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What Is Recovery?


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is among the most prevalent psychiatric disorders and is associated with enormous public health costs. Although AUD and other addictive behaviors have been described as chronic relapsing conditions, most individuals who develop AUD will eventually recover. This narrative review provides an overview of definitions of recovery, with a focus on recovery from AUD. The definitions reviewed include those developed by key stakeholder groups, as well as definitions derived from recent quantitative and qualitative studies of individuals who meet criteria for AUD and attempt to resolve their problems with or without treatment or who self-identify as pursuing or achieving recovery. The literature reviewed supports a definition of recovery as an ongoing dynamic process of behavior change characterized by relatively stable improvements in biopsychosocial functioning and purpose in life. The review concludes that definitions of recovery that rely solely on abstinence from alcohol and the absence of AUD symptoms fail to capture the multidimensional and heterogeneous pathways to recovery that are evident among individuals in general population and clinical samples.


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Funding for this initiative was made possible by grant no. 1H79TI083022 from SAMHSA. The views expressed in written conference materials or publications and by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.