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10 Fundamental Components of a Successful Recovery

What does it mean to “recover” from substance addiction?  SAMSHA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, defines recovery as “a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life.”

If you are – or have been  ­–in recovery, you know that it is a complex and very individualized process. But there are some common components and common strategies that can be helpful to everyone in recovery. SAMSHA, in connection with the National Mental Health Information Center (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services) outlined the following 10 Fundamental Components of Recovery.

#1  Self-Direction

The path to recovery starts with an individual decision and an individual commitment. The desire to recover and the dedication to make the changes that are necessary cannot be given to you. So self-direction is essential. Self-direction means that you are ultimately in charge of deciding what works best for you, taking into account your unique needs and circumstances. It involves developing an inner authority and the willingness to take responsibility for your own choices and actions.

Questions to Consider

  • What are your individual goals?
  • What specific steps are you currently taking to move toward these goals?
  • What additional steps can you add, and how will you implement these steps?

#2  Individualized and Person-Centered

Recovery is an individualized process; it must be based on each individual’s personal strengths, experiences, needs and cultural/social frameworks. Therefore, any decision-making you do about how to start and/or implement your recovery plan should take into account your individualized needs and preferences.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you have special needs that should be taken into account? (ex: Are you a survivor of trauma? Do you have special needs because of your age? Do your cultural or religious beliefs need to be accounted for?)
  • What barriers or challenges will you need to address because of your unique circumstances?
  • What unique resources do you have as an individual that can be helpful to you in your recovery?

#3  Empowerment

Recovery should never negate your personal empowerment. Even if you enter a program that requires living in a closed environment for a given amount of time, you can still maintain your personal empowerment by being a partner in all aspects of your recovery planning and implementation.

Questions to Consider

  • Are you actively involved in setting both long and short-term goals for your treatment?
  • Is your treatment plan individualized and specific to you, rather than generic and “boilerplate”?
  • Is there agreement between you and your counselor regarding your plan’s goals and expectations?

#4  Holistic

Because your recovery affects your entire life, it needs to be holistic, encompassing other aspects of your life, such as housing needs, employment, education, social networks, and family and community interaction.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you have access to services that can help you manage other aspects of your life that you may need assistance with while in recovery?
  • Do you have active social and family networks that can support you?

#5  Non-Linear

You are probably aware that recovery is not a linear, step-by-step process. Rather, it often has stops and starts and occasional setbacks. It is important that you do not get discouraged if you find that you have gotten “off track.” Simply recognize the need to readjust your strategy and act immediately to do so.

Questions to Consider

  • Are you managing your expectations for your recovery so that you can rebound quickly from a slip-up if necessary?
  • Do you have strategies in place for getting back on track if this becomes necessary?

#6  Strength-Based

A successful recovery plan is strength-based. Recovery involves not only ceasing the usage of substances, it also involves increasing your capacity for resilience so that you can better weather life’s storms. It involves acquiring appropriate coping skills and upgrading your mental and emotional “toolbox.”

Questions to Consider

  • Do you need additional coping skills and positive emotional resources to assist you in your recovery efforts?
  • Are you aware of ways to gain the skills and resources you need?
  • If you need assistance, do you know where to go for help?

#7  Peer Support

Peer support in recovery has been shown to be a valuable asset. Peers can provide wisdom obtained from common experience and offer supportive feedback. They are a source of judgment-free support and understanding that are essential for building confidence and self-esteem.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you have a network of peer support?
  • Do you utilize your network effectively?

#8  Respect

Gaining or re-gaining the respect of others is often a crucial element in the recovery process. Acquiring the acceptance of family, friends, peers and the community goes a long way in re-establishing the recovering person’s self-acceptance and belief in themselves. Stigma or discrimination, on the other hand, undermines the recovering individual’s self-respect.

Questions to Consider

  • Do your behaviors and attitude engender the respect of family, peers and community?
  • If not, or not enough, what steps can you take to encourage respect from others?
  • How can you discourage stigma or discrimination?

#9  Responsibility

Just as self-direction is a key factor in starting and maintaining a recovery lifestyle, self-responsibility is the core mindset that sustains it. Recovery is mostly an “inside” job, requiring you to monitor and manage your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors in ways that support your recovery goals over time.

Questions to Consider

  • Am I consciously and consistently monitoring myself and taking responsibility for my own recovery?
  • Do I manage my thoughts, attitudes and behaviors in ways that support my recovery?
  • Are there any adjustments that I would be wise to make in my attitudes or behaviors?

#10  Hope

Recovery starts with a premise of hope…hope for healing, hope for a better future. Hope is a catalyst and a motivator. It can be self-sustained by improving coping skills and gaining mental and emotional resiliency. It can also be nurtured by having supportive friends, family, peers and community. Hope is essential throughout the recovery process.

Questions to Consider

  • Are you hopeful that your recovery efforts will be fruitful and long-standing?
  • What would give you more hope or sustain your hope into the future?
  • What can you do to acquire and encourage the assistance of others in helping you maintain a hopeful attitude regarding your recovery?


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