News From The Field

Life Achievements Linked to Sustained Recovery in Nationally Representative Survey

In a recent study, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)-funded researchers at the Recovery Research Institute and Chestnut Health Systems found that many individuals in recovery for alcohol and other substance use disorders report more life achievements, such as increased community engagement and enhanced well-being, as their time in recovery increases. Similar to previous studies, achievements were associated with greater measures of self-esteem, happiness, quality of life, and recovery capital (the internal and external resources that promote and sustain recovery), which is thought to be protective against future relapse. By examining a nationally representative U.S. sample of individuals in recovery, this study is a helpful step in characterizing how outcomes beyond remission from an alcohol or other substance use disorder may positively affect an individual’s ability to maintain long-term recovery.

The researchers analyzed data from a subset of participants enrolled in the National Recovery Study, a survey of non-institutionalized U.S. adults that was managed by the same institutes that published the present study. The survey included questions about previous problems with alcohol or other substances, treatment for and recovery from those problems, and life achievements related to self-improvement, family engagement, and civic and economic participation. A total of 2,002 participants were included in the final analyses.

In addition to greater measures of self-esteem, happiness, quality of life, and recovery capital among survey participants, the researchers found that higher education levels and participation in 12-step programs were related to higher numbers of reported achievements, suggesting that these could be factors associated with sustained recovery.

The research findings suggest that despite the stigma and barriers faced by individuals with alcohol or other substance use disorders, they can recover and experience significant life achievements. Although this research provides important information about how personal successes are linked to recovery, the authors note that additional research is needed. For example, since the design included data from only one time point in recovery, future long-term studies querying participants at different points along their recovery journey could give more direct insight into how the progression of personal achievements affects recovery progression and longevity. Future studies could also delve more deeply into other types of personal achievements and establish a broader understanding of how personal success allows for an accumulation of recovery capital to support long-term recovery.

Eddie, D.; White, W.L.; Vilsaint, C.L.; Bergman, B.G.; and Kelly, J.F. Reasons to be cheerful: Personal, civic, and economic achievements after resolving an alcohol or drug problem in the United States population. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors: Journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors 35(4):402–414, 2021. PMID: 323764087