When recovery became the bedrock of drugs policy in the UK there were objections. Some commentators were vociferous and condemnatory. Their words were reported prominently in the addictions press provoking a response from academics and clinicians working in the field. Titled Recovery and Straw Men: An Analysis of the Objections Raised to the Transition to a Recovery Model in UK Addiction Services, the authors identified 26 different objections and dismantled them one by one. Some of those objections seem a bit quaint now that we have a bit more confidence about recovery in treatment settings, but at the time they were real concerns.
The recovery resistance voices are a bit quieter now, at least here in the UK, though judging from some recent news from Professor David Best in Australia, there are battles still to be fought. In a reflective piece in the current Recovery Academy Australia newsletter he takes stock of his time down under and, firstly, notes on the positive side:
What we have really achieved is to break down some of the professional and community suspicions and uncertainties about recovery,…
He goes on though to outline the challenges in his characteristically straightforward way including a difficult experience at an event in 2012:
It was an unpleasant and acrimonious meeting that was biased and loaded – peopled by harm reduction zealots and apologists respectively – who had no interest in discussing recovery, only in rubbishing the idea and how ‘politically dangerous’ it was. It became apparent at this meeting how threatened a number of people were by the ideas of connection, hope, meaningful lives and empowerment.
Harm reduction AND recovery
In the UK we have enough harm reductionists championing recovery and enough recovery champions embracing harm reduction to tell us that there is no need to adopt polarised positions. As I’ve written here and here, there is nothing fundamentally incompatible about the two. It’s not a question of choosing either harm reduction or recovery, it’s harm reduction AND recovery.
These days you really have to turn the volume up a bit to hear the naysayers. Nowadays they are more of the whispering, undermining kind. While I think it’s completely reasonable to have concerns voiced (e.g. around ‘forced reductions’, coerced treatment and lack of real choice etc.) it’s not really acceptable that the views of workers in the field might act as barriers to recovery access for clients.
The fundamental reason that recovery resistance cannot really triumph is because of what it is up against. There are various groups championing recovery. Families; practitioners who have been convinced by the shift in emphasis and its effects; commissioners; communities and politicians. These groups are all influential, but even they are not the main reason that recovery resistance is being defeated. The most powerful positive force for recovery is that generated by recovering people and those seeking recovery. This is what has made the greatest different and this is why those resisting are on a hiding to nothing.
Resistance is futile
We have a recovery movement advocating for recovery options because the system has not offered these enough in the past. People in recovery have a voice and a face in many places now which means they can’t be ignored. And evidence is accumulating what people actually want from treatment and also what helps to deliver good outcomes.
Recovery resistance is futile because if we resist recovery we are resisting the clients or patients services are set up to help. As Professor Best makes clear in the quote above, the themes of recovery are connection, hope, meaningful lives and empowerment. Those resisting recovery are resisting these values and such resistance is futile. Better to go with it and deliver on recovery than stand against it.