Recovery can mean different things to different people and may depend upon a multitude of factors such as the causes and extent of a person’s problematic drug use, the resources available to help them and their personal priorities. Despite this, it is helpful to have a broad consensus on the meaning of the term. For this reason, in 2008, the UK Drug Policy Commission Recovery Consensus Group brought together experts in the field to discuss the topic in depth. In the report of this meeting they provided a vision statement for recovery as follows:

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.

The group also developed a set of key features of recovery from problematic substance use. These included:

  • Recovery requires the building of aspirations and hope from the drug user, their families and those providing services and support.
  • Recovery may be associated with a number of different types of support and interventions or may occur without any formal external help: no ‘one size fits all’.
  • Recovery is a process, not a single event, and may take time to achieve and effort to maintain.
  • Recovery must be voluntarily-sustained in order to be lasting, although it may be initiated or assisted by interventions within the criminal justice system.
  • Recovery requires control over substance use. Having control means being able to make the choice to use a substance in a way that is not problematic for self, family or society. For many people this will require abstinence from the problem substance or all substances, but for others it may mean abstinence supported by prescribed medication or moderate use of some substances (for example, the occasional alcoholic drink).
  • Recovery is about building a satisfying and meaningful life, as defined by the person themselves, and involves participation in the rights, roles and responsibilities of society. For many this is likely to include being able to participate fully in family life and be able to undertake work in a paid or voluntary capacity.

The UKDPC also acknowledged that there has been a tendency to polarise the debate around recovery and to portray abstinence and maintenance approaches to drug treatment as mutually exclusive, with some holding the view that substitute prescribing is incompatible with recovery. In fact, evidence on treatment effectiveness indicates that a treatment system should be composed of a wide range of different services to meet people’s differing needs around their drug use.

Treatment and recovery in 2017

Commissioning impact on drug treatment
This independent report by the ACMD from September 2017 investigates the impact of commissioning on drug treatment. It looks at: 1) commissioning structures, 2) contracting arrangements and the financial environment and 3)the impact on recovery outcomes for individuals and communities. It finds that funding cuts are the single biggest threat to drug treatment recovery outcomes.