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By the numbers: Public survey quantifies recovery's impacts

May 1, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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For the addicted individual who enters recovery, some life changes manifest quickly while others might take years to surface. But in the aggregate, these changes carry an enormous impact for individuals and all of society, and for the first time a national organization has attempted to launch the discussion of how substantial these impacts actually are.

Faces & Voices of Recovery on April 25 released results of what it calls the first nationwide survey of persons in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. The online survey of more than 32,000 participants includes some staggering numbers about both addiction’s costs and recovery’s payoff. For example:

·        22% of respondents said they frequently used hospital emergency rooms while in active addiction; only 3% said that remained the case when they were in recovery.

·        53% of respondents had been arrested at least once during their life in addiction. But in recovery, criminal justice involvement decreased tenfold.

·        Half of respondents said their time in addiction included the experience of being fired or suspended from work. In recovery, 83% of respondents said they were steadily employed and 28% had started their own business.

Faces & Voices’ executive director, Pat Taylor, says the survey was designed not to stand as the quintessential piece of research on this topic, but to serve to encourage more much-needed inquiry into what recovery means to individuals and society.

In an interview with Addiction Professional, Taylor said she would like to see a more robust recovery research agenda, but she then corrected herself, adding that her use of the term “more robust” would wrongly suggest that there actually has been a recovery research agenda at all.

“The genesis of this was a couple of years ago, with our public policy committee,” says Taylor. “We’ve been arguing for a recovery research agenda at [the National Institute on Drug Abuse] and the [National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism].”

Faces & Voices’ survey not only addressed the broad-based impacts of entering a life in recovery, but it also measured the recovery experience at different stages: less than 3 years out; between 3 and 10 years in recovery, and more than 10 years out. “It takes time for people to get well,” says Taylor. “It doesn’t all happen the minute they stop using alcohol or taking drugs.”

However, some changes do occur almost immediately. “It’s interesting how really quickly people engage in exercise, start going to the dentist, change their eating habits,” Taylor says. Other changes related to community involvement may develop more gradually.

The survey shows marked improvements from the addicted to the recovering period in life domains that have not been fully explored in research to this point, from volunteerism to participation in family activities.

Taylor says some service providers and advocates have said since the survey’s release that the results could serve as benchmarks against which treatment centers could broadly evaluate their clients’ progress in recovery. On another level, she would like the results to help make the case for an end to discriminatory policies and practices toward those with an addiction history in areas such as employment and housing.

A series of policy recommendations issued by Faces & Voices in conjunction with the survey results concludes with a strong call for a research program on behalf of the more than 23 million Americans in recovery. The recommendation states, “A recovery-oriented, recovery management-focused research and translation agenda will provide the recovery community, policy makers, service systems, clinicians, funders, and individuals and families still struggling with addiction long overdue information on effective strategies for finding new lives, free from addiction to alcohol and other drugs.”

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