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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Life achievements linked to sustained recovery in nationally representative survey

Research Update

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NIAAA-funded researchers recently found that many individuals in recovery for alcohol and other substance use disorders report life achievements, such as increased community engagement and enhanced well-being, with more achievements on average being reported with increased time in recovery. Similar to previous studies, achievements were associated with greater measures of self-esteem, happiness, quality of life, and recovery capital (the internal and external resources that promote and sustained recovery); these factors are thought to be protective against future relapse. By examining a nationally representative U.S. sample of individuals in recovery, this study is a helpful step in characterizing how outcomes beyond remission from a substance use disorder may positively impact an individual’s ability to maintain long-term recovery.

The researchers analyzed data from a subset of participants who were in recovery from alcohol problems and were enrolled in the National Recovery Study, a survey of non-institutionalized U.S. adults. Researchers assessed recovery by asking participants about previous problems with alcohol; if they had participated in outpatient, inpatient or residential treatment; and if they had attended mutual-help programs regularly. The survey also included other background questions, and about life achievements related to self-improvement, family engagement, and civic and economic participation. A total of 2,002 participants were included in the final analyses.

In addition to greater measures of self-esteem, happiness, quality of life, and recovery capital, the researchers found that higher education levels, as well as participation in 12-step programs were related to higher numbers of reported achievements, suggesting that these could be factors associated with sustained recovery. 

The research findings suggest that despite the stigma and barriers faced by individuals with alcohol and other substance use disorders, they can recover and go on to experience significant life achievements and make valuable contributions to society. While this research provides important information about how personal successes are linked to recovery, there is still much to be learned. For example, since the design included data from only one time point in recovery, future long-term studies querying participants at different points along their recovery journey could give more direct insight into how the progression of personal achievements affects recovery progression and longevity. Future studies could also delve deeper into other types of personal achievements not addressed here, and establish a broader understanding of how personal success allows for an accumulation of recovery capital to support long-term recovery.


Eddie, D.; White, W. L.; Vilsaint, C. L.; et al. Reasons to be cheerful: Personal, civic, and economic achievements after resolving an alcohol or drug problem in the United States population. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors: Journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 10.1037/adb0000689, 2021 Advance online publication. PMID: 323764087

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