Long-Term Recovery Increases Quality of Life

Receiving successful treatment for an alcohol and drug problem can result in steep increases in physical, psychological, and social well-being, according to the Research Society on Alcoholism.

Alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment and recovery research typically focuses on outcomes such as 'days abstinent.' Yet the degree to which individuals may be functioning better physically, socially and psychologically, how happy they may be, and their levels of self-esteem may be equally important as measures of progress.

Little is known about whether such changes occur, when they may occur, and for whom, as people progress in recovery. This study sought to improve understanding of recovery milestones and points of vulnerability and growth.

Five Measures of Well-Being

Researchers analyzed a national, probability-based, cross-sectional sample of US adults who answered yes to the question "Did you used to have a problem with alcohol or drugs but no longer do?"

Of the original sample of 39,809, the final weighted sample responding positively was 2,002 (60% men, 40% women). Relationships between time in recovery and five measures of well-being – quality of life, happiness, self-esteem, recovery capital, and psychological distress – were examined for two temporal periods: the first 5 years, and the first 40 years, after resolving an AOD problem.

In general, recovery from AOD problems was associated with dynamic improvements in indices of well-being. This was the case during the first five-year span of time, with the exception of the first year, where self-esteem and happiness initially decreased before improving.

Steep Decline in Distress

Over the first six years, there were initially steep increases in indices of well-being – as well as steep drops in distress – followed by shallower increases later.

The authors noted that during early recovery, women, mixed race/Native American groups, and those suffering with opioid- and stimulant-related problems faced ongoing challenges in well-being that suggest a greater need for assistance.

Source: Kelly JF, et al "Beyond Abstinence: Changes in Indices of Quality of Life with Time in Recovery in a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. Adults." Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research Feb. 23, 2018.

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