The concept of multiple “roads to recovery” (White, 2014) is one that has begun to gain new traction in the current iteration of the large-scale recovery movement in the United States, and worldwide. It is now most commonly cited as multiple “pathways to recovery”, and is deeply rooted in the principles of client self-empowerment, self-efficacy, and motivational interviewing (meeting the client where they are at, promoting advancement through the stages of change model, etc.). Traditionally, as has been discussed in this text, it has been considered that to find yourself in recovery, either emerging or long-term, that one would have to be completely abstinent from all mind-altering substances. While this is true for those that follow an abstinence based mutual-aid peer group (SMART, AA, NA, etc.), it is not true for those that follow alternative “pathways” to find recovery, such as , MAT, Harm Reductionism, etc. How then, if our communities have long considered abstinence and sobriety to equate to recovery, is this possible? A further exploration of an increased capacity for the definition of recovery is needed to answer that question.
Whether we are speaking on those with a substance use disorder, disordered eating, process and behavioral addictions, mental health illness (which often presents as co-occurring disorders, with a secondary of substance use disorder and is the reason it is mentioned here), the notion of recovery goes far past the traditional viewpoint of “sobriety”. Recovery is now largely considered to be a process of empowering individuals to find self-efficacy, and improve their quality of life overall. Even 12-step founders gave a nod to this mentality, as it is explained in the basic text of AA “the big book” that drug and alcohol use were but a manifestation of symptoms, and that relieving that symptom was only a step in the right direction. For ease and clarification, recovery can be defined as “the processes that an individual utilizes to actively cope, seek self-improvement and self-efficacy, and to expand their individual quality of life.”.
Defined in this way, we can then begin to see how the framework of multiple “pathways” to recovery can exist symbiotically with all traditional views of sobriety and abstinence. The key to recovery is in identifying, respecting, and exploring an individual’s truth, and then proceeding to actively engage the individual in their chosen pathway of wellness (recovery). For many in the United States, roughly 17 million, this is not 12-step programs or other mutual aid peer groups. These individuals utilize their own experiences, harm reductionism, and other unreported resources to find recovery. Another large portion of the population, roughly 2.5 million, this is a mutual-aid peer group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which focuses on complete abstinence. Other successful accounts of programs of recovery include medication-assisted therapy, counseling, harm reduction, etc.
The major benefits of this emerging mentality, which invokes respect and empowerment of all individuals regardless of their “truth”, is that all individuals on the spectrum of substance use disorders, and other quality of life concerns, can receive the benefits from an active program of recovery. To often when a shortsighted view of recovery is given (those ascribing to sobriety only), individuals who seek and need assistance are turned away. By expanding the consciousness of our field, we begin to treat humans as humans, giving them access to all aspects of the helping-professions that they inherently have a right to.