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Life in Recovery: Better on All Counts

Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction brings dramatic gains in all areas of life, according to a new landmark survey of people in long-term recovery.

The Life in Recovery Survey shows the positive change reaction that occurs when people get better, says Tom Hill, Director of Programs for “Faces & Voices in Recovery,” a grassroots advocacy movement that sponsored the survey.

“We are happier, are better parents and family members, better workers and employees, pay our taxes and debts, volunteer in our communities and are more engaged and responsible citizens,” Hill says. “And the longer we are in recovery, the better the outcomes.”

The national online survey measured data from 3,228 participants in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. On average, participants had been in active addiction for 18 years and over half had been in recovery for at least 10 years.

Compared to when they had an active addiction, the benefits associated with recovery included:

  • A ten-fold decrease in illegal activities and involvement with the criminal justice system (DWIs, arrest, incarceration, etc.)
  • A 50 percent increase in steady employment
  • A ten-fold decrease in Emergency Room visits
  • A 50 percent increase in participation in family activities
  • A doubling of paying back personal debt and paying bills on time
  • A nearly three-fold increase in volunteering/civic engagement and in planning for the future (i.e., saving for retirement)
  • A four-fold decrease in reports of untreated emotional/mental health problems

“What it says is that people in recovery become contributing, positive role models,” says Dr. Alexandre Laudet, who conducted the survey for Faces & Voices and serves as Director of the Center for the Study of Addictions and Recovery at the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc.

Findings from the survey, published in 2013, emphasize the need for longer-term, well-funded studies on the impact of recovery, Laudet says.

“There’s an enormous amount of research and federal funding that’s devoted to showing the harm of addiction. We know that,” Laudet says. “There is essentially no research on how things change and improve when people initiate and sustain recovery.”

Despite neuroscientific evidence that shows addiction is a chronic brain disease, a deep social stigma remains. Currently addiction affects an estimated 23.2 million Americans, but only about 10 percent are receiving the treatment they need, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“If it was a different disease, people would be up in arms, marching down the street,” Laudet says. “As long as we treat it as a crime or moral weakness, people will die.

“We have to care about addicts. Most people don’t care about an addict until it’s their son or brother or daughter or sister.”

Adding to the stigma, Laudet says, is the negative media exposure on addiction — with scant coverage about the many success stories of recovery.

“The media always features the scandal stories of active addiction and relapse,” Laudet says. “They never highlight the benefits and the joys that people in recovery experience and contribute to society.”

The Life in Recovery Survey reveals that over time, post-addiction life gets even better. For example, participation in family activities increases from 68 percent during active addiction to 95 percent for those in recovery at least 10 years. There’s also a greater number of people in longer recovery who pay taxes, have good credit, further their education, vote, maintain steady employment, and take care of their health.

“It takes time to regain everything that was lost to addiction. All of the benefits increase over time, gradually,” Laudet says.

For more information on the survey findings, and the recovery movement, go to: http://www.facesandvoicesofrecovery.org/

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