Whether addicts should use ‘recovering’ or ‘recovered’ is frequently debated. But which is the correct choice? Does it even matter?

In the last decade or so we have seen a huge increase in the amount of programmes that have been developed for addiction treatment. A number of different terminologies have developed as a direct result of these diverse treatment approaches, and although these differences may only be slight, they do show us the core ways in which the different recovery programmes view addiction and the recovery process.

Recovered Addict vs. Recovering Addict

One of the most disputed and debated topics with regards to terminology is in the words used to describe addicts who have stopped drinking or taking drugs. Many programmes, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, advocate a ‘total abstinence’ approach for treating addiction. This particular substance abuse recovery programme uses the terminology “recovering addict” to refer to the individuals in the programme.

On the other side of the spectrum, some drug and alcohol abuse programmes describe a person who no longer drinks or takes drugs as a “recovered addict”.

What is the Deal? Recovered… Recovering… They are Pretty Much the Same, are They Not?

There are many people who argue that the words used in recovery are not important, and that the most imperative fact is that people are no longer drinking or taking drugs. However, other people argue that the words we use to describe ourselves are critical as they clarify how we see the world around us, and that how we define ourselves as addicts will have a direct result on our behaviour.

At The Cabin Chiang Mai, our programme encompasses the 12 Steps along with psychotherapies such as CBT and Mind Mapping, and we treat alcoholism and drug addiction as chronic diseases that always stand a chance of relapse. Thus, we choose to use the term “recovering addict” – much in the same sense that someone with breast cancer can be in remission, but doctors hesitate to use the word ‘cured’ as cancer has a high rate of returning in years to come.

That being said, however, we also believe that a client in substance abuse recovery can choose the label that they feel fits them the best, or not label themselves at all if that is what helps. The importance is not on the label itself, but on the mindset and comfort of the person in question.

Using the Term “Recovered Addict”

There are several recovery programmes, such as Rational Recovery, that use the terminology “Recovered Addict” to describe a person who has been through their recovery – and they claim that this has several advantages, as found below:

  • This term signifies to the individual that their time of substance abuse and addiction is over and they are able to start rebuilding their lives from a clean slate.
  • It forces a sense of responsibility on the individual, as many of the problems that they are experiencing can no longer be blamed on drug addiction or alcohol abuse, and they therefore have to take charge and deal with the issues that they are facing.
  • It can be empowering to the person using it, as they are able to separate their time of addiction from their new clean lifestyle.

And while that may benefit some, there are definitely some disadvantages as well:

  • The word ‘recovered’ may fool the addict into believing that they will be able to drink again in the future, and that their problem is gone
  • It may stop people from putting the necessary effort into maintaining their newly achieved recovery and way of life, as they believe they are recovered and can go back to normal.
  • If the individual believes that they are fully cured, then they may not watch out for or recognise common addiction relapse triggers and fall back into addiction.
  • The word “recovered” gives the person a false sense of overconfidence that is unhealthy in recovery.

Using the Term “Recovering Addict”

Addiction treatment centres such as The Cabin Chiang Mai, and all of its affiliate centres, believe that the best term to use for an individual who has stopped drinking or taking drugs, is “recovering addict”

There are many benefits to using the term “recovering addict”, as seen below:

  • This terminology acts as a reminder to those in recovery that they will never be able to drink or use normally again.
  • “Recovering addict” suggests that there is still work to be done everyday and it makes people strive to keep their recovery in check.
  • It gives a sense of belonging to some people, joining a group of other recovering addicts that will give them a sense of belonging.
  • People that believe addiction is a disease that has to be worked on every day are more likely to reach out and help people going through the same process.

However like most things, there are also a few negative arguments to the use of “recovering addict”:

  • People who use the term “recovering addict” may develop a tendency to blame their ongoing disease or addiction for all their problems, when may actually stem from everyday life.
  • It may create a divide between recovering addicts and people who have never been addicts. The constant work of being in recovery may prompt individuals into them and us situations, where they believe people who have never been addicts can never understand them.
  • It does not create a clear boundary of past and present and therefore the addict may not get a sense of achievement or empowerment as they believe that will never be fully recovered.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to each term,(if that is how you want to label them). But the freedom of choice between the two lies completely with the person themselves, and the most imperative thing is that it makes them feel comfortable, confident and able to stick to their addiction programme every single day. So let us not get stuck on labels. Instead, use your energy to focus on making it through another day sober. Another day recovered.

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