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Addiction recovery revisited

Addiction recovery revisited

2 September 2011

When it comes to recovery from alcohol and drug dependence, there is a fair bit of misinformation about, an addiction treatment conference in Auckland was told today.

Visiting drug policy expert and one-time “Deputy Drug Czar” to the Obama Administration Professor Tom McLellan said one of the most prevalent myths was that nobody truly recovers – at least not for very long.

“The fact is about half the people who get treatment for serious addiction relapse in the first year. That’s actually the same relapse rate as for other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma or hypertension, and the factors predicting relapse are usually the same – poverty, lack of social support and co-existing mental illness.”

Professor McLellan said most people are not aware they are surrounded by a large number of formerly addicted individuals who are abstinent and functioning well.

“In the US alone there are 20 million former addicts who have been stably in recovery for at least five years. Most of us are just unaware of them because you can no longer tell them apart from anyone else, and very few of those who become and remain sober like to brag about it.”

But Professor McLelllan said there is also a lot of confusion about just what recovery is, and that it is not simply about people “trying to get sober”.

“The consensus definition now used for recovery in the US, Britain and France is ‘a voluntary lifestyle characterised by sobriety, good personal health and citizenship’.

“By this definition, sobriety alone is not enough to qualify. The citizenship aspect also means acting in a responsible manner towards those around you. It is widely agreed those who simply stop drinking or using but do not change their attitudes and behaviours are not likely to remain abstinent for long.”

He said this view does have implications for whether a sober person can be said to be in recovery while continuing to smoke cigarettes.

“Logically we'd have to say no. Why would a definition of recovery emphasising abstinence from drugs of abuse and good personal health allow individuals to use nicotine, the most abused drug in the world?”

However, he said that, while work will definitely take place in the future to reduce or eliminate smoking among individuals in recovery, the consensus groups forming the definition were not yet willing to exclude those who remain addicted to nicotine.

Professor McLellan was speaking at Cutting Edge, an annual nationwide addiction treatment conference, covering alcohol, other drugs, problem gambling and smoking cessation. In 2011 it is being held at the Rendezvous Hotel 1-2 September, with around 400 participants.

For more information about Cutting Edge visit


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