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Recovery Definition

Based on answers from 9,341 surveys from people in recovery from many different pathways, the recovery definition has five sections:

  • Abstinence in recovery
  • Essentials of recovery
  • Enriched recovery
  • Spirituality of recovery
  • Uncommon elements of recovery

The elements that go in each section are shown below.

We came up with the “% belongs” number next to each element by adding up the percent of people who checked any of these three answer categories:

  • definitely belongs in my definition of recovery +
  • somewhat belongs in my definition of recovery +
  • does not belong in my definition of recovery, but may belong in other people’s definition of recovery.

This last answer category (may belong in others’ definition) is important to consider, since many people in recovery told us that they did not want to reject elements of recovery that they knew were important to people they knew in recovery—even though it didn’t apply to them personally.

Elements of Recovery % belongs
"Abstinence in recovery"
No use of alcohol 94
No abuse of prescribed medication 92
No use of non-prescribed drugs 88
"Essentials of Recovery”
Being honest with myself 99
Being able to enjoy life without drinking or using drugs like I used to 99
Handling negative feelings without using drugs or drinking like I used to 99
Changing the way I think through things 99
Not replacing one destructive dependency with another 99
Taking care of my mental health more than I did before 99
A realistic appraisal of my abilities & my limitations 99
Being able to deal with situations that used to stump me 99
Freedom from feeling physically sick because of my drinking or using 98
Striving to be consistent with my beliefs & values in activities that take up the major part of my time & energy 98
Being able to have relationships where I am not using people or being used 98
Having people around me who know how to get thru life without using alcohol or other drugs like they used to 98
Getting along with family or friends better than I did before 98
Trying to live in a place that is not overrun with alcohol or drugs 96
“Enriched recovery”
A process of growth & development 99
Taking responsibility for the things I can change 99
Reacting to life's ups & downs in a more balanced way than I used to 99
Living a life that contributes to society, to your family, or to your betterment 99
Having tools to try to feel inner peace when I need to 99
Developing inner strength 99
Improved self-esteem 99
Taking care of my physical health more than I did before 99
Learning how to get the kind of support from others that I need 99
Being the kind of person that people can count on 98
“Spirituality of Recovery”
Being grateful 99
About giving back 98
About helping other people to not drink or use drugs like they used to 98
Appreciating that I am part of the universe, something bigger than myself 97
Becoming more open-minded about spirituality than before 96
Feeling connected to a spiritual being or force that helps me deal with difficulties in life 95
Spiritual in nature & has nothing to do with religion 95
"Uncommon elements of recovery”
Physical & mental in nature & has nothing to do with spirituality or religion 65
No use of tobacco 64
Religious in nature 63
Non-problematic alcohol or drug use 43


The information provided here was originally published in the journal article listed below.

Kaskutas, L. A., Borkman, T. J., Laudet, A., Ritter, L. A., Witbrodt, J., Subbaraman, M., Stunz, A., & Bond, J. (November 2014). Elements that define recovery: The experiential perspective. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75(6), 999-1010. www.jsad.com/jsad/link/75/999

Reprinted with permission from Alcohol Research Documentation, Inc., publisher of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (www.jsad.com).