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What is Recovery Capital?

Posted byWritten by David

Recovery Capital is a concept that respects the entire presence and experience of a person.

Most definitions of recovery capital — like the one below — shift the focus from the reasons one has addiction to the components that promote recovery. As you’ll come to understand, such pathology versus resiliency gymnastics are not necessary. 

Recovery Capital is the depth and breadth of internal and external resources that can be used by someone to begin and sustain wellness from addiction. (Granfield & Cloud, 1999)

Whether we’re in a state of addiction or in a state of recovery, we’re still pulling from the same social, economic, and environmental components that promote or hinder wellbeing. Recovery, like life for someone not affected by addiction, is an ongoing dialogue with those components. We can best think of recovery capital as a specialized representation of wellbeing. 

Our primary intention here will be to focus on recovery capital as a foundational idea that can be measured, and because it can be measured, it can drive the process for change and reaching goals. 

But where did the idea of recovery capital come from and why is that formation important to how you will work with the Recovery Capital Index as a recovery capital tool?

There are many people who experience some of the same levels of addiction, yet some never go to treatment or therapy and have successful and thriving lives. And some enter a treatment cycle, never get out of that cycle, and linger in addiction for the rest of their life.

Origins. Everything has a beginning.

What makes these people different? Are they inherently different, or is it something external?

Professor William Cloud observed that those who recovered without intervention had more social capital than those who continued to struggle with addiction. This notion of “natural recovery” captured the attention of Professor Cloud along with his colleague, Professor Robert Granfield, while both were at the University of Denver.

Cloud and Granfield conducted a study of natural recovery in the late 1990s. That study specifically sought to understand how a person’s social capital prior to their addiction, through their addiction, and into their recovery supported their overall wellbeing. The conclusion was that lower social capital resulted in more difficulties and less overall live success. It was in their 1999 book titled, Coming Clean: Overcoming Addiction without Treatment, that first used the term “recovery capital”.

The term, however, was first coined over hamburgers in Cloud’s backyard.

“We began to think about overcoming addiction from a social capital perspective. We were in William’s backyard talking about the data, playing with the ideas, pushing the ideas, questioning each other in a Socratic way. We kept saying, ‘It’s more than social capital. There’s a social dimension, a cultural dimension.’ William said, ‘We need a concept like ‘recovery capital.’ It was one of those a-ha moments.”

Key to Granfield and Cloud’s “a-ha moment” was that recovery capital, like social capital, is really ever-present in our world. Sure, if you are experiencing addiction, having recovery capital will help individuals recover better and maintain their recovery longer. But, it also stands that if our communities have high levels of recovery capital, the incidence or effect of addiction in the community should be significantly less. 

Recovery capital remained mostly conceptual for about 10 years. Prolific writers and researchers in addiction recovery continued to play with the idea. David Best and William White started to add definition to the “types of recovery capital.” Granfield and Cloud understood there to be multiple dimensions, but White began to fill in the gaps in 2008 with his recovery capital primer. White then created the “Recovery Capital Scale” or “Assessment of Recovery Capital.” The creation of this self-assessment moved recovery capital from concept to utility. Since 2010, numerous studies have supported the utility of using the Recovery Capital Scale with specific populations and in specific settings. 

While initial utility centered on a strengths or deficit measure of individual recovery capital, David Best and Alexandre Laudet pushed the concept to consider the ripple effects or impact on communities when people recovered. If we have a framework for measuring recovery capital, and we know that recovery capital consists of all the the resources and other social and environmental intangibles, then it’s possible to demonstrate the broader effect on communities and sub-communities. This idea is really crucial if our ultimate goal is to live in communities where addiction simply cannot take root. 

Of course, there’s another effort to mention in the timeline of recovery capital — the Recovery Capital Index. Back in 2013, none of the existing recovery capital scales specifically categorized or mapped the questions to the components or dimensions of recovery capital. This seemed really important in the context of helping individuals navigate the complex web of life. For that reason, the RCI was born.

Recovery capital isn’t ambiguous. It can be broken into parts that direct plans and processes for individual change and self-discovery. It can also aid in supporting focused clinical engagement, organizational performance, community impact, and changes in policy.

“The addiction and recovery field continues to evolve as people deconstruct the process of recovery. What’s common about people that allows them to get off drugs? This question has perplexed researchers for a century.” William Cloud

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