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Many of those afflicted with addiction might be wondering what the definition of recovery really is. The same applies to families and friends who watch those around them overcome their addictions and seemingly adapt to living what some consider a “normal” life.
What is important to understand is that these are two distinctly different things from different perspectives.
If you are struggling with addiction, or you have sought help to overcome addiction, the natural question you might have is, “when will I know I’ve recovered from addiction?”
This question is somewhat personal and depending on who you ask might look different. The reason is that addiction is a phenomenon; that is to say, it is a condition that can be observed but not entirely explained.
What Is Addiction?
The medical perspective of addiction is that it is a disease of the brain that results in compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences.
While this is true and largely uncontested, 12-step programs such as AA have long viewed addiction as a 3-part illness of the body, mind, and spirit/emotions.
Every addict shares these 3 symptoms.
Once the substance is consumed the body craves more, resulting in prolonged use that typically ends with some consequence—this is a problem of the body, the physical side of the disease.
In some cases, the consequence is sobriety, which can be uncomfortable.
Many addicts refer to this uncomfortability as being restless, irritable, and discontent. This aspect of addiction is considered spiritual in nature as it has to do with your emotions and well-being.
Finally, the mind convinces the addict that despite the consequences, using drugs is okay, kicking the cycle off once more.
Understanding these 3 components helps to explain why it is difficult for medical faculties to define what “recovery” is.
What is Recovery?
Recovery by definition is to return to a normal state of mind, health, or strength. But The American Society of Addiction Medicine offers a unique perspective on what constitutes recovering from addiction.
Rather than defining it with a blanket definition, they describe it with a set of adjectives.
Being honest with oneself, being able to enjoy life, being productive, etc.
This unique perspective is perhaps the most comprehensive as addiction looks different for each person.
My personal journey with recovery began almost twelve years ago. If you had asked me at the start what recovery looked like, I would have stated the obvious: being sober.
But that is a half truth because, like many addicts, I tried desperately to limit what sobriety meant so that I could continue to use drugs. I would say I was sober from alcohol, or pills, or whatever I called my drug of choice.
Let’s be clear: the one element of recovery that every addict will agree upon is total abstinence from all mind altering substances. Whatever your vice may be, you’re not sober if you’re trading it for another vice.
This means recovery absolutely must be grounded in sobriety.
Sobriety Is Only Part of Recovery
While it’s true that being sober is mandatory for recovery, true recovery begins when you have absolute freedom—freedom from the obsession of drug and alcohol use.
This means you’re not thinking about doing it and you’re not thinking about how you’re not going to do it.
You just simply don’t consider it all.
This means recovery is progressive and continuous, never static. You’re not recovered when you hit any one particular milestone. You start recovery when you gain sobriety and you build upon it over time.
As you begin to become happier, more productive, as your mind begins to quiet down and you can react sanely to the proposition of drugs and alcohol, you are recovering.
In 12-step meetings you might hear people say they are a “recovered” alcoholic or addict.
This is a half-truth.
By all means these individuals have recovered from a state of despair. They no longer suffer from the chains of addiction, but deep down they know they will always be building on their recovery.
All that said, the definition of recovery is the process by which you maintain sobriety, overcome addiction, and acclimate to living comfortably, whether that is being a better family member or parent, buying a home, going to school, or simply laying your head down without your thoughts racing uncontrollably.
It is a lifelong journey that is filled with lessons, trials and errors, but always starts with sobriety.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or mental health check out MentalHealth.gov for resources.