Recovery Capital

Recovery Capital

Recovery Capital is a concept that’s changing the recovery landscape across Canada.

Until now, research in the field of substance abuse has been mostly focused on the pathology of addiction, with the aim to understand why individuals become addicted in the first place. Are they genetically predisposed? Did they experience trauma or abuse? Was it the social settings they were exposed to?

Researchers have been asking questions like these about the underlying causes of addiction for years. While there is value in studying these trends, what the answers haven’t been able to provide is any connection to predicting outcomes of recovery. The reality is that any one of these factors, along with a myriad of others or a combination of many, can lead to the onset of addiction.

However, the addictions community has recently undergone a major shift in thought, moving from a pathology based focus, to one that focuses on recovery. What resources does it take to achieve recovery? What are the patterns and stages in long-term recovery? And how can different factors work together to give individuals the tools they need to maintain abstinence?

These types of questions represent a new way of thinking that is leading to greater outcomes and understanding of this tragic epidemic affecting countless Canadians. This new outlook calls for a deeper understanding of all the different resources and networks of support it takes to achieve an end goal of an alcohol or drug-free lifestyle as an active and contributing member of society – in what has become known as the concept of recovery capital.

What is recovery capital and how is it changing the addictions treatment landscape? [1]

Simply put, recovery capital is the internal and external resources needed for an individual to not only initiate, but maintain recovery from substance abuse. At the root of this concept is the acknowledgement that recovery is an individual journey and each person requires a different level of support and responds to different types of resources to achieve that goal.

Recovery capital can be broken into four different types: physical, human, family/social and community.

  • Physical capital includes all the concrete elements that it takes to build a life, including health, finances, insurance and access to things like shelter, clothing, food and transportation.

  • Human capital refers to personality traits, values, knowledge, self-awareness, self-esteem, outlook, sense of meaning in life and interpersonal skills.

  • Family/social capital is all about the relationships, both family, friends and otherwise, that positively contribute to the recovery process.

  • Finally, community capital is about the general outlook on recovery in society, meaning the attitudes, policies and resources in place and readily available to promote recovery, including a full continuum of local recovery community support institutions.

Recovery capital is built on the idea that addiction treatment must encompass more than simply withdrawal or intervention – but rather by developing and strengthening access to each of these four spheres.

Incorporating the idea of recovery capital within addiction treatment calls for the recovery journey to start with asking which resources need to be made available to support the long-term recovery of each person and this will be based on their unique background, needs and personal experiences. Then, the creation of a comprehensive treatment plan that engages all of the four spheres of recovery capital and can be accessed on an ongoing basis.

[1] White, W. & Cloud, W. (2008). Recovery capital: A primer for addictions professionals.

Our first article on this topic was an excellent one written by Allen Berger and posted in the summer of 2014. You can read it here: Recovery Capital.

6 Responses

  1. Thomas B. says:

    What a wonderfully succinct article which accentuates the positive instead of staring at the negative. Thanks Roger for posting it.

  2. Bob F. says:

    Recognition of the factors characterizing Recovery Capital is an important advance in creating and sustaining successful healing from substance abuse, as it provides the capacity to create personalized recovery plans.

    After reading this post, though, I was reminded of a question that I have had for years and have never been able to find an answer to: Why is it that some addicts are completely unsuccessful in finding recovery despite having access to the Program and to Recovery Capital? In the simplest of terms, it is the classic scenario of leading a horse to water but not being able to make it drink. What has been know forever is that an addict has to want to want to stop drinking/using or no help will help. So, my question is: what is that makes some alcoholics/addicts want to stop using and others not despite having hit bottom over and over again. This is, I think, the most important unanswered question in substance abuse treatment.

    Bob F.
    Tucson, AZ U.S.A.

    • life-j says:

      This is why what I have always loved those stories where people talk about their moment of clarity, like the one where a person is out on a thousand mile drunken trip with a few cases in the passenger seat, and suddenly pulls over to the side of the road saying to themselves, I have to stop this, and turns around, goes back home, and goes to an AA meeting, and stays sober. My own moment of clarity was similar to that, and I have never been able to explain it. I can see why people start dragging a god into it, because it is so unexplainable. We seem to have this need to feel that we understand, and any explanation, sensible or not seems better to most people than no explanation at all. Personally I prefer to just remain in awe over getting a god involved, but it would be nice to someday understand what happens. Maybe we should write a book about it for starters, it might help us figure it out, we could call it “Moments of Clarity”. Who would like to organize it?

  3. Steve B says:

    I had plenty of recovery capital during the 19 years that I drank (from age 17 to age 37), but that didn’t keep me from drinking. When I quit drinking, I relied on the support of fellow AA members. I’ve been sober for 38 years now. I’ve been losing interest in AA for some time now. When I go to meetings, maybe once or twice a month, I tend to read news articles on the phone while How It Works is read aloud, and I take little interest in what’s said at the meetings. I do not feel like drinking, and attending the meetings doesn’t seem to change how I feel or how I think. I do not work the AA steps except in a very general way, in that I try to be nice and to exert control over my emotions. I enjoy the company of people outside the program more than I do of people in the program, who often seem to me to act like robots spouting AA cliches. I am sorry to seem so negative about AA, but this where I am right now. And, at 75, my life’s reasonably good. I go to the gym a lot, go dancing, have a girlfriend, and read.

  4. Eric L says:

    As someone who got sober/clean in AA/NA but doesn’t attend meetings anymore because of the self-perpetuating dogmatisms that circulate there, I find this post useful. Sustainability is an important concept for people in recovery, and this article posits some important criteria for establishing it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Eric L says:

    Hi Bob,

    Desire to quit is not required, at least initially. Many people have gotten sober through involuntary rehab and remained sober after being released.

    By forcing the desire to quit issue one makes it seem like addiction is wholly an individual problem, which it isn’t.

    This kind of thinking is rampant in AA. When someone succeeds, credit goes to the program and/or God, but when someone does not, blame or responsibility laid on the individual. Basically, 12 step programs, like AA, have this mentality built into the very fabric of their societies.

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