What exactly makes up the “recovery community”? How many people have overcome an alcohol or drug use problem? Survey results that were released this week provide an answer. But is it the only answer?
The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and The Partnership at Drugfree.org commissioned a 2011 telephone survey in which 10% of respondents answered yes to this survey question: “Did you once have a problem with drugs or alcohol, but no longer do?”
That would suggest that 23.5 million adults in the U.S. “are overcoming an involvement with drugs or alcohol that they once considered to be problematic,” says a statement from the survey sponsors. Yet does that mean that 23.5 million adults consider themselves to be “in recovery”? Perhaps not.
Had the survey, which was conducted by Opinion Research Corp., asked, “Are you in recovery from a drug or alcohol problem?”, would the results have looked different? Since some view the term “in recovery” to suggest that the individual received professional treatment or some other formal support, it could be the case that some individuals who stopped problematic alcohol or drug use without any of these structured interventions would say they were not in recovery.
It will be fascinating to see how professionals interpret the findings of this survey. Ironically, even though the survey did not ask about “recovery” by name, the headline of the news release from the state agency and the Partnership stated, “Ten Percent of American Adults Report Being in Recovery from Substance Abuse or Addiction.” There’s a use of the terms “recovery” and “addiction,” based on a survey question that used neither term.
This is not to say that these findings do not have informative value, particularly given that no individual or organization to this point has been able to quantify definitively the size of the recovery community. Deni Carise, PhD, chief clinical officer at Phoenix House, believes the way the question was posed gives the survey results additional validity.