‘Recovery’ is the buzz-word of the moment in drug treatment in Britain. There are ‘Recovery Champions’ and ‘Recovery Access Points’ and you need ‘Recovery Capital’ to help you make it. But what do people mean – and what does the government mean – when they talk about people being in recovery?
As I mentioned in a previous post, which you can read here, when I first started my job as a drug and alcohol trainer with the NHS, attitudes to 12-step fellowships in drug and alcohol services were generally fairly negative. Over the last few years that has changed dramatically, with 12-step meetings being advertised, promoted and even hosted by drug and alcohol services.
But here we hit a problem. Recovery in 12-step terms means abstinence, yet this is not necessarily the only way that recovery can be defined. The UK Drug Policy Commission, a well respected independent, charity funded body whose aim is to stimulate informed, evidence-based debate about drug policy, got together a group of 16 people with various perspectives on recovery, to try to reach a consensus on what constitutes recovery from problematic drug and alcohol use. The ‘vision statement’ they came up with is:
The process of recovery from problematic substance use is characterised by voluntarily-sustained control over substance use which maximises health and wellbeing and participation in the rights, roles and responsibilities of society.
You can read their report here.
As you can see, according to the UKDPC statement, recovery does not necessarily involve abstinence although for me, and for most of the addicts I have got to know over the course of my recovery, ‘voluntarily-sustained control’ is impossible. To me, ‘voluntarily-sustained control’ sounds like the sort of alcohol and drug use that people who are ‘recreational users’ indulge in, drinking or using when they want without problems. For some addicts this may be possible. The problem seems to be that nationally ‘recovery’ is being equated with abstinence and there is anecdotal evidence that some drug and alcohol services are putting pressure on clients who are on methadone or subutex scripts to come off them.
The government issued an interesting report a few years ago called Putting Full Recovery First. You can read it here. With regard to people on substitute prescriptions (methadone, subutex etc.) the report says:
There may be people in receipt of such prescriptions who have jobs, positive family lives and are no longer taking illegal drugs or committing crime. But it is important to utilise such interventions as a bridge to full recovery, not as an end in itself or indefinite replacement of one dependency with another.
Aren’t people who have jobs, positive family lives and are not taking illegal drugs or committing crimes in recovery? And what about if they fit this definition but are using a legal drug such as alcohol? Is that okay?
Just because my recovery involves abstinence I don’t believe that everyone who is in recovery is like me. I have known several individuals who are on methadone scripts for their heroin addiction who I would say are definitely in recovery.
So is there something here about prejudice rather than effective treatment?
Just a thought. Let me know if you agree or disagree.