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What Does Recovery Mean?  

recovery definition

When we talk about mental health and addiction, “recovery” is often a part of that conversation. Recovery is the ultimate goal for a person who is battling a substance use or mental health disorder. However, what does recovery mean, exactly?  

Recovery does not just mean sobriety or abstinence. Recovery is not a finish line, nor a cure. Recovery is a long-term process by which a person achieves overall wellness. And it’s definition is ever-changing.  

What is Recovery? 

There is no single, standard definition of recovery. Recovery can and will look different for everyone. Generally speaking, however, recovery can be defined as follows. 

Recovery is a process of change, in which people are improving their health and well-being. Those in recovery are in the process of overcoming an illness or disorder. For them, a state of recovery represents a state of good mental, emotional, and physical health. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a “working definition” of recovery, which is designed to capture the varied and shared experiences of those recovering from mental and substance use disorders. Currently, their definition of recovery is: 

“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 key word here is process. Despite popular belief, recovery is not an endpoint – a person does not simply reach and complete recovery. Rather, recovery is a longer-term journey that requires ongoing engagement and management. However, achieving recovery is something to be celebrated. As stated by SAMHSA, “Recovery signals a dramatic shift in the expectation for positive outcomes for individuals who experience mental and substance use conditions.” Generally, this means that a person has developed the skills and attitudes needed to sustain a healthy and happy life, substance-free.  

For the remainder of this article, we will be examining recovery as it relates to mental health and substance use. 

Recovery is not synonymous with sobriety, because recovery encompasses so much more than stopping substance abuse. When a person is in recovery, they are abstinent from drugs and alcohol, but also actively managing relapse triggers, rebuilding relationships, setting goals for the future, developing responsibilities, focusing on their mental health, and regaining control over their lives. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse echoes this sentiment, explaining that being in recovery means that “positive changes and values become part of a voluntarily adopted lifestyle.” They continue, “While many people in recovery believe that abstinence from all substance use is a cardinal feature of a recovery lifestyle, others report that handling negative feelings without using substances and living a contributive life are more important parts of their recovery.” 

So, what are the most important parts of recovery? Keep reading to find out. 

The Key Components of Recovery 

When a person is in recovery, it means that certain factors of their life are supportive of the process. These are the four main dimensions that support a healthy recovery: 

  • Health: First and foremost, health is an essential component of recovery. This involves managing or overcoming one’s disorder. It also involves making informed, healthy choices that support the person’s physical and emotional well-being.  
  • Home: In order to be successful in the recovery process, a person has a safe and stable place to live. This may be in a sober living home as they transition out of treatment, or a longer-term residence. 
  • Purpose: A person in recovery will find success as they develop more meaning in their lives. This may be reflected through going to work or school, or taking care of a family. It may also involve pursuing creative endeavors and hobbies. Purpose can also be fulfilled by becoming more independent and in control of one’s life, such as by earning and managing one’s own income. 
  • Community: A support network or community of people can be essential for one’s recovery. A person in recovery should have supportive friends, family, and relationships that provide encouragement, friendship, and support throughout the recovery process. 

In addition to the above elements of recovery, there are also some “guiding principles” set forth by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. These can help set a person up for a successful recovery journey, and help keep them committed to the process: 

  • Hope and the belief that the condition(s) can be overcome 
  • Self-determination and self-direction towards one’s goals 
  • Holistic modalities that address the whole person (mind, body, spirit) and community 
  • Peer support and encouragement from allies 
  • A sober support network and mentorship 
  • Culture and diversity are recognized and embraced 
  • Respect for oneself and others in the community 
  • Strengths and responsibilities, including one’s coping abilities 
  • Trauma-informed approaches for those facing histories of abuse or trauma 
  • Multiple pathways to recovery  

How to Achieve Recovery 

As noted above, recovery is very unique and there are multiple pathways to recovery. Each individual’s recovery journey will look different, and the road they towards recovery will be highly personalized.  

