Since recovery is a personal journey, success will be as well. What success looks like for one person may not look like the same for another. However, factors like length of sobriety, mental stability, physical health, the strength of interpersonal relationships and overall quality of life can all help gauge a veteran’s successful recovery. 

What Is Successful Recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has created a “working definition” of successful recovery. While they note that recovery is a process of change, they outline four main dimensions of recovery that a person must address. 

To succeed in recovery, a veteran must address the following four aspects of recovery: 

  • Health
  • Home
  • Community
  • Purpose

Even with guidance from SAMHSA, it’s important to understand that not only is success hard to define, but so is treatment failure. Recovery is rarely — if ever — a linear journey. Relapse is typically a part of recovery, especially among veterans. Stumbling in recovery is often just another step of an overall successful journey. 

Four Dimensions of Recovery Success 

While recovery success may be hard to define in general terms, four dimensions can help explain what success in recovery may look like. 

  1. Health: Health is the first aspect of recovery and fundamental to the other three dimensions. If the person is recovering from a substance use disorder, health means continuing to overcome their addiction. Likewise, if a person struggles with mental health concerns, health can refer to mental stability and emotional well-being. 
  2. Home: This dimension simply means a stable and safe place to live. 
  3. Community: The third dimension of community refers to actual home life and the strength of other relationships with friends and within the community. 
  4. Purpose: Purpose references daily activities, such as work, school, family caretaking and other pursuits or responsibilities, that offer meaning and resources for participating in society. 

These four dimensions rarely progress at the same rate and are ever-evolving. Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may struggle to define “mental well-being,” especially early in recovery. Health could simply be defined as coping with PTSD without using substances or better controlling their emotions tied to specific experiences.

10 Guiding Principles of Recovery 

While the four dimensions of recovery success may seem a little unclear at first glance, SAMHSA’s 10 Guiding Principles provide more detail to help the person and their loved ones recognize a successful recovery. By first defining the 10 principles of recovery, it’s easier to gauge success.

The 10 Guiding Principles from SAMHSA are as follows: 

  1. Recovery emerges from hope: If people have hope that change is possible, they’re prepared to overcome challenges. That’s not to say that doubt, setbacks and hopelessness don’t occur during recovery. But even having hope that hopelessness is a fleeting feeling is crucial to recovery success.
  1. Recovery is person-driven: While support systems are crucial to recovery, the individual must ultimately assume responsibility for their recovery’s success. The goal of recovery is to continually grow strengths, gain autonomy to the greatest extent possible and define and strive toward their own goals in life.
  1. Recovery occurs via many pathways: Successful recovery is difficult to define but can occur in many different ways. It’s important to accept any setback but continually move forward. 
  1. Recovery is holistic: Successful recovery touches all aspects of someone’s life, including mind, body and spirit. From practicing self-care to spiritual well-being, a successful recovery is contingent on the whole person’s wellness. 
  1. Recovery is supported by allies: Recovery is a personal journey, but it’s not achieved alone. Whether it’s clinical support or through peers within the recovery community, successful recovery is obtained through mutual support. 
  1. Recovery is supported by relationships: Success is often influenced by the involvement of supportive loved ones. For veterans with PTSD, research indicates the potential for much higher success rates when the family is involved. 
  1. Recovery is culturally influenced: The pathway to successful recovery will reflect the individual’s traditions, beliefs and values. A successful recovery is personalized.
  1. Recovery addresses trauma: This principle of recovery is crucial for many veterans. Mental health concerns and substance use disorders are typically associated with trauma-related issues. To succeed in recovery, the person must fully address past traumas to heal. 
  1. Recovery involves individual, community and family responsibilities: Anyone involved in recovery contributes to its success. While personal responsibility can drive a person to stay committed to recovery , supportive loved ones must accept responsibility for their actions that may influence recovery. 
  1. Recovery is based on respect: Recovery shouldn’t be stigmatized, and respecting the process helps people in recovery achieve self-acceptance and a positive self-image. 

Relapse and Self-Examination To Determine Success

While these principles help define successful recovery, it’s important to note that relapse doesn’t nullify any of these aspects of recovery. According to scientific research, veterans are more prone to relapsing, but that’s not a failure in recovery. To best quantify success, truthfully answering the following questions is a better litmus test:

  • Do I have hope that change is possible?
  • Do I accept recovery is a process?
  • Do I value my relationships?
  • Do I value my contributions to the community?
  • Am I committed to change?

While recovery success is difficult to measure at any given time, as everyone’s journey is different, the answer “yes” to these five questions is what recovery success looks like — no matter how far along the road. Contact us to get started on the path to a successful recovery today. 

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Veteran Recovery Is Our Mission

The Recovery Village is an industry-leading treatment provider for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. 

  • Experienced clinicians: Our clinicians are specially trained in trauma-informed care, military culture and treating veteran-specific addiction and mental health needs.
  • Dual diagnosis: We treat addiction and mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety or depression simultaneously for a better recovery.  
  • EMDR: A revolutionary treatment available at several facilities, EMDR therapy alleviates mental pain and emotional recession from trauma, which can lead to better outcomes for your addiction.
  • FORTITUDE: Our specialty track for veterans and first responders at select facilities puts you in exclusive group therapy sessions with your peers. 

If you’re a veteran struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, our Veteran Advocates can help you navigate your VA health insurance and get you the help you need.

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Editor – Theresa Valenzky
Theresa Valenzky graduated from the University of Akron with a Bachelor of Arts in News/Mass Media Communication and a certificate in psychology. She is passionate about providing genuine information to encourage and guide healing in all aspects of life. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery.” Accessed June 7, 2023.

J. Thompson-Hollands; A.A. Rando S.A. Stoycos; L.A. Meis; K.M. Iverson. “Family Involvement in PTSD Treatment: Pe[…]istration Clinicians.” Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, August 5, 2022. Accessed June 7, 2023.

Betancourt, Christian; Kitsantas, Panagiota; Goldberg, Deborah; Hawks, Beth. “Substance Use Relapse Among Veterans at […]stance Use Disorders.” Military Medicine, July 17, 2021. Accessed June 7, 2023.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.