What Is Recovery?
When someone has a problem with alcohol or another drug, they may decide to make changes to their behaviors, beliefs, relationships, habits, and thought patterns in order to address the problem. Often, this includes abstinence from using the substance and/or a decision to become sober (abstaining from all alcohol and drug use). When a person has committed to and begun to make these changes, they can be said to be “in recovery” from their problem. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), “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.” While there may be other definitions of recovery, this is a commonly used one.
Addiction, Dependence, and Relapse
People can become dependent on and/or addicted to a substance: Dependence means psychologically needing a substance to feel OK or function and/or using a substance despite consequences; addiction means physically needing the substance, demonstrated by higher tolerance and withdrawal symptoms if the person stops using the substance. Many factors contribute to dependence and addiction, including genetic susceptibility, personal and family history, current environment (e.g., how available are substances? how tempting is it it use them? are many of the person’s peers using?), and patterns of use (i.e., increasing quantities and frequency of substance use increases the risk of addiction and dependence).