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Subst Use Misuse. 2016 Jul 28;51(9):1116-29. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2016.1160119. Epub 2016 May 9.

Developing an Experiential Definition of Recovery: Participatory Research With Recovering Substance Abusers From Multiple Pathways.

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a Department of Sociology & Anthropology , George Mason University , Fairfax , Virginia , USA.
b Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute , Emeryville , California , USA.



The What is Recovery? (WIR) study identified specific elements of a recovery definition that people in substance abuse recovery from multiple pathways would endorse.


To explain how participatory research contributed to the development of a comprehensive pool of items defining recovery; and to identify the commonality between the specific items endorsed by participants as defining recovery and the abstract components of recovery found in four important broad recovery definitions.


A four-step, mixed-methods, iterative process was used to develop and pretest items (August 2010 to February 2012). Online survey recruitment (n = 238) was done via email lists of individuals in recovery and electronic advertisements; 54 were selected for in-depth telephone interviews. Analyses using experientially-based and survey research criteria resulted in a revised item pool of 47 refined and specific items. The WIR items were matched with the components of four important definitions.


Recovering participants (1) proposed and validated new items; (2) developed an alternative response category to the Likert; (3) suggested criteria for eliminating items irrelevant to recovery. The matching of WIR items with the components of important abstract definitions revealed extensive commonality.


The WIR items define recovery as ways of being, as a growth and learning process involving internal values and self-awareness with moral dimensions. This is the first wide-scale research identifying specific items defining recovery, which can be used to guide service provision in Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care.


Alcoholics Anonymous; Recovery; experiential; participatory research; quality of life; substance abuse

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