How Privilege Can Impact Addiction Recovery

Approximately 1 in 7 Americans will face drug or alcohol addiction in their lives. But only about 10 percent of people with a substance use disorder receive specialty treatment. Although every person’s experience with recovery is unique, the process can be made easier for people who have access to recovery capital — external and internal resources that people can use to initiate and sustain recovery. Unfortunately, every person struggling with addiction does not have equal access to recovery capital, highlighting the need to account for privilege in addiction recovery strategies.

The chart below identifies the four categories of recovery capital, calling attention to the factors that may impact an individual’s ability to access those specific resources.

Type of Recovery Capital

Social: The sum of resources that each person has as a result of their relationships.

  • Are family and friends available for support?
  • Are there accessible support groups in a person’s area?
  • Is a person returning to a community environment that is conducive to recovery?
  • Will a person’s place of work provide them with the time off to seek recovery?

Physical: Tangible assets such as property and money that may increase recovery options.

  • Does a person have health care?
  • Can a person afford treatment?
  • Does a person have the financial independence to take time off work?
  • Does a person have transportation to travel for treatment?
  • Does a person have stable housing?

Human: Personal skills and education, positive health, aspirations and hopes.

  • Does a person have other physical or mental health ailments?
  • Have family members also suffered from addiction?
  • Has addiction led to involvement in the criminal justice system?
  • Does a person believe that they have the ability to recover?
  • Does a person have the skills or education to apply for a job?

Cultural: Values, beliefs and attitudes that give the individual the ability to fit into mainstream society.

  • Does a person experience discrimination?
  • Has a person previously been mistreated by the health care industry?
  • Is there a cultural stigma attached to seeking help within a person’s community?
  • Is addiction viewed as a health issue within a person’s community?


Cloud W and Granfield R (2009) Conceptualizing recovery capital: expansion of a theoretical construct. Substance Use and Misuse, 43: 1971–1986

Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health

Created by Counseling@Northwestern, Northwestern University’s Online Master of Arts in Counseling Program.