Culture of Addiction vs. Culture of Recovery


This article discusses the differences in the culture of addiction and the culture of recovery and provides examples for you to consider. It also contains a link to a self-assessment that helps you measure how involved in either culture you are at this time.

Addiction or Recovery: Which Culture Are You In?

Addiction culture is about neglect and destruction.

“I didn’t realize how deep into the culture of addiction I’d fallen until I ran into an old high school friend. His life was great; he was living his dream. Mine was filled with endless nights of using and hanging out with really bad people with bad attitudes in really scary places. Until that point, I had fooled myself. But when I saw my old friend, I was so ashamed. I realized I had to change everything.”
– Grey, recovering heroin addict

Recovery is about much more than just abstaining from alcohol and other drugs. There is an entire culture of addiction in which many of us find ourselves entangled. This addiction culture is destructive to many different areas of our lives, including our relationships, beliefs, values, and behaviors.

Recovery culture looks very different from addiction culture, with an emphasis on developing pro-recovery relationships, beliefs, values, and behaviors.

Recovery culture is about caring and growth.

Take a look at the following comparisons of the culture of addiction (CoA) and the culture of recovery (CoR). This information is adapted from William White. See the link at the end to read more about his work. You will also be able to click on a link that will take you to a self-assessment.

Social Network

CoA: Promotes alcohol and drug use and short-term rewards in an informal social network.
CoR: Reinforces sobriety and long-term recovery from addiction within an informal social network.


CoA: Tells stories about hustling and hassles by authority. Uses grandiose talk and ridicules non-users.
CoR: Tells stories about redemption, hope, and recovery. Does not ridicule others.


CoA: Uses language that degrades self and others.
CoR: Uses language of respect for self and others.


CoA: Ignores dangers of self-abuse, malnutrition, dangerous lifestyle, and serious health issues.
CoR: Promotes taking care of one’s own emotional, mental, and physical health in recovery.


CoA: Promotes negative ideas about the role of spirituality—either reject the idea of a Higher Power or equates spirituality with shame and punishment.
CoR: Promotes positive ideas about spirituality—stresses tolerance of individual religious beliefs and the idea of a personal Higher Power.

Outside vs. Inside

CoA: Emphasizes looking good on the outside but ignores the pain and isolation felt on the inside. Good at “talking the talk” but insides don’t match.
CoR: Emphasizes working from the inside out, asking for help and being honest with trusted people about painful things and “walking the walk” where outsides match insides.


CoA: Insists on immediate gratification and instant rewards. Promotes using rituals.
CoR: Promotes patience and understanding that recovery and healing take time. Supports recovery rituals.

Rules, Laws & Social Norms

CoA: Shares methods of getting around rules and laws, getting alcohol & other drugs (AOD) from risky sources. Values getting away with things—and if caught, promotes blaming.
CoR: Shares methods of working within societal rules and norms. Encourages accountability and challenges anti-social or risky behaviors.


CoA: Promotes the illusion of relationships and friendships, but in reality, relationships are secondary to AOD use—”drugs over hugs.”
CoR: Promotes real friendships based on honesty, openness, and accountability. Recovery is the priority—”hugs over drugs.”


CoA: Promotes jobs that allow continuing AOD use, beating drug testing, calling in sick/late, misusing medical leave and workers comp, and putting burden on employers and co-workers.
CoR: Values jobs that put recovery first—following rules and taking ownership of one’s own behavior. Discourages taking advantage of work benefits or co-workers.

Am I in the culture of recovery?

The change from a culture of addiction to a culture of recovery doesn’t happen all at once. Often people aren’t even aware that some of the relationships, places, and things in their lives are rooted in the addiction culture.

To learn more about where you’re at in your journey to the culture of recovery, take the short self-assessment, Are You in the Culture of Recovery?

This article was adapted from William White. To learn more about his work on addiction and recovery, click on this link:

William L. White