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The Transition House, Inc.

Recovery vs. Abstinence: What's the difference?

Man walking in the woods

Drug and alcohol abuse affects nearly 22 million people in the United States. Did you know that 1 in 7 people will develop an addiction in their lifetime? Though recovery and abstinence are related, there are important differences you need to understand if you or a loved one is seeking substance abuse treatment and looking to achieve long-term recovery. Let’s take a look at some of the similarities and differences in more detail.


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Recovery or Abstinence? Recovery Abstinence
Requires abstinence from addictive substances Yes Yes
Is characterized by the remission of substance use disorder symptoms Yes Yes
Can be achieved in a clinical addiction treatment setting Yes Yes
Is an on-going, lifelong process Yes No
Incorporates strategies to improve health and wellness Yes No
Addresses and treats the underlying causes of addiction, including co-occurring disorders like a mental illness Yes No
Supports a maintained focus and engagement in life Yes No
Is unique to every individual Yes No

Abstinence is just the beginning.

The key component that makes recovery differ from abstinence is that recovery is a process. It begins with abstinence but doesn’t end there. For example, someone struggling with addiction may attend a detox program to stop using addictive substances and achieve abstinence. However, relapse is common. Without making lifestyle changes and receiving support, a person with addiction might relapse several times on their journey to recovery.

Relapse is not a failure. With the right treatment, recovery is possible.

Recovery is a process.

Recovery requires a person to make ongoing changes to their lifestyle or behaviors. In this way, recovery addresses the underlying causes of addiction. This could mean receiving treatment for a co-occurring disorder, like a mental illness, so that both your addiction and mental health are being addressed. It could also mean learning healthy coping strategies so that you are better equipped to face unpleasant emotions or memories without turning to drugs or alcohol.

Recovery also means implementing the tools and support you need to stay focused and engaged in your life. Whether this is finding employment or housing, or joining a support group, addiction recovery is achieved when a person is committed to improving their life beyond abstinence.

Addiction recovery services can help you achieve recovery.

A counseling center that specializes in addiction and mental health services can help you achieve lifelong recovery. They may employ different treatment methods, which can vary depending on your particular case.

Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is the safest and most effective option for recovery. MAT addresses both the addiction and its underlying causes. This is because MAT is a combination of specific addiction medication, like Suboxone or Vivitrol, and behavioral therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

If you are interested in addiction counseling or need to speak with an addiction specialist, contact one of our counseling centers.

If you’re not sure where to begin or you want to learn more about alcohol addiction, substance abuse or opioid dependence, downloading our free eBook, An Introduction to Substance Abuse, is a great place to start.

No matter where you are on your journey to recovery, our caring team at TTHI Counseling Center is ready to help you take the next step.


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