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The Third Dimension of Recovery: Functional

Functional recovery includes everyday life components like employment, housing, and education. It is not uncommon for a person entering recovery to be unemployed, for their finances to be in shambles, for them to lack stable housing, and for them to have generally low self esteem. Although it takes time to correct course, these aspects of a person’s life must be addressed for them to achieve a stable recovery.

Obtaining employment and stable housing, furthering our education and straightening out our finances positively impacts the way that we view ourselves. Addressing these issues can also help us to:

● Develop a sense of purpose and meaning

● Create a daily structure with responsibilities

● Provide a healthy way to socialize

● Increase our confidence

● Improve work ethic [1]

● Provide money and instill responsibility

● Improve overall health and well-being

● Improve mental health and self-esteem

● Establish a solid record of employment

● Gain self-respect, an individual identity, and a social identity

● Unburden our mind

● Reinforce accountability and structure in our life

● Build skills to continue on a career path [2]

It can be overwhelming to think about where to start when a person is in need of critical life necessities like employment or housing. During these times it’s important to remember that there are professionals whose job is to help people that find themselves in these types of situations. Case managers, teachers, employment support service, vocational training specialists, housing support providers, and social workers, are just a few of the examples of the types of professionals that can help a person get back on their feet. They can help determine jobs to apply for, help create a resume, and help you to improve your interviewing skills. You may know the first steps to take to work on these areas of your life, but reaching out to professionals can help us get access to all the resources that are available to support us on our journey.

Federal, state, and local government agencies and programs can also help to connect you to supports and services within some of these areas, like housing or financial support. These include:


Entering recovery can also present us with an opportunity to further our education. It is not uncommon for individuals entering recovery to not have a high school diploma.As we put together days in recovery, we are presented with more opportunities, which for some of us could include obtaining a GED or even going to college.

For me, over the course of 6 years during my active addiction, I enrolled in and then dropped out of several colleges. But after only a few months into my recovery journey I decided to register at my local community college. I was excited about this new journey, but I was filled with fear and doubt because of my past experiences. I strongly believe that support group meetings and treatment helped me to become a better student in the classroom. In the summer of 2017, I graduated with my Associates Degree in Addiction Counseling. It had been 10 years since I had graduated high school and first enrolled in college. When I walked across that stage to obtain my diploma tears filled my eyes, tears of gratitude. There were times in my life when I thought that a college degree would forever be out of reach for somebody like me, but in the four years since obtaining my Associates Degree I have earned a bachelor's degree and most recently a master’s degree. My active addiction limited what I could achieve, but through recovery I’ve learned that the sky's the limit.

When looking at the dimensions of recovery, it is helpful to evaluate how we are doing and to measure the outcomes. We can do this by reflecting on our employment status and history, by looking at our education journey, and housing status. Utilize the worksheet listed below to evaluate how you are doing in these areas, what are your challenges, where your strengths are, identify goals, list needs, and find areas where extra support could be helpful. When we ask ourselves these questions it is not to make ourselves feel bad and feel low. These questions are to help us evaluate our journey and to continue on in our recovery process.

To learn more about the different dimensions of recovery, check out recent posts on clinical and physical.

If you’d like to learn more about the five dimensions of recovery, read this article by Dr. Rob Whitley and Dr. Robert E. Drake.


[1] Hiring people in recovery: The case for how it benefits employers, 2021. [2] The Importance of Employment in Recovery, 2018.

Download our Functional Dimension of Recovery Worksheet:

Functional Dimension of Recovery Worksheet
Download DOCX • 16KB


Diet and Exercise Play a Vital Role in Addiction Recovery, n.d..

7 Health Benefits of Water Backed by Scientific Research, 2020.

Kayla Zawislak is the Lead Engagement Specialist at the Addiction Policy Forum. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.


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