Personal definition

Recovery is a person-driven, lifelong and holistic process. Self-defining what it means to be in recovery is a part of the process. Personal definitions become a part of one’s self-identity, and individuals tend to view recovery and the world around them through their definition of “recovery.” Personal definitions of “recovery” are influenced by lived experience, philosophies, and cultural belief systems. Individuals can become so immersed in their particular culture and community of recovery that they may be unaware of other definitions of and pathways towards recovery.

Reflections: We invite you to reflect and journal on the questions below.

Survey Says

Suppose we are defining “recovery,” who better to define it than people who are in recovery. In 2014, an internet-based survey was completed by 9,341 individuals (54% female and 46% male) who self-identified as being in recovery, recovered, in medication-assisted recovery, or had a problem with alcohol or drugs (but no longer do).

The findings were published in 2014. Below are some highlights.

Recovery is …

  • being honest with myself
  • being able to enjoy life without drinking or using drugs like I used to
  • living a life that contributes to society, to your family, or your betterment
  • being the kind of person that people can count on
  • about giving back
  • striving to be consistent with my beliefs and values in activities that take up a major part of my time and energy.

Four recovery domains with 35 recovery elements emerged, and these domains held true regardless of the length of recovery, 12-step or treatment exposure, and current substance use status: abstinence in recovery, essentials of recovery, enriched recovery, and spirituality of recovery. The findings also highlighted that researchers studying recovery should include measures that extend beyond substance use and encompass elements such as self-care, concern for others, personal growth, and developing ways of being that sustain change in substance use.


Kaskutas, L. A., Borkman, T. J., Laudet, A., Ritter, L. A., Witbrodt, J., Subbaraman, M., Stunz, A., & Bond, J. (November 2014). Elements that define recovery: The experiential perspective. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75(6), 999-1010.