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Personal Recovery Capital


The concept of capital is at the heart of the transition from a deficits-based to a strengths-based approach, and from a model based on what goes inside people to one much more strongly influenced by what happens between people and what happens in the contexts, processes, and structures of people’s lives. That is why Alexandre Laudet and I, writing in 2010, attempted to split recovery capital into three broad areas: personal, social, and collective, which we have come to as community.

This article will focus on the personal capital component, but will attempt to locate it within a recovery journey where it may not have primacy (at least in the early stages of that journey).

What is Personal Recovery Capital?

Personal recovery capital refers to the internal strengths that help individuals to build and sustain their recovery journeys. There are three basic assumptions about all forms of recovery capital that we will explore:

  1. Recovery capital will vary between people.
  2. Recovery capital within individuals will vary over time, but will do so in ways that are predictable and open to intervention.
  3. The three parts of recovery capital—personal, social, and community—are dynamically linked (i.e., increases in one increases the likelihood of increases in the others), but this is not in any sense guaranteed nor is the change necessarily immediate.

These assumptions are important because recovery is a journey over time. Indeed, the Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel (2007) has argued that the typical time to achieve stable recovery is around five years, and Dennis and colleagues (2005) have suggested that after these five years is the time when individuals can be considered to have “self-sustaining recovery.”

What has become apparent in my own research is that recovery is at heart a social process of change and growth for most people. This means that it is more likely to start with social connections and engagement with community activities and resources that provide the opportunity for meaningful activities (Best, 2019).

Indeed, it would appear that constructing new identities based on positive relationships, networks, and engagement in community activities creates the scaffolding that allows individuals to build those personal resources. The kind of things we are talking about here are resilience, coping skills, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and communication skills.
Following from the lead from Moos (2007), the argument would be that the mechanisms for recovery include social learning (i.e., individuals copying what others do in order to sustain their own recovery) and social control (i.e., learning to abide by the rules of recovery groups that gradually become internalized and influence individuals’ values). In other words, changing groups and engaging in community-based activities provide the time and space for these complex phenomena to emerge. This is a fundamentally different approach to building recovery skills used in talking therapies, where the assumption is that expert-provided sessions plus tasks and homework lead to cognitive change. Here the assumption is that the social aspect—that is, doing positive things with positive people—creates the conditions for personal growth to happen.

There is no definitive list of internal qualities for personal capital, as this will depend in part on the context in which recovery occurs and what individuals’ own goals and networks are, but there are some common factors that relate to internal strength and purpose. It is important to recognise the uniqueness of individual recovery journeys and pathways while not discounting the importance of common predictors and factors, which is what the science of recovery capital has provided.

What Roles Do Measurement and Intervention Play?

When people first engage with treatment or recovery support services, they will have a unique blend of personal, social, and community capital, as well as barriers to overcome and unmet needs to address. The recovery capital approach is basically about using strengths to build strengths and supporting the growth of personal capital factors not only because they will act as building blocks for ongoing recovery, but also because they will help to build those social and community networks and connections.
While some people may start their recovery journey with sufficient financial resources, a safe and secure place to live, and fulfilling employment, most will not, so their focus will be much more on those less-tangible internal properties and characteristics.

When we published the “Assessment of Recovery Capital” (ARC; Groshkova, Best, & White, 2013), we focused on five areas of personal capital based on the focus group work and preliminary piloting we did in recovery groups and communities:

  1. Recovery experiences
  2. Physical health
  3. Psychological health
  4. Risk taking
  5. Coping and life functioning

There is a strong overlap with the model developed in the original 2010 Best & Laudet model, but there are some differences as well. Furthermore, this list is not exhaustive or comprehensive—and nor should it be! One of the huge challenges for any measure of recovery capital is the attempt to measure consensual or common elements with those personal and individual components that include not only strengths, but also aspirations, goals, and needs, which are also things that will change over time.
The scientific challenge remains to develop the conceptual framework and the instruments that help to guide us towards a greater ability to assess where individuals are in their recovery journey and then to shape what can be done to help them move on (Best & Hennessy, 2022).


In some ways, the forthcoming articles on both social and community capital are easier to shape, as they involve other people and access to opportunities and resources, whereas much of what we think of as personal recovery capital are those intangible strengths and resources that shape and guide our lives and the internal strengths we accrue, often as a result of the challenges of overcoming multiple adversities, including but not restricted to addictions. These strengths—which may well have existed in some form before addiction, with some even having endured through the process of addiction and early recovery—are the constellation of qualities and capabilities that will not only sustain personal growth and endure future tribulations, but that will be the light that attracts others to the contagion of recovery.


  • Best, D. (2019). Pathways to recovery and desistance: The role of the social contagion of hope. Bristol, England: Bristol University Press.
  • Best, D., & Hennessy, E. A. (2022). The science of recovery capital: Where do we go from here? Addiction, 117(4), 1139–45.
  • Best, D., & Laudet, A. B. (2010). The potential of recovery capital. Retrieved from https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/a4-recovery-capital-230710-v5.pdf
  • Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel. (2007). What is recovery? A working definition from the Betty Ford Institute. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 33(3), 221–8.
  • Dennis, M. L., Scott, C. K., Funk, R., & Foss, M. A. (2005). The duration and correlates of addiction and treatment careers. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 28(Suppl. 1), S51–62.
  • Groshkova, T., Best, D., & White, W. L. (2013). The assessment of recovery capital: Properties and psychometrics of a measure of addiction recovery strengths. Drug and Alcohol Review, 32(2), 187–94.
  • Moos, R. H. (2007). Theory-based active ingredients of effective treatments for substance use disorders. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 88(2–3), 109–21.
David Best

David Best, PhD, is professor and director of the Centre for Addiction Recovery Research (CARR) at Leeds Trinity University, honorary professor in the School of Regulation and Global Governance at The Australian National University, and honorary associate professor in Eastern Health Clinical School at Monash University in Melbourne. He is also president of the Recovery Outcomes Institute in Florida. Dr. Best has published more than 230 peer-reviewed papers in the areas of substance use, offending, and recovery as well as eight authored or edited books and special issues and more than seventy book chapters and technical reports. His primary area of work is around recovery and specifically recovery capital.

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