Recovery of the Unaffiliated

Natural RecoveryThe culture of recovery in the United States is recognized in popular and professional consciousness through its increasingly elaborate tribal organization. For more than 150 years, individuals seeking mutual support for the resolution of alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems have organized themselves into closed societies.  Recovery mutual aid societies today span an ever-growing menu of 12-Step fellowships as well as a growing network of secular and explicitly religious recovery support alternatives.  References to “the recovery community” that once referred collectively to those in 12-Step recovery now encompass members of a larger world of spiritual, religious, and secular frameworks of recovery and often to one’s affiliation with a particular treatment approach or a particular treatment institution, e.g., membership in an addiction treatment alumni association. 

But what of the unaffiliated—those individuals who have successfully resolved significant AOD problems without participation in addiction treatment or sustained affiliation with any formal recovery mutual aid society? Here’s some of what recent scientific research has revealed about those whose resolution of AOD problems has been described as maturing out, autoremission, self-initiated change, unassisted change, spontaneous remission, de-addiction, self-change, self-managed change, or natural recovery.

 Natural recovery (here defined as recovery unaided by professional treatment or recovery mutual aid affiliation) is the most common pathway for the resolution of AOD problems.

Natural recovery can involve a process of incremental change or an experience of transformative change that is sudden, unplanned, positive, and permanent.

Natural recovery may occur without recovery consciousness, e.g., people who once met but no longer meet diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder but who do not self-identify as a person in recovery, recovering, or recovered.

Natural recovery is often maintained via natural family and social supports without affiliation with other in long-term recovery.

Natural recovery is a more viable pathway for people with shorter and less severe AOD problems; the prevalence of natural recovery declines as problem severity and duration increase.

Natural recovery is more common among those with higher incomes and more stable social and occupational support systems–people with greater recovery capital.

The proliferation of published and online recovery tools and manual-guided self-change protocol may increase the prevalence of natural recovery within local communities and the larger culture.

Addiction treatment and addiction recovery mutual aid organizations have long drawn circles of inclusion embracing those seeking to resolve the most severe, complex, and enduring substance use disorders. Is it time we widened those circles of recovery to include those who have resolved such disorders, but who claim no named club?  Is it time we invited membership in the “recovery community” to those who have no shared founders, literature, slogans, symbols, or ritualized gatherings, yet have survived addiction and composed healthy and fulfilling lives?  Is it time that calls for recovery representation in addiction policy forums or in the governance boards of addiction treatment institutions, as well as calls to meet the needs of the “recovery community,” included this larger population of affected individuals and families? I suspect that time is drawing very near.