The philosophy behind recovery is to provide motivation and hope to those struggling with addiction, and to show them recovery is real. When people go to treatment, the programs they enter are founded on rock-solid principles that give them the tools and support to get and stay sober. These guiding principles of recovery not only help the addict, they also help their loved ones and others in their support system. Moreover, these principles of recovery provide the community at large a deeper understanding of recovery in general.

The following article outlines the main guiding principles of recovery.


Recovery principles

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

Recovery Stems from Hope

Recovery stems from hope

One of the biggest guiding principles of recovery is that it’s real. Recovery provides hope to those who struggle with addiction. Through recovery, people can overcome all barriers and obstacles they encounter in their daily life. Hope is the spark that drives recovery and is kept strong by family, peers, friends, and other supportive of the recovery community.

The belief that recovery is real provides the essential and motivating message of a better future – that people can and do overcome the internal and external challenges, barriers, and obstacles that confront them. Hope is internalized and can be fostered by peers, families, providers, allies, and others. Hope is the catalyst of the recovery process.

Recovery is person-driven: Self-determination and self-direction are the foundations for recovery as individuals define their own life goals and design their unique path(s) towards those goals. Individuals optimize their autonomy and independence to the greatest extent possible by leading, controlling, and exercising choice over the services and supports that assist their recovery and resilience. In so doing, they are empowered and provided the resources to make informed decisions, initiate recovery, build on their strengths, and gain or regain control over their lives.

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Medicine Walks & Hikes

Being immersed in nature during recovery can support healing and holistic wellness. Read more about Medicine Walks & Hikes at HIR.

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Recovery is based on the Self

Another guiding principle of recovery is that it is based on self-determination and initiative. The individual realizes they have unique needs and goals in recovery. As a result, they can search out the services and resources that can best fit those needs and goals. When people are self-directed and in control to make their own informed decisions and initiate their own recovery, it fosters empowerment.

Recovery Has Many Paths

Recovery has many paths

As already stated, each person in recovery has unique needs. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment can and often fails to meet all needs. These approaches can include medication-assisted treatment, individual and group counseling, support meetings, and other approaches. When other pathways to recovery are encouraged, it helps to foster the continued growth needed to sustain recovery for a lifetime.

“It is important to embrace all pathways to recovery.”

Dialogue participant 

Recovery is holistic

One of the most important guiding principles of recovery is the fact that it encompassed the whole of the individual. A successful recovery program integrates and mind, body, spirit and the community at large. In addition to proper drug treatment, those who are in recovery need to practice excellent self-care and have community medical and support resources that can be integrated into their daily lives.

Recovery encompasses an individual’s whole life, including mind, body, spirit, and community. This includes addressing: self-care practices, family, housing, employment, education, clinical treatment for mental disorders and substance use disorders, services and supports, primary healthcare, dental care, complementary and alternative services, faith, spirituality, creativity, social networks, transportation, and community participation. The array of services and supports available should be integrated and coordinated.

Sustaining Recovery Relies on Support

While the recovering addict does the heavy lifting in doing the work to get clean and sober, they can’t do it alone. A huge part in sustaining recovery is the support of family, friends, recovering peers and addiction professionals. These individuals are 100 percent supportive of recovery and provide the encouragement and assistance needed for the newly recovering addict to stay on the path.

Recovery Addresses Trauma

When people abuse drugs and/or alcohol, the use of substances themselves can be seen as a symptom for a deeper issue. For many addicts, unresolved trauma is a common underlying issue that gives birth to their addiction. From sexual and physical abuse to natural disasters and war, trauma is a enormous barrier to the addict in healing and recovering. Drug treatment needs to be trauma-informed to allow addicts to feel physically and emotionally safe.

Recovery Respects Cultural Differences

The uniqueness of an individual’s recovery can also be traced to their cultural beliefs. A person’s values, traditions are key in determining the appropriate recovery pathway. No matter the treatment approach, it needs to be specifically attuned to cultural norms and have the ability to be personalized to an individual’s needs.

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Residential treatment

Hawaii Island Recovery offers residential treatment programming for a minimum of 30 days and up to 90 + days, depending on medical necessity.

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Recovery is supported through relationships and social networks

An important factor in the recovery process is the presence and involvement of people who offer hope, support, and encouragement; and who also suggest strategies and resources for change. Family members, peers, providers, faith groups, community members, and other allies form vital support networks. Through these relationships, people leave unhealthy and/or unfulfilling life roles behind and engage in new roles (e.g., partner, caregiver, friend, student, employee) that lead to a greater sense of belonging, personhood, empowerment, autonomy, social inclusion, and community participation.

Recovery is supported through relationships-and-social-networks

Recovery is culturally-based and influenced

Culture and cultural background is essential element in developing a successful pathway to recovery. Services should be culturally grounded, attuned, sensitive, congruent, and competent, and personalized to meet each individual’s unique needs.

Recovery is supported by addressing trauma: The experience of trauma (such as physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, war, disaster, and others) is often a precursor to or associated with alcohol and drug use, mental health problems, and related issues. Services and supports should be trauma-informed to foster safety (physical and emotional) and trust, as well as promote choice, empowerment, and collaboration.

I gained insight to understand that my problem was unresolved trauma and that that existed before I started using drugs. -Dialogue participant 

Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility

Individuals, families, and communities have strengths and resources that serve as a foundation for recovery. In addition, individuals have a personal responsibility for their own self-care and journeys of recovery. Individuals should be supported in speaking for themselves. Communities have responsibilities to provide opportunities and resources to address discrimination and to foster social inclusion and recovery. Individuals in recovery also have a social responsibility and should have the ability to
join with peers to speak collectively about their strengths, needs, wants, desires, and aspirations.

“…a huge part of getting better does not come from doctors but, comes from peers… 

I am touched by how much peer workers save lives.” -Dialogue participant

Seeking Addiction Help

Recovery is based on respect

Lasting recovery hinges on acceptance by family, friends and society. Pursuing recovery takes great courage, and those in the community need to understand and accept that fact. If a newly recovering addict can develop a strong sense of self-worth and have a solid sense of identity, recovery is meaningful and long-lasting.

Community, systems, and societal acceptance and appreciation for people affected by substance use problems – including protecting their rights and eliminating discrimination – are crucial in achieving recovery. There is a need to acknowledge that taking steps towards recovery may require great courage. Self-acceptance, developing a positive and meaningful sense of identity, and regaining belief in one’s self are particularly important.

“Public truth telling is a form of recovery, especially when combined with social action. Sharing traumatic experiences with others enables victims to reconstruct repressed memory, mourn loss, and master helplessness, which is trauma’s essential insult. And, by facilitating reconnection to ordinary life, the public testimony helps survivors restore basic trust in a just world and overcome feelings of isolation. But the talking cure is predicated on the existence of a community willing to bear witness. ‘Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships,’ writes Judith Herman. ‘It cannot occur in isolation.”