The reported high rate of relapse in the context of an ever-increasing rate of substance abuse internationally and in South Africa together with the fact that the topic of sustained recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) appears to be totally neglected in extant literature and research agendas motivated the researchers to conduct this investigation. The aim was to obtain an in-depth understanding of how individuals recovering from a SUD experience and sustain their recovery in order to fill the gap in the knowledge base.
A qualitative research approach was followed, employing a narrative and phenomenological research design alongside an explorative, descriptive and contextual strategy of inquiry. Fifteen participants were purposefully recruited; and data were collected by means of individual, face-to-face interviews. Schlossberg's Transition Process Model (1981) (Schlossberg NK, The Counselling Psychologist 1981;9(2):2-18, Schlossberg NK, Journal of Employment Counselling 2011;48:159-162, Anderson ML et al., Counselling adults in transition: linking Schlossberg's theory with practice in a diverse world., 2012) served as a theoretical framework and provided the backdrop to, and foundation for, the presentation of the research findings.
Participants' entry into recovery was triggered by an internal or external crisis caused by chemical substance abuse. They had to embrace a psychological mind set change, involving commitment to a new way of life in order to sustain their recovery. This, among others, was facilitated by participants' acceptance of the concept of 'disease of addiction' or finding a new faith-based identity. The 12-Step programme and further education and development were found to spiritually support sustained recovery. Strong ongoing support from specialised substance abuse support and/or religious groups, interpersonal relationships with family, spouses and sponsors as well as supportive work environments played a major role in sustaining recovery. The act of helping others further helped the participants to sustain their own recovery.
Regardless of the pathway of recovery, there are key aspects that appear to aid sustained recovery. In grouping these according to the four S's in Schlossberg's Transition Process Model (Schlossberg NK, The Counselling Psychologist 1981;9(2):2-18, Journal of Employment Counselling 2011;48:159-162, Anderson ML et al., Counselling adults in transition: linking Schlossberg's theory with practice in a diverse world., 2012): self, situation, strategies and support, they seem to facilitate the adaptation to transition from addiction to sobriety. Internal psychological and spiritual resources in terms of self; support (from family, church and support groups); strategies to combat cravings and deal with life problems; and avoiding and managing risk-inducing situations to strengthen recovery.