‘long-term.’ A person has entered long-term recovery when they begin to feel stable and secure in their recovery. While there is always a risk of relapse, a person in long-term recovery has built resilience and coping skills to handle their addiction triggers.

    The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines recovery as “a process of sustained action that addresses the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual disturbances inherent in addiction. This effort is in the direction of a consistent pursuit of abstinence, addressing impairment in behavioral control, dealing with cravings, recognizing problems in one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and dealing more effectively with emotional responses. Recovery actions lead to reversal of negative, self-defeating internal processes and behaviors, allowing healing of relationships with self and others. The concepts of humility, acceptance, and surrender are useful in this process.”

    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.”

    The Betty Ford Institute in 2007 defined recovery as “a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.” [1]

    Entering recovery can seem daunting. Giving up one’s addictive substance can seem impossible. But, in recovery, new possibilities open up. Once in recovery, you can understand what substance use has taken from you, and find that life is easier and more rewarding without it.

    SAMHSA has delineated four major dimensions that support a life in recovery:

    • Health—overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms—for example, abstaining from use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-prescribed medications if one has an addiction problem—and, for everyone in recovery, making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being
    • Home—having a stable and safe place to live
    • Purpose—conducting meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income, and resources to participate in society
    • Community—having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope

    Definitions of Recovery>

    SAMHSA Recovery & Recovery Support>



    From the Faces and Voices of Recovery website:

    In 2013, Faces & Voices of Recovery conducted the first nationwide survey of persons in recovery from drug and alcohol problems about their experiences in active addiction and in recovery. Survey findings document the many costs of active addiction to the individual and to society in terms of health, finances, work, family life, and criminal justice involvement. Most notably, the survey is the first to document the dramatic improvements people experience in all areas of life once they are in addiction recovery, and that improvements continue over time as recovery is maintained.


    • On average, participants had been in active addiction for 18 years and entered recovery at age 36. Over half had been in recovery for 10 years or longer at the time of the survey.
    • Survey findings document the many heavy costs of addiction to the individual and to the nation in terms of finances, physical and mental health, family functioning, employment, and legal involvement. For example, two thirds of respondents reported having experienced untreated mental health problems, half had been fired or suspended once or more from jobs, half had been arrested at least once, and a third had been incarcerated at least once.
    • Recovery from alcohol and drug problems is associated with dramatic improvements in all areas of life: healthier/better financial and family life, higher civic engagement, dramatic decreases in public health and safety risks, and significant increases in employment and work.

    Following are specific findings comparing recovery experiences with active addiction:

    • Paying bills on time and paying back personal debt doubled
    • Fifty percent more people pay taxes in recovery than when they are in active addiction
    • Planning for the future (e.g., saving for retirement) increases nearly threefold
    • Involvement in domestic violence (as victim or perpetrator) decreases dramatically
    • Participation in family activities increases by 50%
    • Volunteering in the community increases nearly threefold
    • Voting increases significantly
    • Frequent utilization of costly emergency room departments decreases tenfold
    • The percentage of uninsured decreases by half
    • Reports of untreated emotional/mental health problems decrease over fourfold
    • Involvement in illegal acts and involvement with the criminal justice system (e.g., arrests, incarceration, DWIs) decreases about tenfold
    • Steady employment increases by over 50%
    • Twice as many people further their education or training
    • Twice as many people start their own businesses

    When looking at life experiences as a function of how long people have been in recovery, the overall conclusion is: life keeps getting better as recovery progresses. Reports of negative life experiences, a proxy for the costs of active addiction, generally decline as recovery gets longer, and conversely, the percentage of respondents reporting behaviors/circumstances reflecting healthy functioning (i.e., the benefits of recovery) increases as the duration of recovery increases… Contrary to the stigmatizing stereotype society has of the individual in active addiction or recovery, survey findings show that people in recovery are employed, pay bills and taxes, vote, volunteer in their communities, and take care of their health and their families. These findings underline the fact that recovery is good not only for the individual, but also for families, communities, and the nation’s health and economy.

    2013 Faces and Voices of Recovery Life in Recovery Survey>



    People can and do recover from addiction. Learn more about what recovery is like from those who have lived it.

    Faces & Voices of Recovery — Recovery Stories>

    I Am Not Anonymous — Recovery Stories>

    Facing Addiction — People Facing Addiction>