What Is Recovery?

Headshot of smiling manRecovery means different things to different people. Recovery can mean staying abstinent from only the drug of choice, staying abstinent from all drugs, or cutting down on binging, depending on who you ask. Some people even think that when they are using, they are in recovery because they do not use as much. Are there really different meanings to recovery?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines recovering as “The process of overcoming a disorder or shortcoming.” One could interpret that the meaning of recovery is a process that is it never ending. According to this definition, one is considered to always be in a state of recovery. A lot of people struggle with substances, and when they are free from the substance use, they end up struggling to maintain their recovery status. Some people are never fully recovered but feel that they are in recovery because they are not using as much or have overcome their binging. However, to fully be in recovery, the substance abuser must be able to identify what recovery means to them.

Some people come into counseling and state that they are in recovery. For example, a person’s drug of choice could be cocaine. They may have struggled with cocaine for many years and now consider themselves to be in full recovery. Months after you have begun meeting with them, they will tell you that they have not been using cocaine but that they did go to a party and had a drink of alcohol. They describe their alcohol use as an isolated incident with no blackouts and say that it was merely social in nature. They do not consider themselves as having a relapse because it was not their drug of choice. They spend the full hour convincing you and themselves how it is no big deal and how this is considered to be a better decision. Some people are even proud of themselves because they feel as though they can have a sip of alcohol and simultaneously be able to gain control of their actions and impulses.

If you are still using drugs, that is not being in recovery, even if the substances you are using are not your drug of choice. Recovery means being able to define what is living a healthy lifestyle for yourself. Here are some ways to define a healthy recovery:

Having control over your emotions: The first step in recovery is taking control over your emotional state. When you are able to develop coping skills that are drug free and able to do other things in place of using drugs, you have developed control over your emotional state. Being able to take a step back and recognize the stress that is making you upset not only helps you become aware of triggers, but it also helps you become more aware of your emotions and self.

Being able to identify and stay away from triggers: When people are able to identify what makes them lose control, they are able to stay away from these triggering events. When you are able to understand what environments make you feel stressed and what makes you feel a loss of control, you are able to do other things that help you gain back control.

Being able to identify what recovery means to you: Since there are many different ideas on what recovery is, it is important for you to be able to identify what it means to you. Trying to set up a recovery plan and being able to set limits for yourself in a clear, defined way will help you in the recovery process. Being able to understand what your goals are and what you want to accomplish helps you have a better idea of what you want to change and what you want to become. Recovery is defined by the goals that you want to achieve and what makes you feel healthy. Recovery includes making positive choices towards your goal and remaining healthy physically and emotionally.

The process of recovery is unique for each individual who falls victim to alcohol or substance abuse. The road to recovery will lead people down different paths upon the realization of a substance abuse problem, but hopefully the ultimate goal of optimal physical and mental health will be reached.

Related articles:
Identifying and Treating Addiction and Substance Abuse Problems
Do I Really Have a Drinking Problem?
No Pain, No Gain: Psychotherapy and Mental Health Recovery Take Time

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Jane


    April 5th, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    It’s funny how for the addicts recovery means something completely different than it does to those without the addiction.
    You see, as someone who has never had to struggle with overcoming an addiction, recovery for me means that you abstain from the drug of choice. Not that you use it less, but that you stop using at all.
    I guess that’s a little wrong though after reading this.
    I can understand how, to the one who is in recovery, there are different phases of the journey. It is not a one shot and you are done kind of thing.
    It is a process, and I don’t think that I really got that until just now.

  • Megan


    April 5th, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    Recovery has a different meaning for everyone I suppose. The key is that it leads to a more fulfilled life than one was having before. Hopefully all of that hard work will pay off and this is what you will uncover and discover.

  • JLipackCounseling


    April 5th, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    Thank you for taking the time to read my article and for your input.

  • Jill


    April 6th, 2012 at 6:59 AM

    I would like to know when it is determined that someone is truly recovered. Is it measured in years clean, the ability to handle all fht stressful things that life throws at you, etc. What really determines you are cured and recovered, or is that something that never reaches a finality?

  • Yolanda J

    Yolanda J

    April 7th, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    what is recovery?
    it is taking the wrong fork in the road but then realizing your mistake
    it is being able to apologize to those you have hurt with your behavior
    it is being able to make peace with yourself
    it is the possibility of starting over
    it is finding out who you really are, accepting that, and making the most of what lies ahead

  • JLipackCounseling


    April 26th, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    Jill, in response to your questions.
    Only the individual who is trying to achieve recovery, can answer that question. Each person has an idea what recovery looks like for them. When one is truly recovered, they have truly mastered their recovery goals

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