The Life in Recovery study surveyed 855 people ranging in age from 18 to 85 who identified themselves as being in recovery from addiction.  Most were quite young when they used substances for the first time (median age of 13) and when they first reported having an addiction (median age of 18). The results, released in May 2017, also found that 51% achieved recovery without a single relapse. Individuals took different paths on their journeys to recovery, from professional drug rehabs, informal support networks and mutual support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

“From my 30-year career as consultant in addiction medicine and as a person in long-term recovery from addiction, I know the evidence showing that treatment of addiction works,” said Ray Baker, MD, a member of National Recovery Advisory Committee and retired associate professor from the University of British Columbia in response to the survey. “I have worked with thousands of people in recovery who, with help from others, improve their health and quality of life, becoming contributing members of their communities,” said Dr. Baker, who is also a recovering addict.

The bad news is that a significant number of people (82.5%) reported that barriers stood in the way of beginning treatment for a substance use disorder.  Not being ready or not believing the problem was serious enough were the most common, along with the stigma surrounding what others would think of them for entering treatment.

Universal Issues

A wealth of research has found that at the heart of most addictions — regardless of one’s country of origin — are childhood trauma and mental health issues. The Canadian survey results were no different. The responses clearly showed that treating those issues led to improvements in people’s health, their work, finances, legal issues and family life.

The survey researchers, members of the National Recovery Advisory Committee, know full well what addiction looks like.

One of the things missing from most conversations about drug use is the stories of those who have survived addiction,” committee member Marshall Smith told CBC News. Smith was employed as a senior staff member with the British Columbia government until an addiction to cocaine took over his life.

“I could no longer function in my job, and I became homeless; I lost my career, my home and wound up living on the streets of Vancouver in the Downtown Eastside. It wasn’t until I was able to get into treatment and find recovery that my life started to get better.”

Smith hopes the survey results will help people understand who addicts are and the kind of help they need.  “They are teachers. They are judges. They are airline pilots. This is going on all over the place,” he said.

According to the U.S. surgeon general, one in seven Americans will become addicted to alcohol or other drugs in their lifetimes, but only 10% of those affected will receive help in treating their illness. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that white Americans were more likely to report that they drank alcohol (57.7%) than African Americans (43.6%), Hispanics (43%), Asian Americans (34.5%), or Native Americans (37.3%). And like their Canadian counterparts, addicts in the U.S. also come from all walks of life, from suburban teenagers, to doctors, lawyers and politicians.

The fact is that addiction is neither a moral shortcoming nor character flaw. The key to entering the good life after abusing substances is reaching out for help. Smith is just one of millions who’ve tackled their addiction head on and found a meaningful, fulfilling life in recovery.  The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can join their ranks.


Choose a better life. Choose recovery.