So You’re “In Recovery” – But
What IS it?

group of friends talking

In November 2016, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued a comprehensive report on the state of addiction and recovery in America. This 400+ page report was compiled with the assistance of more than 160 government, health and educational experts and outlines not only the extent of the problem but also many issues related to helping Americans recover. One of the subjects covered in this report is the nature of recovery itself. Does it mean different things to different people or is there a consensus? We’ll take a look.

First, how many people in America would fit into the category of being “in recovery”? A variety of studies were consulted and the authors of the Surgeon General’s report determined that an estimated 25 million adult Americans can be categorized as “in recovery.”

How Would They Define “In Recovery”?

To find out, nine thousand urban residents intent on overcoming their past addictions were asked how they would describe their current situations and what they understood recovery to consist of. Nearly all of them (98%) fit the medical criteria for addiction, and three out of four defined themselves as being “in recovery.” Their understanding of what being “in recovery” means shows how well they understood the rewards a sober life can bring them.


Nearly nine out of ten people in recovery felt that abstinence should be part of their recovery. The remaining minority either thought it was not part of the concept of recovery or was not important for them.

Those most likely to associate abstinence with their recoveries were those who participated in Twelve Step programs.

This finding matched earlier surveys of those with a background of serious substance abuse. In those surveys, about 85% of those surveyed felt that abstinence was essential for true recovery.

Being Honest with Myself:

This characteristic was included in the definition of recovery by more than 98% of respondents. Similar percentages felt that they should be able to “handle negative feelings without drugs” and “enjoy life without alcohol or drugs.” Nearly everyone felt that personal growth and development was an essential component and around two-thirds felt this factor had a spiritual aspect for them.

Service to Others:

It’s not surprising that this characteristic would come to mind for most people in recovery. After all, anyone who has suffered through a period of addiction knows the harm he (or she) has done to his family, friends and community. A natural response is wanting to give back to others who are still suffering or the community at large.

Another survey of 3,000 people in recovery showed that these individuals felt that it was important to be engaged in community affairs such as being a responsible individual, parent and neighbor, paying taxes and holding a job.

Anyone who thinks that a person who struggles with drugs or alcohol is not worth helping should see the results of this survey. Under an addicted exterior is nearly always a good person who simply feels trapped. Fortunately, recovery is possible and happens every single day. We see it at Narconon Ojai every day. Call us to learn how soon your loved one can achieve sobriety and the many rewards that go along with it.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.