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Volunteering and working are central to addiction recovery

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Community-led peer support and volunteering can be more effective in maintaining recovery from drug or alcohol addiction than medical interventions.

That's according to a new survey which lays bare the motivations and mind-sets of people recovering from substance addiction across the UK.

Life In Recovery, the first systematic attempt to capture how people overcome alcohol and drug addiction and maintain their recovery in the UK, while charting what this means to society in terms of reduced costs and burden, is released today (Tuesday 22 September).

Those in long-term recovery, classed as five years or more, will have far less involvement with healthcare services and the criminal justice system, while nearly eight out of 10 have volunteered in community groups since beginning their "recovery journey".

This compares to around four in every ten members of the general public - as surveyed by the Institute of Volunteering - suggesting that people in recovery are almost twice as likely to volunteer as other members of the public.

The study by Sheffield Hallam University also shows how four out of 10 families living with an active user of drugs or alcohol will suffer incidents of domestic violence, while the figure drops to just seven per cent among users in long-term recovery, while positive family activities also increase in recovery.

However, not all of these benefits continue to grow and it is critical that ongoing support is provided for recovery to ensure that stable recovery continues to benefit families and communities.

Professor David Best, who led the UK study on behalf of Hallam's Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, said: "The fundamental message is that people can and do recover, and when they do, they effect a life transformation that is dramatic and has significant positive consequences for their families, communities and society as a whole.

"As people grow in their recovery, they increasingly act as good citizens who contribute, care and work. These are productive and creative people who pay taxes and do innovative and positive things - if society gives them a chance."

The survey of more than 800 people in recovery groups classing themselves as in recovery, recovered, ex-addicts or in medication-assisted recovery also points to a growing usage of social media and mobile phone apps in combating substance abuse and also finds:

  • The impact of recovery on families with marked reductions in children being taken into care and clear net benefits in terms of family reunifications, particularly among those stable in their recovery journeys. Twelve per cent of people in recovery had been reunited with children taken into care as a result of a stable recovery, with huge benefits to society in terms of child well-being and reduced costs to society.
  • The impact of recovery on the economy with 74 per cent of those in recovery reporting that they have remained steadily employed and 70 per cent reporting that they pay taxes - recovery is also associated with debts being paid back and credit ratings restored
  • The impact of recovery on healthwith marked reductions on the burden to the health system through both reduced engagement with chronic and acute healthcare
  • Rates of domestic violence drop from 39 per cent in active addiction to less than seven per cent  in recovery
  • 79.4 per cent of participants reported that they have volunteered in community or civic groups since the start of their recovery journeys

David Best

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But Professor Best issued a warning to the UK's healthcare chiefs saying there is still not enough help for people in short-term or long-term recovery - with a reliance on drugs such as methadone to combat substance abuse.

He said: "The key aspects of recovery are jobs, friends and houses - not medicines and counselling - and the focus for recovery needs to switch even further from the clinic to the community.

"This study highlights the advantages of moving the recovery emphasis away from medical interventions and towards the role community engagement, well-being and support groups can play in securing long-term recovery from drug and substance abuse.

"There is a five-year journey from initially achieving abstinence to what is regarded as stable recovery - and only the first phase is likely to involve clinical services and interventions. The rest of the journey is about communities and about social networks and partnerships that enable people in recovery to achieve all they can.

"Sadly, the majority of so-called recovery services in the UK are delivered by people who 10 years ago were called drug or alcohol workers who have neither the skills nor the mind-set to deliver effective recovery services.

"In fact, attending most current treatment services would, in practice, consolidate lifestyles of welfare dependency."

Notes to editors:

1. Copies of the UK Life In Recovery survey, by David Best, Jamie Irving, Kathy Albertson, Adam Mama-Rudd, Alex Chaggar and Carly Lightowlers are available from the press office. Professor Best and people in long-term recovery are available for interview through the press office.

2. The report is issued to mark National Recovery Month, a global, Government-backed celebration of the people and organisations who work in the areas of treatment and recovery, as well as service users themselves involving city region partners such as Sheffield Alcohol Support Services and Sheffield Addiction Recovery Research Group.

3. To celebrate the research, there will be a free cycle ride, including bike hire, for up to 100 people in recovery and their carers around Derwent Dam on Wednesday 23 September. Contact Jamie Irving at for more details.

4. The Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice is a leading centre for social justice and human rights. It provides a vibrant environment at the cutting edge of legal and criminal justice practice which prepares students for excellence in their chosen professional career.

 For press information: Laurie Harvey in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 2811 or email