SAMHSA Announces a Working Definition of “Recovery” from Mental and/or Substance Abuse Disorders

On Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced the first working definition of recovery from mental disorders and/or substance abuse disorders.  The working definition is the result of a year-long-effort that began in August 2010 when SAMHSA met with behavioral health leaders and other stakeholders as part of the SAMHSA’s Recovery and Support Strategic Initiative to create a draft definition and principles of recovery.  In the months that followed, SAMHSA continued to work with the behavioral health care community and other stakeholders to review drafts of the working definition and principles of recovery at meetings, conferences, and other venues.

A year later, in August 2011, SAMHSA posted the results of this cumulative effort to its blog. The working definition and principles were posted and opened to comment from the public via the SAMHSA Feedback Forums.  According to SAMHSA, the blog post received “… 259 comments, and the forums had over 1,000 participants, nearly 500 ideas, and over 1,200 comments on the ideas” (SAMHSA, 2011, which were incorporated into the current working definition and principles.

The new working definition of recovery from mental and/or substance abuse disorders is as follows:  “A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”  (SAMHSA, 2011,  This working definition encompasses the essential, common experiences of those recovering from mental and/or substance abuse disorders.  SAMHSA has delineated four major dimensions (i.e. home, health, purpose, and community); and 10 guiding principles that support a life of recovery.  The guiding principles include:

  • Recovery emerges from hope
  • Recovery is person-driven
  • Recovery occurs via many pathways
  • Recovery is holistic
  • Recovery is supported by peers and allies
  • Recovery is supported through relationship and social networks
  • Recovery is culturally-based and influenced
  • Recovery is supported by addressing trauma
  • Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility
  • Recovery is based on respect

For more information on the Recovery Support Strategic Initiative, detailed information about the new working recovery definition, and/or the guiding principles of recovery please visit  To view the full press release from SAMHSA, please visit

About cgraves34

Media Specialist for the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) through Administration for Community Living (ACL) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
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