Difference Between Abstinence and Recovery

Abstinence and recovery are terms that are very commonly used when talking about de-addiction. Roughly, they refer to coping mechanisms that help a person heal from their dependency on drugs and alcohol.

It is a popular belief that both simply involve the process of quitting drugs. However, they are broad concepts that sheathe various aspects of rehabilitation.

Abstinence vs Recovery

The main difference between abstinence and recovery is that abstinence is more of a self-imposed situation that involves healing which is only limited to the physical body. On the other hand, recovery involves physical, mental, and spiritual healing as well, with a great amount of support from others. Generally, abstinence is a prerequisite for recovery.

Abstinence vs Recovery

The meaning of abstinence is to restrain oneself from a certain indulgence. It is the individual practice of quitting drugs and alcohol. People may enrol themselves into a detox program for help.

However, relapse is still quite common. This is because abstinence only focuses on leaving the substance and does not address the underlying causes of the addiction.

Recovery is the process of bringing a change to the lifestyle and behaviours of an addicted person. It is a practice that focuses on overall well-being rather than just the physical aspect.

The underlying causes of the addiction are dealt with by therapy and other treatments. This helps address the core of the problem, which makes relapses uncommon.

Comparison Table Between Abstinence and Recovery

Parameters of ComparisonAbstinenceRecovery
MeaningAbstinence is a self-imposed restraint from indulgences such as drugs and alcohol.Recovery is a change in lifestyle and behaviour as a part of de-addiction.
ProcessIt involves quitting addictive practices and remaining sober.It involves going to therapy and getting support for overall well-being.
HealingThe healing is limited to the physical body.A person heals physically, mentally, and spiritually.
SupportPeople in abstinence generally avoid interactions with other people.People in recovery get all the support they need from others.
RelapseThe person is more likely to relapse.The person is less likely to relapse.

What is Abstinence?

Abstinence is a self-imposed restraint from indulgences such as drugs and alcohol. It is a conscious act the person chooses to undergo in order to live a sober life.

Unlike repression, abstinence has healthy consequences on a person. However, since the underlying causes of the addiction are not dealt with, there are chances that the person might relapse.

A person generally chooses to do so because of the negative effects that drugs and alcohol have on them. However, he can also be forced to become sober because of being removed from the drug environment.

This means that there is no way for them to access drugs. Therefore, they do not have a choice but to go sober.

There are several situations that trigger a relapse in a person who undergoes abstinence. These include stress, boredom, drug re-exposure or even drug-associated cues.

The longer a person in abstinence stays away from drugs, the more he craves it. This is known as the incubation effect.

IF the person has a severe case of addiction to drugs like opium, it may even cause adverse health consequences. In such cases, going cold turkey is pretty dangerous.

Therefore, medical help and therapy is always the better option as love and support play a major role in de-addiction.

What is Recovery?

Recovery is a process of changing the complete lifestyle and behaviour patterns of an addicted person. The healing is focused on the body as well as the mind.

Moreover, there is an aspect of spiritual well-being which is even more helpful. Instead of focusing on the past, the person has an opportunity to create a new future.

The process of recovery includes several therapies and treatment programs. Unlike abstinence, in which a person generally isolates himself, recovery involves getting support from others.

Therefore, the process generally takes place in groups. Rehabilitation centres are a good example of this, where people have medical and personal support from peers.

Recovery is the next step in de-addiction after abstinence. Once the physical body is healed, different tools and mechanisms are used to support a person.

These are done in order to help him stay focused and engaged in his new life. It may involve finding a new job, housing or even joining a community.

The process only works when the person is fully committed to improving their life. This takes a lot of willpower, inspiration, and encouragement from others.

Only through this can long-term sobriety be achieved. Since the underlying cause of the addiction is dealt with during recovery, the chances of relapsing are minimal.

Main Differences Between Abstinence and Recovery

  1. Abstinence is a self-imposed restraint from indulgences such as drugs and alcohol whereas recovery is the complete change in lifestyle and behaviour of an addicted person.
  2. Abstinence only involves quitting addictive practices and remaining sober whereas recovery involves going to therapy and getting support for overall well-being.
  3. Abstinence focuses on physical healing whereas recovery focuses on physical, mental and spiritual healing.
  4. Abstinence involves isolation and avoiding interactions with others whereas recovery involves support and communication with others.
  5. A person is more likely to relapse in case of abstinence whereas the chances of relapses after recovery are very less.
Difference Between Abstinence and Recovery


Drug and alcohol abuse affects millions of people around the world. It is not easy to mend the situation and it takes a lot of courage, willpower, and inspiration to do so.

Abstinence and recovery are two processes involved in de-addiction. It is important to know the difference between them, especially if a loved one is trying to achieve long-term sobriety.

A major distinguishing factor between the two is that abstinence only deals with healing the physical body whereas recovery focuses on the overall well-being of an addict.

In abstinence, the underlying causes of the addiction are not usually an issue of concern. Therefore, a relapse is very common.

However, recovery involves several therapies and treatments that focus on the core of the problem and make the chances of relapsing very less.


  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01688638008403787
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/acer.13604
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