What is Recovery

In the treatment of addiction/substance use disorders, there are the terms “relapse” and “recovery.”  And in everyday English, the words have the gist of relapse meaning “a return to a worse condition” and recovery means “returning to a normal state.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Commission (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential.”  The American Society of Addiction Medicine identifies some key components in that definition:

… being honest with myself about what I do and how I feel (humility)
… 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 to 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 the major part of my time and energy.


Relapse in the simplest definition is a return to using the abused substance.  he definition of a drug relapse is a downward spiral into compulsive behavior and addiction. This means a drug relapse does not occur suddenly. There are warning signs and other identifiable factors that typically appear early on. Learning how to identify these symptoms can help you prevent a relapse.


  • Emotional Relapse
  • Mental Relapse
  • Physical Relapse: return to use

In fact, before there is a return to using, there is usually an emotional relapse (fear, sadness, anger, frustration and even a positive emotion like enjoyment) then a mental relapse (return to the way of thinking when someone is using – that expectation of when I use, I will feel better than they feel right now.  Now, these may occur quickly or even over a matter of days.  But almost always if someone is honest, these steps can be traced.  So part of recovery is leaning about these emotional and mental relapse stages so before the physical relapse occurs, the steps can be interrupted and a healthier outcome can be achieved.

Dan Criswell, MD
Duncan Behavioral Health and Addiction

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