How Long Does Recovery Really Take? 

 December 19, 2020

By  Alan Oviatt

A wife asks, “How long do I have to wait before my husband is changed back into the man I married?” A mother is pleased that her son is no longer using, but his behaviors frustrate her, causing the same pain and anger that erupted while he was addicted.

Abstinence from drinking and drug abuse is just the first step in what has become known as “recovery.” While it is a significant first step, there is much more to recovery than the progress witnessed in the first few weeks of sobriety.

The easy part may be gaining the upper hand against addiction’s power, with the most significant improvements taking place in the first 30- 60 days. Researchers believe lingering physical effects of addiction, particularly in the brain, can last for 12-18 months. But the body begins the renewal process soon after the use of drugs and alcohol ends. Good nutrition, exercise, and better lifestyle habits all play an essential role in returning to good health.

Enter “Recovery Capital”

Although addiction recovery is a lifelong process, Access Foundation hopes to increase residents’ chances for long-term success. Length of stay contributes to skill-building, where residents develop characteristics that seem to make people with substance use disorders more resilient. These habits and factors have been termed “Recovery Capital.”

Recovery Capital sounds very academic, but it is not hard to understand. Researchers Granfield and Cloud define it this way:

“The breadth and depth of internal and external resources that can be drawn upon to initiate and sustain recovery from alcohol and other drug problems.”
Recovery capital

The good news is that these “resources” are not something you are born with; they are developed character traits. They are also fluid. They tend to decline during active addiction and increase during sustained recovery.

Recovery Capital comes in four primary flavors – internal factors: human and physical; and external factors: social and cultural.

Sober Living’s role is to halt the decline of these factors and begin their increase through the practical application of daily life skills in a stable environment with others working toward the same goal.

Once a resident emerges from the screening period (the first 30 days), during which their resolve is sorely tested, they enter Early Recovery. During this phase, sobriety is still very vulnerable. Cravings, social pressures, daily life stresses, and a host of other triggers may lead to relapse. It is during this time that the re-learning process begins. In the recovery residence, they develop healthy coping skills and learn how to have fun without drugs or alcohol. They build relationship and problem-solving skills and get to know who they are sober.


White states, “Recovery capital is conceptually linked to natural recovery, solution-focused therapy, strengths-based case management, recovery management, resilience, and protective factors, and the ideas of hardiness, wellness, and global health.” 

There is additional usefulness to this concept, however. The resources, or capital, an individual needs will vary depending on the severity of their substance use disorder and the resources already available to them. For example, if a person has a severe substance use disorder but little recovery capital, that person is more likely to benefit from professional treatment and post-treatment support services. However, an individual with moderate or severe substance use disorder and high recovery capital may require fewer resources to advance through early recovery and reach a sustained recovery. 

Finally, evidence provided by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) reveals that only 35% of those attempting to recover actually achieve sobriety without relapse for 12 months, whereas 66% of those having achieved 12 months continue on to complete five years sober.  

William White says scientific evidence indicates that durability can be reached at 4-5 years of continuous recovery. This means that less than 15% of those who reach that point will re-experience active addiction within their lifetime.

The 5-year recovery benchmark is your goal. Once there, the risk of substance use addiction is similar to the risk of addiction within the general population.

At Access Foundation, we hope to get our residents to that elusive one-year mark. From there, their likelihood of a full recovery is within their grasp.

About the author

Alan has an MBA and is the co-founder of Access Foundation. He has been a content writer for the recovery industry for the past eight years.

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