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Previous definitions of recovery dealt strictly with abstinence from drugs or the absence of mental-health symptoms. Treatment methods have evolved drastically during the past decade, however. Today, recovery efforts are far more holistic and focus as much on reengaging patients with their families and the community around them as they do on symptoms and drug use.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) has released a new working definition of recovery that it says reflects these changes: a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life and strive to reach their full potential.
“Over the years, it has become increasingly apparent that a practical, comprehensive, working definition of recovery would enable policymakers, providers and others to better design, deliver and measure integrated and holistic services to those in need,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde.
SAMHSA began the redefinition effort in August 2010 when it convened a meeting of behavioral-health leaders. During the meeting, they helped develop a draft definition and a set of principles of recovery. During the next year, SAMHSA continued to work with healthcare experts, reviewing drafts and refining its list of principles.
A SAMHSA blog post in August that included the working definition, as it then stood, garnered 259 comments. SAMHSA’s online feedback forums on the subject had more than 1,000 participants and 1,200 comments — many of which have been incorporated into the current working definition.
SAMHSA and its collaborators defined four major dimensions which support recovery: health, home, purpose and community. The guiding principles, such as “recovery is culturally-based and influenced” and “recovery is supported by peers and allies” support that four-dimensional outlook on recovery.
Guiding Principles of Recovery
-Recovery emerges from hope: The belief that recovery is real provides the essential and
motivating message of a better future — that people can and do overcome the internal
and external challenges, barriers and obstacles confronting them.
-Recovery is person-driven: Self-determination and self-direction are the foundations for
recovery as individuals define their own life goals and design their unique paths.
Recovery occurs via many pathways: Individuals are unique, with distinct needs,
strengths, preferences, goals, culture and backgrounds, including trauma experiences that
affect and determine their pathways to recovery. Abstinence is the safest approach for
those with substance-use disorders.
-Recovery is holistic: Recovery encompasses an individual’s whole life, including mind,
body, spirit, and community. The array of services and supports available should be
integrated and coordinated.
Recovery is supported by peers and allies: Mutual support and mutual aid groups,
including the sharing of experiential knowledge and skills, as well as social learning, play
an invaluable role in recovery.
-Recovery is supported through relationship and social networks: An important factor
in the recovery process is the presence and involvement of people who believe in the
person’s ability to recover, who offer hope, support and encouragement, and who suggest
strategies and resources for change.
-Recovery is culturally-based and influenced: Culture and cultural background in
all of its diverse representations, including values, traditions and beliefs, are keys in
determining a person’s journey and unique pathway to recovery.
Recovery is supported by addressing trauma: Services and supports should be trauma-
informed to foster safety (physical and emotional) and trust, as well as promote choice,
empowerment and collaboration.
-Recovery involves individual, family and community strengths and responsibility:
Individuals, families, and communities have strengths and resources that serve as a
foundation for recovery.
-Recovery is based on respect: Community, systems and societal acceptance and
appreciation for people affected by mental-health and substance-use problems —
including protecting their rights and eliminating discrimination — are crucial in