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Recovery Capital: A Series on Sustainable Recovery

Recovery Capital: A Series on Sustainable Recovery

Join an important conversation about achieving and sustaining recovery.

In the late 1990’s social worker and professor, William Cloud, wondered why some people in similar circumstances went through addiction treatment multiple times, while others seemed to naturally recover. What was it about those that could get over addiction on their own? Did they have something the others didn’t?

This question led Cloud to coin the term “recovery capital.” Since recovery capital was defined in 1999, research and tools have slowly emerged to bring this concept into practice. But few practitioners and stakeholders truly understand its importance and potential. 

We want to change that. 

Sigmund Software and Commonly Well have come together to expand the conversation on recovery capital. We want to turn our focus on solutions to the overwhelming addiction crisis. We are starting that conversation with a new blog series: Recovery Capital: A Series on Sustainable Recovery.

William White, a prolific writer and recovery pioneer wrote that “recovery capital constitutes the potential antidote for the problems that have long plagued recovery efforts.” Antidote seems apropos for these COVID-19 pandemic times. White was telling us that we have to start focusing our work on the underlying causes of addiction or underlying causes of recovery if we want to reverse the terrible trends.

"Addiction is a progressive illness; just as recovery is a progressive healing process."

Sigmund Software is an EHR software company that has served mental health and addiction treatment organizations since 2004. After working closely with many diverse behavioral health communities over the last 17 years, Sigmund understands and appreciates the intersection of mental health and substance abuse. Recovery capital incorporates that intersectionality within a dynamic statistical framework, two elements that have always driven Sigmund’s software innovation. Sigmund’s team is passionate about improving outcomes in behavioral health and believes that providing a platform to learn about recovery capital is an important part of that mission.

Commonly Well is a new company with a tool that measures recovery capital. Commonly Well’s founder, David Whitesock, invented the Recovery Capital Index while working as Chief Innovation Officer for a peer coaching organization. The tool went through years of testing and was eventually validated with findings peer-reviewed and published. David’s unique view of addiction recovery comes from his personal experience overcoming addiction and his near-decade-long work seeking the best approaches for measuring all facets of recovery.

What is Recovery Capital?

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

It is a concept that respects the entire presence and experience of a person. It is also a framework for categorizing the internal and external resources as indicators. Once categorized, these indicators can be tracked or measured, which can inform a process for change. 

Whether we’re in a state of addiction or a state of recovery, we’re pulling from the same social, economic, behavioral, 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.

Is Recovery Capital Widely Used in Practice?

No, recovery capital is not widely used in practice — at least not directly nor with intention. Although the term was coined in 1999 and several tools have been developed around recovery capital, the concept can be counter-intuitive to more traditional treatment approaches.

At its core, recovery capital focuses attention away from substances used and purely abstinence-based approaches. Think back to the Rat Park studies conducted in the late 1970s. Two rats were each provided equal amounts of cocaine. One rat’s cage was void of any other elements that could give the rat pleasure, like a running wheel and fresh cheese. The other rat’s cage had those items of pleasure and more, including interaction with other rats. The rat with the better environment lacked interest in the water laced with cocaine.

Traditional systems of care are designed to reduce the use of substances; they don’t always improve or create amenities of natural wellbeing in a community. And if those amenities do exist, many programs are not designed to integrate or engage with those resources.

A Shift is Underway

You’ve likely heard or used the phrase, “Adapt or die.” In fact, many who work in addiction care guide their clients to do this all the time. Yet, our programs tend not to live by the same advice. For instance, despite the overwhelming evidence that medication assisted treatment works, it is not used as widely as it should be.

Addiction is a progressive illness; just as recovery is a progressive healing process. Alcohol and drugs are merely one factor among many. We often rally around the notion that to be sober we need to change the people, places, and things. Well, that’s recovery capital. People are our social capital. Places are our cultural and community capital. And things are our personal capital.

Recovery Capital: A Series on Sustainable Recovery

We are excited to begin this necessary conversation about recovery capital, and even more excited that you’ve decided to join it.

Formal clinical treatment isn’t a one size fits all solution. Recovery support services widen what’s possible, but often those programs are limited. By supplementing your care approach with concepts of recovery capital, you can begin to see other factors that may be hindering your work.

We know that addiction is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual condition. Recovery capital takes a broader inventory of that construct of addiction. If the events of 2020 and COVID-19 taught us anything, it reinforced how multifactorial addiction and addiction recovery truly is.

This series hopes to shine a light on those factors and introduce methods for bringing recovery capital into your practice. We’ll help you consider new ways to speak about addiction and recovery to family members, your community, stakeholders, and even policymakers.

Fundamentally, we believe that a more holistic approach to addiction will help us address the addiction crisis. Thanks for joining us on this journey through our series on recovery capital. 

Check out the next blog post in the series here!

For more information on Sigmund Software, click here. For more information about Commonly Well, visit their website here.

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