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Communities of Recovery

November 20, 2008 by Emily Battaglia 

Communities of recovery are large networks of people, organizations, activities, and movements in which support groups and other self-help programs are embedded.

Ideally, they work in collaboration with traditional addiction treatment service providers (government or private treatment clinics), but they are not the same thing. Communities of recovery are made up primarily of people who have gone through recovery themselves and their supporters who wish to help others find the same healing. Communities of recovery may include diverse cultural practices and beliefs, perhaps more so than government agencies and private clinics.

Recovery communities play an important role in healing individual substance abusers because they provide a real-life context, outside of the clinic or formal treatment facility, for sober living. Communities of recovery provide informal supports for recovery including self-help groups, information sources, and cultural activities.

Modern addiction treatment methods and a community-based treatment context came into being in the 1960s and 1970s, largely as the result of grass-roots movements. These movements promoted client and family voice in the recovery process and implemented this through “representation of recovered and recovering people and their families on agency boards and advisory committees, recruitment of staff from local communities of recovery, vibrant recovery volunteer programs, and regular meetings between the treatment agency and the service committees of local recovery support fellowships.”

However, in the 1980s, due to “the processes of professionalization, industrialization and commercialization” most formal treatment facilities abandoned their grass-roots, community-based traditions and began functioning more like corporations. These treatment providers were less dependent on local funding and less connected to local communities. As a result of this transformation, the consumers of substance abuse services lost a crucial component of successful recovery – connection to a community of recovery.

In addition, the 1980s and 1990s saw a “restigmatization, demedicalization and recriminalization/penalization” of substance abuse problems. Drug abusers began to be treated by government more as criminals than as individuals suffering from a disease. This had the dual effect of alienating drug users, even recovered drug users, from mainstream society and condemning them from ever achieving social redemption.

Within the past 10 years, however, the concept of recovery has re-emerged within the substance abuse treatment arena. Two movements have been at the forefront of this re-emergence. The first, “the renewal treatment” movement, has been propagated by direct treatment service providers. It promotes “reconnecting treatment to the process of long-term recovery and rebuilding relationships between treatment organizations, local communities and local recovery support groups.”

The second movement, led by a number of research and advocacy groups across the United States, is the “new recovery advocacy movement.” The goals of this movement include “reaffirming the reality of long-term addiction recovery, celebrating the legitimacy of multiple pathways of recovery, enhancing variety, availability and quality of local/regional treatment and recovery support services and transforming existing businesses into ‘recovery-oriented systems of care.’”

As a result of these two movements, treatment providers are beginning to reconnect with communities of recovery in many ways. Addiction counselors are placing new emphasis and what happens before and after formal treatment and how these things affect long-term recovery. Plans for treatment are being reinvented as plans for recovery, and these plans are being created in collaboration with treatment consumers and their families.

Treatment providers are also recognizing the impact of physical, social, and cultural influences on long-term recovery. Many providers are implementing peer-based supports including peer recovery coaches, mentors, and family advocates. Treatment providers, including individuals who specialize in medical, psychological, social, and functional (employment services, for example) aspects of recovery as well as peer advocates, are developing interdisciplinary teams to address the needs of each individual in recovery. Finally, formal treatment providers are working to actively link recovering individuals to communities of recovery so that these communities can serve as ongoing sources of support when formal treatment has ended.

Reference: Kurtz, Ernest, Ph.D. and White, William, M.A. (2006) Linking Addiction Treatment & Communities of Recovery: A Primer for Addiction Counselors and Recovery Coaches. The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. Retrieved on November 19, 2008 from http://www.facesandvoicesofrecovery.org/pdf/White/recovery_monograph_06.pdf.

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