Recovery capital and capital

blindjusticeartFrom the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs second report of the recovery committee [emphasis mine]:

…our optimism about recovery should be tempered. Evidence suggests that different groups are more or less likely to achieve recovery outcomes. For some people, with high levels of recovery capital (e.g. good education, secure positive relationships, a job), recovery may be easier. For others, with little recovery capital or dependent on some types of drugs (especially heroin), recovery can be much more difficult and many will not be able to achieve substantial recovery outcomes.

It’s great that people are discussing recovery and looking at outcomes, but I have a few important concerns.

At what point does recovery capital become a proxy for class?

I’m increasingly concerned that recovery capital is becoming a proxy for social class. Whenever I discuss health professional outcomes, the typical response is something like, “Yeah, well, they have a lot more recovery capital than most opiate addicts.” The implication is that health professionals (and people like them) are capable of achieving drug-free full recovery while other opiate addicts are not. This is particularly troubling as maintenance becomes the de facto treatment for opiate addiction and significant financial resources become more important for accessing drug-free treatment of adequate duration and intensity. (Like health professionals get.)

This question brings John Rawls and his “original position” to mind.

In the original position, the parties select principles that will determine the basic structure of the society they will live in. This choice is made from behind a veil of ignorance, which would deprive participants of information about their particular characteristics: his or her ethnicity, social status, gender and, crucially, Conception of the Good (an individual’s idea of how to lead a good life). This forces participants to select principles impartially and rationally.

We have a situation where the experts provide one kind of treatment to their peers and another kind of treatment to the rest of their patients. If these experts had to assume the original position and operate from behind the veil of ignorance–if they were to be reborn an addict of unknown class, race, gender, economic status, etc–what would they want the de facto treatment to be?

If it’s not maintenance, then we have a social justice problem.

Evidence for what?

The other important question concerns the evidence. I have several questions about discussions about evidence.

6 thoughts on “Recovery capital and capital

  1. Thanks for sending me this, Jim. I am passing it on to several of my colleagues and friends. I have a PowerPoint presentation on recovery capital I will e-mail you that I think you will find interesting.


  2. I have always thought it unfair that my Dr friends have to have 3 to 6 months of and remain drug free and others (at my meetings) cannot get 2 weeks and are expected to maintain their sobriety too. We really do have a bias in our expectations for recovery. Thanks so much for doing the research and pass it on.


  3. Rather ironic that the ‘recovery committee’ is lowering rather than raising expectations. What if they had rephrased this statement: “many will not be able to achieve substantial recovery outcomes,”. as “many will be able to achieve substantial recovery outcomes.” They ought to, because that’s what the evidence suggests happens over time.

    In addition, it’s clear that some people with ‘low recovery capital’ whose drug of choice is heroin, do manage to sustain long term recovery. Who are these people? What sort of treatment have they had? For how long and how intensive? Were they connected actively to communities of recovery? If some can do it, why not more?

    I wonder how many people with lived experience of recovery are represented on the committee. I suspect from talk of ‘tempering expectations’ (we started out with very low expectations in the UK) that the answer is ‘not many, if any’.


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