How to Measure Addiction Recovery? Incorporating Perspectives of Individuals with Lived Experience


Recovery from addiction is a complex phenomenon. Without a clear and measureable definition, its ambiguity risks hindering the advancement of recovery-oriented practice and research. The purpose of this study was twofold: (1) understand the meaning of recovery from the perspective of individuals with lived experience and (2) identify measurement domains to inform the development of a recovery monitoring system. We conducted five semi-structured focus groups and two interviews with individuals 18 years and older who completed an addiction treatment program and were enrolled in aftercare. Participants were asked questions about how they personally defined “successful” recovery. Data were analyzed using a general inductive approach through independent parallel coding. We explored emergent themes including the following: Recovery is a process; abstinence is an important aspect of recovery, but not sufficient; recovery is multidimensional; and, recovery requires ongoing commitment. This study identified measurable recovery-oriented outcomes and methodological considerations to inform future recovery monitoring systems.

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We thank Kayla Deroux and Kathryn Junkin for their assistance with recruitment, data collection, transcription, and preliminary data coding. Special thanks to program staff for their support and effort facilitating recruitment, and to participants for sharing their insights on and experiences in recovery.


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mary Jean Costello.

Ethics declarations

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (Regional Centre for Excellence in Ethics, Guelph, Ontario, Canada) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000 (5).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare the following potential conflict of interest: Homewood Research Institute is an independent charitable organization funded through a variety of sources including community stakeholders, corporations, private foundations, and philanthropic support from the Schlegel family. The Schlegel family owns Homewood Health.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all patients prior to being included in the study.

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Costello, M.J., Sousa, S., Ropp, C. et al. How to Measure Addiction Recovery? Incorporating Perspectives of Individuals with Lived Experience. Int J Ment Health Addiction 18, 599–612 (2020).

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  • Addiction
  • Substance use
  • Alcohol
  • Health outcomes
  • Recovery