Many Pathways to Recovery Copy

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration‘s (SAMHSA‘s) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) undertook a study (2009) to gain greater perspective on recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs.[i] Its examination of a diverse group of people and the numerous types of approaches used in their recovery process makes clear there is no one method or single pathway to recovery/healing.

Participants listed many terms for what it means to no longer be addicted. These terms allowed them to explain the struggle and the change that occurred in their lives:

Sober Stopped
Recovered Clean and dry
Okay Great
Happy Healed
Self-aware/sense of self-worth Goal-oriented
Enlightened Peaceful
Equilibrium Mature
Changed Balanced
Control Healing
Relaxed Proud
Free Connected

Recovery pathways. In discussing the recovery process, participants in the study mentioned a variety of pathways. An important theme that emerged during the discussions is that most people (78%) have used multiple pathways in their effort to achieve wellness. While some participants (21%) primarily used a single pathway, the large majority of participants used two to five pathways.

  • Natural recovery (no formal treatment)
  • Mutual aid groups, 12-step based programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Mutual aid groups, non-12-step based programs, (e.g., Women for Sobriety, and SMART Recovery)
  • Faith-based recovery
  • Cultural recovery (e.g., traditional Native American sweat lodges)
  • Criminal justice (e.g., drug court)
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Bodywork (e.g., yoga, traditional Chinese medicine, and Addiction Energy Healing)
  • Other therapies (e.g., art or music) and giving back


Complex views of 12-step based programs. This study showed widely differing and complex views on 12-step programs. Because of the widespread availability of these programs, nearly all of the participants had attended a meeting at some point. While nearly half (50%) of participants found 12-step programs essential to their recovery, others have felt excluded by the program, or felt a lack of personal connection with the program and participants.

Each must find the “right” pathway.
One of the most important lessons that emerged is the importance of finding the right pathway or pathways for the individual. Many discussed trying multiple methods to address their addiction, and failing, often several times, before they found the pathway that worked for them. Most participants explained that the right pathway frequently involves participation in both traditional (clinical) and non-traditional services and supports over many years, or, for some individuals, over a lifetime.