Recovery Achievements (David Eddie, PhD and Bill White)


The Recovery Research Institute’s National Recovery Study (Kelly et al., 2017) explored the experiences of a representative sample of 2,002 U.S. adults who self-reported resolution of an alcohol or other drug problem. A recently published secondary analysis of this survey data (Eddie et al., 2020) examined recovery-related changes across four areas: 1) self-improvement (e.g., changes in educational and employment circumstances), 2) family engagement (e.g., family reunification, financial support of family), 3) civic participation (e.g., volunteering, voting, helping others), and 4) economic participation (e.g., purchasing a car or home).

Major findings from this secondary survey analysis include the following:

*The resolution of an alcohol or other drug (AOD) problem in one’s lifetime is common among U.S. adults (9.1% of the adult population). 

*The resolution of an AOD problem is often accompanied by changes beyond the deceleration or cessation of alcohol and other drug use.

*Eighty percent of adults who have resolved an AOD problem report significant achievements in one or more of the domains of self-improvement, family engagement, civic participation, and economic participation, since resolving their AOD problem.  

*Recovery achievements across the four domains are associated with greater self-esteem, happiness, and overall quality of life.    

*There is a linear, positive relationship between number of recovery achievements and duration of recovery.

*Greater levels of achievement following AOD problem resolution are related to greater addiction severity risk factors (early age of onset of drug use, illicit drug use), greater pre-recovery challenges (minority status, co-occurring psychiatric disorders), higher recovery capital (more education, longer duration of recovery resolution, regular 12-Step involvement), and lower current psychological distress. Regarding the race and ethnicity finding, Black and Hispanic survey respondent’s greater achievements in recovery compared to White/non-Hispanic respondents is a likely product of greater family instability (e.g., racial disparities in loss of parental rights) and economic insecurity (e.g., racial disparities in employment and disposable income) during addiction, with recovery serving as an amplified catalyst of family and economic stability for Black and Hispanics.      

Seen as a whole, early life in recovery surveys and the latest U.S. population survey confirm that increased time in recovery is linked to:

*enhancement of housing stability,

*improvements in family engagement and support,

*educational/occupational achievement,

*debt resolution,

*increased community participation and contribution,

*reductions in domestic disturbance,

*reductions in arrests/imprisonment,

*reduced health care utilization and related health care costs. 

Scientific studies have confirmed what many know from personal experience: Recovery bears fruit far beyond the deceleration or removal of drugs from an otherwise unchanged life.

In the rise of modern addiction treatment in the mid-twentieth century, it was common to have a broad spectrum of ancillary services (e.g., medical, educational, vocational, family support) integrated into addiction treatment. These existed for only a brief period before treatment reimbursement systems forced a narrowing of the service menu. How many more recovery achievements would be possible today if such “ancillary services” were re-integrated into addiction treatment and peer-based recovery support services?


Eddie, D., White, W. L., Vilsaint, C. L., Bergman, B. G., & Kelly, J. F. (2020). Reasons to be cheerful: Personal, civic, and economic achievements after resolving an alcohol or drug problem in the United States population. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, In Press.  

Kelly, J. F., Bergman, B., Hoeppner, B., Vilsaint, C., & White, W. L. (2017) Prevalence, pathways, and predictors of recovery from drug and alcohol problems in the United States Population:  Implications for practice, research, and policy. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 181, 162-169. 

Kelly, J. F., Greene, M. C., & Bergman, B. G. (2018). Beyond abstinence: Changes in indices of quality of life with time in recovery in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 42(4), 770-780.