What’s life in recovery like in the UK?


We recover, as do our families and our communities.


Professor David Best and a colleagues from Sheffield Hallam University in partnership with Action on Addiction have conducted the first national UK Life in Recovery survey.

The survey was based on similar surveys undertaken in the US and Australia and was successful in getting 802 completed survey responses.

The respondents were almost equally men (53%) and women (47%) with 90% living in England. Interestingly, three quarters of the respondents were aged 40 years or older, perhaps reflecting the time it takes to recover from addiction, but also the fact that 74% survey respondents were primarily dependent on alcohol. Dependent alcohol users tend to enter treatment later than dependent drug users.

The survey is a comprehensive tool which asked people in recovery about their:

  • Relationships, education and employment
  • Health and well-being
  • Primary addiction profile
  • Recovery status
  • Engagement in treatment and mutual aid
  • Finances
  • Family and social life
  • Criminal justice involvement


Some of the findings which I found most interesting were:

  • The average length of time respondents had been addicted was 20.4 years
  • The average length of time this group had been in recovery was 8.3 years
  • Women tended to have shorter addiction “careers” (17.7 vs 22.4 years) and to start their recovery journeys at a younger age (37.2 vs 39.2 years)
  • Almost two thirds of respondents (65%) considered themselves in recovery while 7% saw themselves as having recovered.
  • 70% people had attended at least one 12-step recovery meeting
  • 69% had received specialist treatment
  • 51% had received medication to help with their addiction
  • The increasing use of online recovery resources with a total of 254 people having ever participated in an online recovery group (46 people were actively using SMART Recovery, 33 NA and 29 AA online)
  • 124 individuals had used an addiction recovery app (almost a quarter of those who had ever owned a smartphone)


The authors are recovery advocates and their conclusions focus on the positive consequences of recovery:

  • 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;
  • Rates of domestic violence dropping from 39% in active addiction to less than 7% in recovery;
  • Increased employability with 74% of those in recovery reporting that they have remained steadily employed and 70% reporting that they pay taxes, repay debts and have credit ratings restored during recovery; and
  • Much reduced arrest and prison rates following the start of recovery and increasing disengagement associated with longer recovery duration.

The authors’ final conclusion notes that recovery is not just about stopping negative behaviour; it is also about making a positive contribution and engaging in society:

79.4% of survey participants reported having volunteered in community or civic groups since the start of their recovery journeys.

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