Recovery Capital: The Key Resources Needed for Lasting Change

How many times have you heard that if a person wants recovery they’ll figure it out?

The first time Helanna wanted to try Suboxone she didn’t have insurance so we went to a free clinic that didn’t take appointments.

We went there and waited all day 3 days in a row until she finally got her prescription. She had to go back the next day to get it filled and every 3 days after that to get another 3-day supply of suboxone.

The whole time I wondered how a person with no car, home, mom like me, or bus fare makes it through this grueling process. On the flip side, how could a person with a job or young children to care for do it?

I thought about how hopeless I would feel facing 4 days of that without resources or responsibilities that created barriers.

Recovery requires resources.

Recently I was researching the concept of Recovery Capital and one of the papers I read was by William L. White. He’s been influential and respected in the addiction treatment and recovery field for decades.


Recovery Capital is the internal and external resources a person can use to start and sustain recovery.

It is a concept that addresses not just the symptoms of addiction but seeks to identify and increase the assets and strengths that contribute to successful, long-term recovery and mitigate the deterrents that undermine recovery and make it harder.

Recovery capital can be categorized into three main types:

  1. Personal Recovery Capital: This includes an individual’s internal strengths, skills, and attributes that support their recovery and external supports. Examples include motivation, self-esteem, coping skills, a sense of purpose, stable housing, transportation, and finances.
  2. Social Recovery Capital: This involves the external resources within an individual’s social network that contribute to recovery. Examples include supportive relationships with family, friends, significant other, and peers, as well as participation in recovery-oriented social activities.
  3. Community Recovery Capital: This encompasses the external resources available in the broader community that support recovery. Examples include access to addiction treatment services, mutual aid groups, employment opportunities, and other community-based resources are examples of community recovery capital.

Think of Recovery Capital(RC) as a bank account. Positive RC increases the balance like a deposit and negative RC decreases it like a withdrawal.

The higher the account balance the more factors there are to support positive change. Stigma, lack of financial resources, toxic or unstable living environment, mental health issues that aren’t managed, and lack of family support are a couple of examples of negative RC.

The quote below from the William L. White paper was very impactful to me. Initially, he’s writing about what he refers to as the mythical rock bottom.

“The obstacle to recovery under such conditions is not insufficient pain, but the absence of hope, connectedness, and potential for fulfillment.

People with severely depleted RC have unfathomable capacities for physical and psychological pain. We must go get people with high problem severity and extremely low recovery capital rather than wait for their pain or coercive institutions to bring them to us.

The catalytic turning point for those with depleted recovery capital is more likely to be one of seeing an achievable top than hitting bottom.”

This visual is what comes to mind for me when I think about that quote.

You might be thinking that these people are reaching the top because they WANT to.

My response to that is people without resources don’t think about climbing mountains. They live in fight or flight wondering how they will eat and where they will sleep.

I acknowledge that there are things we can’t help with and circumstances where you can’t be the provider of stable housing or other RC.

The point of this post is to offer another dimension to your beliefs about what helps people recover and to help you move beyond the fear of enabling and use the concept of Recovery Capital as an additional helpful factor in your decision-making process.