The History of Addiction Recovery in America


Konstantin Kirilov

Two of the most significant milestones in the history of recovery are the increased self-recognition of individuals in recovery as a distinct people And the tandem emergence of an ecumenical (beyond identification with a particular mutual aid group or treatment institution) culture of recovery. The former is being expressed through a grassroots recovery advocacy movement celebrating multiple pathways of recovery, and the latter is reflected in the construction of recovery-focused history, values, language, literature, symbols, rituals, art, film, and theatre, as well as through the emergence of new recovery-focused social institutions (e.g., recovery residences, recovery high schools and collegiate recovery programs, recovery-friendly workplaces, recovery ministries, recovery cafes, etc.). This brief essay highlights a growing historical consciousness within this emerging culture of recovery.

Retrieving, preserving, and disseminating the history of addiction recovery is far more than an academic exercise. It is the medium through which each generation passes on collective experience of the pathways, processes, stages, and styles of personal and family recovery to those now at the doorway of recovery and to those seeking how to live a life in long-term recovery. Such knowledge is conveyed through the lives and legacies--the stories--of those who came before us, just as the present generation will pass on those stories and their own to help future generations survive and thrive as individuals, families, and as a people. Doing "recovery history" is both an act of service in the present and a Twelve Step call on the future.

Increased interest in the history of recovery is evident in a growing body of texts on the history of recovery mutual aid organizations, addiction treatment in the U.S., and the recovery advocacy movement as well as in the biographies, interviews, podcasts, and films through which similar information is being conveyed. Below is a brief menu of my own efforts to research and disseminate information on the history of addiction recovery in the U.S.


*Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America

*Let's Go Make Some History: Chronicles of the New Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement

*Alcohol Problems in Native America: The Untold Story of Resistance and Recovery (with Don Coyhis)

Book Chapters & Key Papers

*Twelve Defining Moments in the History of Alcoholics Anonymous (with Ernie Kurtz)

*The History of Recovered People as Wounded healers: I. From Native America to the Rise of the Modern Alcoholism Movement

*The History of Recovered People as Wounded Healers: II. The Era of Professionalization and Specialization

*Recovery: Its History and Renaissance as an Organizing Construct

*Alcohol Problems in Native America: Changing Paradigms and Clinical Practices (with Don Coyhis)

*The Recovery School Movement: Its History and Future (with Andrew Finch)

*Narcotics Anonymous: Its History and Culture (with Chris Budnick and Boyd Pickard)

*Transformational Change: A Historical Review?

*Addiction in the African American Community: The Recovery Legacies of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X (with Mark and Tanya Sanders)

*Addiction and recovery among African Americans before 1900 (with Mark Sanders)

*The Role of Recovering Physicians in 19th Century Addiction Medicine

*Pre-AA Alcoholic Mutual Aid Societies

*Addiction Recovery Mutual Aid Groups: An Enduring International Phenomenon?

*The New Recovery Advocacy Movement in America

*Medication-assisted Recovery from Opioid Addiction: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

*Styles of Secular Recovery (with Marty Nicolaus)

*Eight Secrets of A.A. s Survival

*Faith-based Recovery: It's Historical Roots (with David Whiters)

*New Addiction Recovery Support Institutions (With John Kelly and Jeffrey Roth)


Chronology of Recovery Mutual Aid Groups in the U.S. (Click HERE)

Chronologies of AA, NA, CA, SMART Recovery, and other Recovery Mutual Aid Groups (Click HERE)

Repository of 50 Early American Recovery Biographies and Autobiographies (Click HERE)

Interviews and Documents related to the History of 26 Recovery Mutual Aid Organizations (Click HERE)

Interviews with Contemporary Recovery Advocates (Click HERE)