What Does Recovery From Addiction Look Like?

August 14, 2019. Article by: Government of B.C.

There is no universal definition for recovery – it’s understood differently by different people. But Opioids, A Survivor’s Guide (PDF), created by people that have experienced addiction first-hand and the BC Centre on Substance Use, describes recovery as: 

…a process of change through which a person improves their health and wellness, lives a self-directed life, and strives to reach their full potential.

Recovery is positive, achievable and sustainable. It can help people with substance use-related challenges build stronger connections with family, friends and community, and lead to more stability and improved quality of life.  

Approaches to recovery 

Everyone’s pathway to healing and recovery is different. People can use many different services – professional treatment, harm reduction, peer groups and other supports can help people heal. Recovery should focus on evidence-based treatment and ongoing support, such as opioid agonist therapy and substance use counselling. 

Abstinence-based programs, or detox, work for some people. However, recovery isn’t as simple as not taking drugs. There may be underlying factors that led a person experiencing addiction to use substances in the first place. These root causes of addiction need to be addressed as part of a recovery journey.

Starting recovery

When starting recovery, it’s important to set realistic goals and expectations. Recovery is not a destination but a journey, and like any journey, there will be bumps in the road.   

The path to recovery can be very difficult and it is important to have support every step of the way. - Opioids, A Survivor’s Guide  

If you or a loved one is considering recovery, the first step is to access treatments and support. 

  • Use the HealthLink BC Service Finder or call 8-1-1 to speak to a health service navigator who can help you find treatment and harm reduction services, as well as peer groups and other supports in your area. 
  • Speak to a doctor or find clinics accepting new patients in your area to learn more about opioid agonist therapy. 

Recovery and relapse 

For people with substance use challenges, relapse is normal. Sadly, because of the stigma – or shame and blame – around relapse, people in recovery often keep relapses to themselves. This is very dangerous. When a person doesn’t use opioids for a while, it lowers their tolerance, making an overdose more likely in the event of a relapse – a risk that is even higher for people in detox. Many deaths across B.C. share this pattern of detox, treatment, recovery, relapse and eventual death by accidental overdose. 

Opioids, a Survivor’s Guide provides some simple dos and don’ts to help people in recovery reduce the risks of overdose if they relapse:

  • Do carry naloxone (the drug that reverses opioid overdoses) and access an overdose prevention site if possible.
  • Do access drug checking services, e.g. fentanyl test strips or FTIR drug checking machine at your local overdose prevention site 
  • Do not go back to your old dose. Start low and go slow – remember you can always use more.
  • Do not use alone. Your life is more important than what others might think about you.

Recovery is a personal and lifelong journey. But with the right treatments, supports and professional guidance, it is possible. 

Learn more about recovery and treatment services in B.C. 

Learn more about opioid agonist therapy (PDF).