Office of National Drug Control Policy

Understanding Recovery

What is Recovery?

Recovery is a process of change and growth through which people with substance use disorders not only stop using, but also reestablish friendships and family ties, build positive social networks, and become productive and responsible citizens. It is characterized by health, wellness, a sense of purpose, and productive involvement with family and community. Recovery can occur at the individual, family, and community levels. A key to reducing America’s drug problem is greater support for and partnership with the millions of citizens who are in long-term recovery from addiction. 

There are Many Pathways to Recovery

For many, the journey from addiction to recovery starts with treatment. Others find their way into recovery through mutual aid without treatment. A growing number of individuals take prescribed medication as part of treatment.  Those who take medication permanently or for an extended period of time often describe their pathway as “medication-assisted recovery.” Others follow explicitly faith-based or secular pathways. Some Native American communities, for example, have employed native healing rituals and developed culturally specific recovery programs, such as White Bison. More on recovery pathways can be found here.

Why We Need to Focus on Recovery

Treatment is effective. Studies show that every dollar spent on treatment saves four dollars in health care costs, and seven dollars in public safety costs. Research has found that people typically go through treatment three or four times over a period of nine years before staying in recovery. Continuing care and recovery support services are important tools for supporting recovery.  By supporting recovery, we build healthier, safer, and more prosperous communities.