What is meant by recovery?

Recovery means different things to different people but can generally be thought of as a process of improved physical, psychological, and social well-being and health after having a substance-related problem. It may or may not involve abstinence from that substance.

In January 2021, Dr Day produced the first UK Government Recovery Champion – Annual Report This document gives a helpful and comprehensive overview of the Recovery system in the UK. In it Dr Day states:

The concept of ‘recovery’ involves more than just control over substance use. It requires
better mental and physical health, but just as importantly it involves the development of a
meaningful life. Recovery is a process that often takes time to achieve and effort to
maintain. Medical interventions and professional treatment services only form one part of
the total picture, and I believe that the creation of a ‘Recovery Orientated System of Care’
(ROSC) offers the best chance of helping people move out of addiction. A ROSC involves
an equal partnership between ‘professionals by training’ and ‘professionals by experience’

One of the reports conclusions is that an ideal system of care blends both professional treatment services and peer-led recovery support, i.e. treatment professionals and people with living and lived experience of drug addiction. Lived Experience Recovery Organisations (LEROs) aim to help others through mutual support, community engagement and a commitment to individual and group wellbeing. Unlike professional services, they are not underpinned by established membership bodies or governance and inspection frameworks. You can find out more about LEROs in this write up of a recent interactive online event in which the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organisations (CLERO) identified challenges and opportunities.

Getting help for drug problems

If you need treatment for drug problems, you’re entitled to NHS care in the same way as anyone else. Many people start by approaching their GP who can then refer them into treatment. Treatment may be at the GPs practice or at a local drug and alcohol service. It is always possible to contact the drug service direct, without going through a GP. The Frank website has a directory of Drug treatment services and the Frank drugs helpline (0300 123 6600) can give information on the different types of service available. Private treatment is also available but can be very expensive unless you get a referral through the NHS.

Once you are registered with a service they will talk you through your options and agree a treatment plan with you. You’ll also be given a keyworker, who will support you throughout your treatment.

Treatment types
Treatment depends on personal circumstances and may include a number of different strategies:

Talking therapies
Talking therapies, such as CBT, help you to see how your thoughts and feelings affect your behaviour.

Treatment with medicines
If you’re dependent on heroin or another opioid, you may be offered a substitute drug, such as methadone. This means you can get on with your treatment without having to worry about withdrawing or buying street drugs.

Detoxification (detox)
This is for people who want to stop taking opioids like heroin completely. It helps you to cope with the withdrawal symptoms.

Some people find support groups like Narcotics Anonymous helpful. Your keyworker can tell you where your nearest group is.

Reducing harm
Staff at your local drug service will help reduce the risks associated with your drug-taking. For example, you may be offered testing and treatment for hepatitis or HIV.

Residential rehabilitation
Some people find the best option is to stay in a dedicated service.

Reports on recovery (UK)

Making Rehab work: A  report that identifies how to improve access to residential treatment (2021)
The findings have been influenced by people who use a wide range of treatment services, those with lived experience of residential treatment, commissioners and providers of residential and community-based treatment | Phoenix Futures, UK

SDF Webinar: Options and developments in residential rehabilitation and support – video (2021)
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years over the role of residential rehabilitation and care services for people with a substance use problem. With the recent investment provided by Scottish Government, this webinar explored the nature of the need for residential rehabilitation and care and how services may meet these needs | SDF, UK

Proposed Right to Addiction Recovery (Scotland) Bill (PDF) October 2021
A proposal for a Bill to enable people addicted to drugs and/or alcohol to access the necessary addiction treatment they require. Consultation by Douglas Ross, MSP for Highlands and Islands (Region) | Parliament.Scot, UK

The ‘We Are With You’ survey (2020)
In light of increases in drug related deaths, and some indication of changing patterns in the use of substances, and in the context of government lockdown, this survey bu independent treatment provider, With You, provides data on those hidden and hard to reach populations of individuals, who may be experiencing problems with the use of substances, but do not or cannot access help, support and treatment | With You, UK

“It’s not just about recovery” – The Right Turn Veteran-Specific Recovery Service Evaluation (2017)
Evaluating Specialised support for veterans | With You et al, UK

Lived experience in recovery

Lived experience research as a resource for recovery: a mixed methods study (2020)
Lived experience research is conducted by people who have experience of mental health issues and is therefore better placed than more traditional research to illuminate participants’ experiences. Findings that focus on identifying enablers of recovery from a lived experience perspective have the potential to assist people in their recovery process. However, this lived experience research is often difficult to find, access and interpret. We co-produced user-friendly and engaging resources to disseminate findings from six lived experience research studies | BMC Psychiatry, UK

“You’re all going to hate the word ‘recovery’ by the end of this”: Service users’ views of measuring addiction recovery (2014)
Service users experience recovery as a process and personal journey that is often more about ‘coping’ than ‘cure’. Involving service users in designing measures of recovery can lessen the likelihood that researchers develop assessment tools that use inappropriate, contradictory or objectionable outcomes, and ambiguous and unclear language. People who have experienced drug or alcohol problems can highlight important weaknesses in dominant recovery discourses | DEPP, UK

Lived Experience in New Models of Care for Substance Use Disorder: A Systematic Review of Peer Recovery Support Services and Recovery Coaching (2019)
Peer recovery support services (PRSS) are increasingly being employed in a range of clinical settings to assist individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring psychological disorders. PRSS are peer-driven mentoring, education, and support ministrations delivered by individuals who, because of their own experience with SUD and SUD recovery, are experientially qualified to support peers currently experiencing SUD and associated problems. This systematic review characterizes the existing experimental, quasi-experimental, single- and multi-group prospective and retrospective, and cross-sectional research on PRSS | Frontiers in Psychology, USA

The Lived Experience of Recovery: The Role of Health Work in Addressing the Social Determinants of Mental Health (2020)
Recovery is a policy framework for mental health in Canada. Key challenges to the integration of recovery include a gap in knowledge about the work that people do to promote their health and well-being in the context of living with mental ill health. This study used Photovoice to explore the lived realities of people living with mental ill health and the impact of the social determinants on their recovery process | Research Gate, USA

Updated January 2022