Why recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is not just achievable for the least dependent

Posted in: Alcohol, Drugs by John Richmond on 29 April 2013
Tagged with: Delphi Medical

This blog, the fifth in our series on service concerns within drug and alcohol recovery, addresses the misconception that recovery happens for very few people with severe dependency problems.

In society there can be concern that recovery is a rarity for those with major addictions. Indeed, if this is the general consensus the merits of recovery are reasonably called into question. Recovery from addiction is certainly a realistic goal, but is this only true for a minority of people confronting their substance misuse?

Our response distinguishes widely accepted 'truths' from evidenced recovery:

To say that recovery happens for only a few is a self-fulfilling prophecy
There exists a tendency in mental health literature and society in general to depict those who have recovered from diagnosed dependency as having had less severe forms of the illness, to have more resources available to them than others of to live in communities more tolerant of their disability: described in 1984 by Cohen and Cohen as the 'clinician's illusion'.

It's undeniable - patients do recover
While it is important to question and interrogate existing services and structures so that these might continue to develop and improve, instances where treatment is successful must also be acknowledged. Between 2006 and 2012, drug treatment completions almost tripled in England and Wales, and it's a declining minority who make no improvement.

Consider, too, that assumptions inform a general health agenda, and that misconceptions exist within services just as they exists outside of them. Misconceptions about the possibility of recovery only being available to the few is a seditious thought process that undermines an individual's chances of recovery. We need to recognise and keep reminding ourselves that in the context of an ability to make self-determining decisions, recovery is possible for the vast majority of patients.


This series refers to 'A practical Guide to Recovery Orientated Practice' by Davidson et al, published by Oxford University Press 2009.