For most people, recovery is achieved through clinical treatment, at a specialized mental health facility or addiction treatment center. However, even in treatment, the process looks a bit different for everyone. When a person enters mental health or addiction treatment, they work with clinicians to develop a customized treatment plan – one that caters to their individual needs, goals, interests, as well as age, gender, drug of choice, mental health history, history of trauma, and more. The types of therapies and services received in treatment, therefore, will vary based on a range of varying factors. 

There is no single, best course of treatment that will work for everyone. However, there are many, evidence-based therapies that have been found effective in treating mental illness and substance use disorders. Learn more here

In addition to evidence-based treatment, many people will use holistic modalities in their recovery journey. These might include faith-based approaches, peer support, family therapy, self-care, exercise and fitness, meditation, and mindfulness.  

Some people also benefit from medication-assisted treatment, depending on the type and severity of their disorder. There are evidence-based, medication therapies that have been found effective to alleviate the symptoms of certain mental health and substance use disorders. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder or substance use disorder, recovery is possible for you. The best next step is to speak with a clinician, counselor, or other mental health specialist about your concerns and symptoms. If you do not know where to turn, you may always contact Turnbridge – a recognized mental health treatment center for youth – for information and advice. Contact us any time at 877-581-1793. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Recovery 

How do I know if recovery is possible for me? 

Anyone battling a mental and/or substance use disorder can recover with the right help and resources. These disorders are highly treatable and manageable. Recovery is possible for you, but this requires a commitment from you. As noted above, recovery is a long-term process that requires ongoing and active care. In order to achieve recovery, you must seek professional help and support. 

How long will I be in recovery? 

Recovery is a lifelong process for many substance use disorders and mental health conditions. This is because of the ways in which these disorders affect and alter the brain. However, they are highly treatable and manageable, and become easier to cope with over time. 

While the timeline is not set in stone, you can expect various stages of your recovery. The first stage is a “pre-recovery” stage, in which your body will be overcoming the physical effects of drugs and alcohol. During the first 90 days of addiction recovery, for example, you may still be experiencing withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. After several months, however, these symptoms can start to reduce and you can begin to focus on your mental health and self-care strategies. This begins a period of early recovery, in which you are learning to live successfully without drugs and alcohol. After the first year of treatment and therapy, you will start to enter a period of maintenance. Maintaining your recovery is a lifelong commitment. 

While recovery is a long-term process, mental health and substance abuse treatment is only a starting point, taking several months to complete. At least 90 days of treatment is needed to overcome a substance use disorder, though longer stays in treatment are associated with better recovery outcomes. At Turnbridge’s mental health treatment center, those who completed 270 days – nine months – of addiction treatment had the best success in achieving long-term sobriety. 

What happens if I relapse – is my recovery over? 

It is important to note that substance addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease. While it can be disheartening and devastating, relapse is a part of many people’s recovery journey. And that is okay. Relapse does not mean that you have failed as a person, and it does not mean that your recovery journey is over. Relapse typically indicates that you need a change in your treatment or recovery course. You may need to revisit treatment, try a different treatment method, and/or adopt new recovery tools

How can I have a successful recovery? 

There are many steps you can take to ensure a successful, long-term recovery. These include establishing a comfortable place to live, building supportive relationships, practicing self-care, and committing to ongoing therapy. Here are some key tips for addiction recovery

  • Find a treatment program that will help you develop an individualized treatment plan. 
  • Establish yourself in a sober living environment where you will feel safe and supported. 
  • Build a sober support network that you can rely on in times of need. 
  • Avoid stressors or people, places, and things that trigger you to feel negatively. 
  • If you cannot avoid those relapse triggers, find healthy ways to cope with them. 
  • Find sober activities or hobbies that make you happy. 
  • Exercise and eat nutritiously. 
  • Prioritize taking care of yourself, including finding time to relax and meditate. 
  • Attend meetings, therapy, and/or support groups throughout your recovery. 
  • Always ask for help when you need it. 

Recovery is a Step Away 

Your recovery journey is only a step away. If you’d like to learn about Turnbridge’s treatment programs for young adults and teenagers, do not hesitate to call us at 877-581-1793 to learn more. You can also explore our programs online, or explore our blog for more helpful advice on recovery.