Definition of Recovery

Individuals who are “in recovery” know what it means to them and how important it is in their lives. They need no formal definition.

But for the general public and those who research, evaluate, and develop policies about addiction, recovery is a concept that can sometimes seem unclear. 

Essentially, recovery is a complex and dynamic process encompassing all the positive benefits to physical, mental and social health that can happen when people with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, or their family members, get the help they need.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) offers this definition:

“Recovery from alcohol and drug problems is a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life.”

Expanding on this definition, SAMHSA articulates twelve “Guiding Principles of Recovery”: 

  1. There are many pathways to recovery.
  2. Recovery is self-directed and empowering.
  3. Recovery involves a personal recognition of the need for change and transformation.
  4. Recovery is holistic.
  5. Recovery has cultural dimensions.
  6. Recovery exists on a continuum of improved health and wellness.
  7. Recovery is supported by peers and allies.
  8. Recovery emerges from hope and gratitude.
  9. Recovery involves a process of healing and self-redefinition.
  10. Recovery involves addressing discrimination and transcending shame and stigma.
  11. Recovery involves (re)joining and (re)building a life in the community.
  12. Recovery is a reality. It can, will, and does happen.

For additional information regarding a definition of recovery, see "What is Recovery?" a project of the Alcohol Research Group.


Last modified onFriday, 24 July 2015 12:05