Living with Addiction and Recovery

Catrin Andersson and David Best

Helena Kennedy Centre, Department of Law and Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University

There is now clear and consistent evidence that recovery is a process or a journey that lasts around five years before people can sustain their own recovery without help. There is also a growing body of evidence that recovery is intrinsically social and that key individuals in the person’s life are critical to supporting and encouraging and facilitating change. And we know much of how this happens through a survey of recovery experiences conducted by Faces and Voices of Recovery in 2013 in the US which showed the extent of the recovery journey.

Critical to the recovery process is the family and loved ones- not only may they be witnesses to the descent into substance addiction, they may also bear the brunt of much of the chaos that addiction brings. This may take the form of financial loss, disruption to the family home and the heartache of uncertainty of whether their loved one is safe, in control or even alive. In addition to these various burdens, they will also often experience the exclusion, the stigma, the shame and the isolation that addiction can visit on families.

Yet the family journey has not been well documented in research. Similarly, their experiences have not been served as well by an advocacy movement that has focused primarily (although not exclusively) on the experiences of the person in recovery.

From what we do know, the family also have their own recovery road to travel and this may not match, in chronology or in context, that of the person overcoming their own addiction. This journey may involve a complete reconciliation with the addict in recovery or may necessitate that they move on in their lives independently from the person they love.

But we know very little about this process and there has been a limited opportunity to give a voice to this hidden group. From the perspective of society, families will often bear the costs of addiction and buffer the effects on society by picking up the pieces every time the addict falls over. Yet our research endeavours have not attempted to quantify how this happens and what recovery means for family members.

In the UK, a partnership between the Desistance and Recovery Research Group at Sheffield Hallam University and Adfam, the national UK charity for families of addicts, has been funded by Alcohol Research UK to create an amended version of the Life in Recovery survey that specifically targets the family experience. It has been pilot tested in the UK with a range of family support groups and is now available online until the ends of July at

Families Living with Addiction and Recovery survey

If you want to have your say, and have your story told, and at the same time to contribute to a new body of research on family experiences please complete the survey. This will allow the research team to communicate to families not only that they are not alone on the journey, but also to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there is hope – hope for the addict and hope for the family. We will also summarise the findings and let you know what the study finds.