Professor John Kelly talks about the history, definition and latest research on recovery. Also covering the relationship between environmental and biological factors.   

The SSA’s 75th Society Lecture was delivered by Professor John Kelly of Harvard Medical School and was titled “Addiction Recovery: From Culture to Science”. He was introduced by the SSA President and UK Recovery Champion Dr Ed Day and the lecture was recorded as part of the SSA Annual Conference on 4 November 2021.

Professor Kelly talked about the foundations and definitions of recovery. He noted the importance of building recovery and adding new elements to someone’s life, rather than just reducing symptoms. He also questioned the focus on the initial stages of recovery at the expense of exploring the long-term opportunities; comparing this treatment approach to a burning building:

“If we’ve done anything right in the last 50 years, we’ve recognised the crisis of the building on fire and the need to put it out. We’ve done a very good job of detoxification, stabilisation and providing 12 weeks of manualised treatment…because we need to put the fire out. The lack of emphasis has remained on what to do after the fire is out. After those 12 weeks of initial treatment, what happens then?…What are the building materials that people need to refit the building, to rebuild the building, to fireproof the building?”

Professor Kelly addressed questions about the relationship between addiction, recovery, environment and changes in the brain, asking whether things like housing, friends and jobs can change brain circuitry – exploring the potential for biological functions to work alongside and underpin improving recovery capital.

He then explored more recent findings and initiatives including mutual aid support in all its forms, including 12-step fellowships, SMART recovery, recovery housing and recovery community centres. These are all based on improving and accelerating recovery capital, helping people to recover sooner and to sustain remission. He also explored the different trajectories of quality of life improvements over time for different drugs and for minority and marginalised groups.

Professor Kelly then answered questions from the audience.

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