The first nationwide survey of people in recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs finds their lives steadily improve in areas from employment to family life to community involvement. The online survey, released by the advocacy group Faces & Voices of Recovery, attempts to measure and quantify the effects of recovery over time.
“We found recovery has tangible benefits, including decreases in costly emergency room visits and in engagement in the criminal justice system,” says Pat Taylor, Executive Director of Faces & Voices. “Investing in recovery makes sense and benefits everyone. It’s time to end discriminatory barriers and ensure access to a full range of health care and other services for people in and seeking recovery.”
The survey found that compared with when they were actively addicted, people in recovery experienced a 10-fold decrease in involvement with the criminal justice system and use of emergency departments, and a 50 percent increase in participation in family activities and in paying taxes.
People in recovery report they are much more likely to vote, obtain health insurance, hold a steady job, further their education or start their own business. They are much less likely to be involved in domestic violence or have untreated emotional or mental health problems, compared with when they were actively addicted.
“Many of the approximately 23 million Americans with a drug or alcohol addiction and their families are hopeless about their chances for recovery—this survey documents the fact that people get better,” says Alexandre Laudet, PhD. She is Director of the Center for the Study of Addictions and Recovery at the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc., and developed, conducted and analyzed the survey. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and provides hope for a better life.”
The survey also found addiction takes a heavy toll on both individuals and the country as a whole, Taylor notes. Half of respondents said they had been fired or suspended once or more during their active addiction. Half said they had been arrested at least once, and one-third had been incarcerated at least once.
Participants were asked to answer questions about when they had been in active addiction, and since they entered recovery. The researchers then were able to examine experiences at different phases of recovery: less than three years, three to 10 years, and 10 years or more. The survey found as recovery progresses, people’s lives improved in every area. For example, they increasingly take care of their health, eat better, exercise more and go to the dentist. Rates of employment, participation in family activities, returning to school or training and paying taxes all gradually increase as a person spends more time in recovery. These improvements continue over time as recovery is maintained.
The survey was conducted over two months, and included 3,228 participants who learned about it through the Faces & Voices website, as well as other social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They tended to be white, employed and college-educated. Dr. Laudet acknowledges that while the survey respondents are not representative of the recovery community as a whole, the findings are consistent with previous, locally-based, longer-term recovery studies. “There needs to be proper funding to do a scientifically rigorous study that includes a broad, diverse sample of people in recovery, using various recruiting strategies,” she said. “Only then can we hope to recruit truly representative samples of the recovery community.”
Taylor says the group’s goal is to demonstrate to the public and to policy makers that addiction is extremely costly, people can and do recover and that investing in recovery benefits individuals, their families and the nation in many ways, including economically. There are more than 23 million Americans in recovery. Faces & Voices is also using the survey results to underscore the need for removing discriminatory barriers to recovery. “So many people with addiction become involved in the criminal justice system, which affects the rest of their lives,” she says. “They face barriers in employment, voting, eligibility for housing and government benefits. It makes it very difficult for them to get their lives back on track.”
Dr. Laudet hopes the survey will encourage people in recovery to be proud of their accomplishments. “Because of the anonymity that many people in the recovery community have chosen, there are few role models of recovery,” she says. “This survey shows people in recovery are like everyone else. They are working—they are your colleague, your neighbor, the parents of your kids’ friends. This shows they can function at least as well as everyone else. They are doing something extraordinary, and can become role models for others. We need to celebrate them.”