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Is Abstinence from Drugs & Alcohol Enough?

‘Better than well’ as a goal of treatment

The idea of ‘better than well’ in addiction recovery, has been around for a while. I guess people with addiction are never satisfied. When most people get over a sickness, they get back to ‘normal’ and carry on. Shouldn’t ‘well’ be enough for addicts, after so much time being extremely ‘unwell’, or do recovering addicts have some secret that others don’t have, are they dancing to a different tune?

Successful recovery from addiction represents a second chance. But real recovery is a very different thing to “white knuckle” abstinence.

When recovery is achieved through the framework of a 12-step programme, it goes far beyond the mere management of addiction. Through a process of self discovery and change, the addict becomes a better and happier person with a zest for life that probably was not present even before addiction took hold.  

In his book ‘The Road Less Travelled’, the American psychiatrist Scott Peck talks of ‘the blessing of alcoholism’ by which he means that the crisis of alcoholism forces sufferers to address and improve themselves physically, mentally and spiritually and the twelve step fellowships are there to help them do so; those that join become better people – they become ‘better than well’.

Recovery is a process

Such a transformation does not happen quickly and anyone in AA or NA will tell you that recovery never stops, it is a process. Various studies* appear to show that something happens with addicts in their recovery, often at around the five year mark. Before that point, many report feeling ‘less good than well’, confirming the reality of early recovery as a struggle. But in marked contrast, once the first five years are passed, many acquire a greatly enhanced feeling of wellness which surpasses that experienced by the general public.

It is generally recognised that there are five ways to achieving well-being or ‘wellness’:

  • connect
  • be active
  • take notice
  • keep learning and
  • give

All five can be found in a Twelve Step Programme and all one has to do is follow it. Wellness is often reported by those in recovery in the context of social activity and enjoyment of the environment. Visitors often express surprise at the enthusiasm and ‘joie de vivre’ that they see at fellowship meetings and conventions and ask ‘what is their secret?’ It calls to mind the words of Nietzsche:

‘and those that were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music’

Many people in recovery consider themselves blessed indeed.


*Hibbert and Best (2010) Scottish Drugs Recovery Consortium

*White W. (2009) The mobilisation of community resources to support long-term addiction recovery.  – Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment

Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | January 28, 2020