Privilege Can Be Key to Addiction Recovery

Approximately one in seven Americans will face drug or alcohol addiction in their lifetime. Yet only 10 percent of individuals with a substance use disorder receive specialty treatment. The difference is often linked to recovery capital—the external and internal resources that help those with addictions initiate and sustain recovery. Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to resources that comprise such capital, which is why accounting for privilege in recovery from substance use disorders is important.

The Role of Recovery Capital

Dr. Eric Beeson, a core faculty member in the online Master of Arts in Counseling Program from the Family Institute at Northwestern University, is an expert in addiction recovery. In addition to his professional background as a counselor, Beeson himself is in recovery from a substance use disorder. He says that recovery includes a process of living with a new purpose in pursuit of wellness, quality of life, and sustained recovery: “There are many pathways to addiction and many pathways to recovery. Treatment needs to be personalized and address the complex biological, psychological, and social factors that lead to each pathway.”

By focusing on the development of recovery capital, professional counselors can support the recovery process. But for some people, doing so may be a challenge. “Unfortunately, recovery capital is not equally distributed,” Beeson notes. “Certain populations have access to more resources than others. The privilege afforded to me as a white male increases my chances of sustained recovery, through no merit of my own.  Unfortunately, the opposite is true for populations that are traditionally oppressed, facing racism and discrimination; their path to recovery is often met with more barriers and challenges, and definitely not through any fault of their own.”

Categories of Recovery Capital

Researchers have divided recovery capital into four categories and believe that developing resources in each group is extremely valuable to the recovery process.


Social recovery capital is the sum of resources each person has as a result of their relationships. Examples include the availability of family and friends for support, access to local support groups, whether the individual’s environment is conducive to recovery, and how supportive a person’s employer is in the recovery process.


Physical recovery capital includes any tangible assets that may increase recovery options. Capital in this category is affected by access to health care, money to afford treatment and take time off of work, the availability of transportation to access resources, and stable housing.


Human recovery capital includes any personal skills and education, positive health, aspirations and hopes. Examples include coexisting physical or mental health conditions, a family history of addiction, involvement in the criminal justice system secondary to addiction, whether an individual believes recovery is possible, and the skills or education to apply for a job.


Cultural recovery capital includes values, beliefs, and attitudes to fit into mainstream society. Cultural capital is impacted by exposure to discrimination, a history of being mistreated by the healthcare industry, community-based cultural stigma attached to seeking help, and how addiction is viewed within a person’s community.

Because the different forms of capital are highly connected to privilege, it plays a significant role in recovery. Yet, in Beeson’s opinion, this dynamic doesn’t get nearly enough attention. “I had no plans to quit using drugs when I was arrested, but those resources gave me the opportunity to give it a shot and to explore some of the underlying contributors to my substance use. If I didn’t have access to those resources, I don’t know where the heck I would be. We need to address the systemic barriers that restrict access to resources and promote stigma based upon socio-cultural factors and ensure all have an opportunity to begin and sustain their journey to recovery.”


Alexis Anderson is a Sr. Digital PR Coordinator covering K-12 education at 2U, Inc. Alexis supports outreach for their school counseling, teaching, mental health, and occupational therapy programs. 

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