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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder Overview

Currently, there is no agreed upon definition of the term "recovery" within the alcohol treatment literature. The effectiveness of treatment programs is typically evaluated based primarily on assessment of alcohol consumption, or reduction in drinking frequency and problem severity, but several treatment modalities view abstinence from drinking as a requisite criterion for recovery. The recovery process also signifies numerous lifestyle and biological changes (physical health) that are difficult to operationalize. It is critical that researchers and treatment providers develop a formal definition of recovery that has consensus among a wide group of those in recovery as well as those treating it. Thus, it is important to engage in research and clinical efforts that provide a foundation for operational definitions of recovery that reflect this process in order to improve our conceptualization of recovery. The development of more formal definitions of recovery will be of considerable interest to policymakers, who make decisions pertaining to quality of care for AUD services. 

In response, the Treatment, Health Services, and Recovery Branch (THSRB) within the Division of Treatment and Recovery (DTR) at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has developed a formal conceptual and operational definition of recovery for the alcohol treatment and recovery field. On September 20, 2020, NIAAA hosted a virtual roundtable to present the conceptual and operational components of the NIAAA recovery definition, including presentations and discussion from senior-level NIAAA recovery-based researchers focused on critically evaluating the proposed definition. Specific emphasis was placed on conceptualizing and measuring alcohol use and quality of life, remission and the clinical practice challenges associated with defining recovery. 

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