What is Recovery Capital and Why is it Important?

The concept of non-medical healing for addiction is less than 100 years old. Bill W. published his first process, thoughts, and beliefs about alcoholism in 1939, a book that morphed into the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

He spelled out for AA members the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions for alcohol-free living — core guidelines that numerous recovery groups have adopted in the generations since. Today, there are national recovery organizations to help people live free of addictions to drugs, food, gambling, debt, sex, love, work, cigarettes, and more, plus numerous offshoot groups that provide support for families of addicts.

Although the AA way is only one of several ways to treat drug and alcohol addiction, the medical community has hit on something that can help anyone regardless of treatment method. It’s called recovery capital.

What Is Recovery Capital?

In short, recovery capital is support in any form, usually referring to internal and external resources. It can be money or health insurance. It can be an understanding family. It can be a loving and caring friend group or a knowing boss and employer. It can also consist of outpatient resources (shelters, schools, social workers, mental health counselors), for- and non-profit groups, or even a treatment center. Furthermore, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration breaks it down into four dimensions of recovery.

Anything that consistently nudges an addicted person forward for the better is recovery capital.

Only in the past two decades, however, have medical professionals come to recognize how much it matters. And it matters a great deal because of one element: momentum. That is the ability to stack one day of success against another. One week against another. And then a month. And a year.

To explain it in terms many of us probably know, it’s the feeling we get when we try something new to lose weight . . . and it works. We start shedding pounds. We see results on the scale. And we build on that.

The best way to achieve long-term success in anything is to build on our short-term wins.

Pillars of Recovery Capital

“At the core of Recovery Capital the ideas of social capital – strong therapeutic landscapes, emotional intelligence, and the pivotal experience of a sense of belonging. All of which can support recovery if recovery networks are not stigmatized,” says The Recovery Capital Conference, an international summit about recovery.

Conference participants pronounced “four overlapping dimensions,” or pillars, of recovery capital:

  • Personal
  • Social
  • Community
  • Cultural

One 2022 study analyzing recovery capital for alcoholics and people hooked on opioids found that treatment plans that included housing, social support, and common treatment approaches led participants to sustain recovery for longer periods.

“Recovery should be seen as an ongoing process and an achievable one and this message must spread across groups and populations to reduce the stigma,” researchers wrote. “The message for social support enhancement and housing support should be spread, as it was seen in our study that social support has a role to play in the recovery of people suffering from substance abuse disorders.”

Missing Internal and External Resources

Unfortunately, not every struggling addict has the advantage of recovery capital. Some are also unlikely to ever get it. Many of these capital-less people, besides wrestling with addiction, also live with a mental or behavioral illness. In reality, their addiction may not be the problem they most need to solve. Many struggle to connect physically or emotionally with others, leaving them more in isolation. This is the opposite of recovery capital. At times individuals may be able to achieve natural recovery, however, it is much more difficult to achieve sobriety without proper support, resources, and recovery-oriented systems.

Generating Recovery Capital at New Life House

The mission of New Life House is to generate and build recovery capital pathways for young men. New Life House has a 35-year track record of success in teaching and training men how to live free of drugs and alcohol by finding ways to generate positive momentum and improve their quality of life.

That can come from:

  • Solo and group therapy sessions
  • Developing better life skills
  • Finding technical or advanced educational opportunities
  • Finding outside employment
  • Exposure to diverse recovery role models
  • Building a community
  • Measuring recovery capital throughout treatment

Benefits of Sober Living

Sober living houses gradually plug residents back into society as they build friendships and trust, grow emotionally, gain soft and hard skills for work, and help others on the same journey.

Life skills training means learning the real-time lessons we wish we discovered in high school: how to manage money, how to set personal and career goals, how to live with other people, understand boundaries and how to set them, how to manage anger, shame, disappointment, and more. It also includes a fundamental lesson that’s often difficult to master: how to love and take care of yourself.

When someone moves into one of our group homes, they plunge into a world of support. They’re surrounded by others of about the same age who have the same goal — to find a new, healthier way to exist.

Build and Sustain Recovery

In a short time, a wonderful thing happens. Residents develop new habits. Strangers become friends, people who root for (and support) their short- and long-term success. Pretty quickly, these peers serve as sources of hope, inspiration, experience, and strength and also act as an accountability group.

What sets New Life House apart is how one man learns from others, especially in ways that make a difference in real life. When one resident sees success from going back to school (vocational training, trade schools, or higher education opportunities), he shares the ups and downs at home. Soon, others at the house think, “Maybe that will work for me too.”

This is recovery capital in action, and New Life House supports it in more official ways. Every person who enters our program receives an opportunity to continue or start school. New Life House’s Learning Center helps residents build a plan and start the journey.

Inspiring the Recovery Process

It’s comforting for newcomers to look around and see others in the same position. Or, better, those who once were in a similar spot they’re in but now are making their plan work for them. They’re doing well in school or they’ve already graduated and are working a stable job.

One tenant of recovery capital and New Life House is finding ways for someone in recovery to gain solid employment, enough to save money and eventually stand on his own. Having a job is central to a man’s identity and happiness, and for most people, it’s necessary to afford quality healthcare, a central part of self-care.

Recovery is woefully under-studied by medical researchers, and there are no consistent statistics about employment for people in recovery. Social workers and counselors on the front lines, however, understand the correlation between having a job and staying sober.

Community Recovery Capital

What’s nice about New Life House is that no resident has to be a pioneer. Others just like them have already forged paths to happy living. The best part? They give back.

One thing that separates New Life House from other programs is its robust alumni community. Many past residents move out and take with them a commitment to service, for helping others. They give back to New Life House by providing support from afar with guidance, life tips, and a shining example that recovery is possible.

This connective tissue between past and present is recovery capital that’s difficult to quantify. In reality, it’s priceless.

Successful Sustained Recovery

While recovery capital is a relatively new term being used in the recovery community, the idea of it has been around for much longer. In fact, New Life House places an emphasis on establishing recovery capital and we have seen how much of a difference it makes when it comes to overcoming substance use disorders and achieving long-term sobriety.

Since 1985, we have helped so many young men on their journey through addiction treatment and recovery. It is amazing to be a part of transforming the lives of those who struggle with addiction and their families. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, contact New Life House to learn more about our men’s sober living in Los Angeles. We will help you build a solid foundation and the recovery capital necessary to maintain sobriety.


Last Updated on February 8, 2024


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