When a person has not had psychiatric symptoms or used substances for an extended period (typically a year or more), they are said to be in recovery. Being in recovery is not the same thing as being cured, since recovery is nonlinear and symptoms can potentially return after periods of freedom from them. In the sense of substance use, sobriety is also not the same as recovery; sobriety may refer specifically to the act of abstaining from substance use, while recovery may refer to having treated the underlying issues or conditions that contributed to substance use.
Phrasing like “reformed addict” can frame addiction as a crime rather than a medical condition and reduce a person’s whole identity to one aspect of their life experience. Describing someone as “a person who previously used drugs” is more humanizing and specific. These phrases convey that recovery can be a fluid and lifelong process. Similarly, in the context of a mental health condition, the term “recovery” can imply it is a linear process, which can be misleading and obscure that many mental health conditions are chronic.
Some people call themselves “addiction survivors” to convey that they have completely moved on from addiction. The term “recovery” can cover all phases of transition to enduring sobriety, but the word “survivor” is used solely for later stages. Some consider “addiction survivor” to promote a sense of empowerment and triumph. Notice how people identify themselves when deciding whether to use this label in your reporting and if you’re not sure, when possible, ask.
- Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- The Words We Use Matter: Reducing Stigma Through Language (National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment)
Recovery refers to a prolonged period in which a person experiences few to no symptoms. It can be used in both a mental health and substance use context. Phrasing such as “a person who previously used drugs” is more humanizing and specific than terms that appear to sum up a person’s identity and connote judgment, such as “reformed addict.” In the context of a mental health condition, the term “recovery” can imply it is a linear process, which can be misleading and obscure that many mental health conditions are chronic.