The use of "recovery" in relation to drugs and alcohol has been the topic of much discussion in Scotland over the last few weeks. Many people find the word off-putting, and even inequitable, because they believe it implies abstinence.

In my role as director of service delivery at WithYou, Scotland’s largest drug and alcohol-specific charity, I use the word "recovery" day in, day out. I would hate to think that perceptions about what this means are stopping anyone from accessing support, so I want to be very clear: for me and my colleagues, recovery does not have to mean abstinence.

At WithYou, recovery means finding a new path towards a healthier life - one that is not ruled by dependence - with hope for the future and the self-belief to thrive.

We are advocates of harm reduction. We offer needle and syringe services to ensure people have clean injecting equipment, we provide naloxone and training on how to use it, and in some of our services, we are distributing self-test kits so that clients can see if their drugs contain more dangerous substances like nitazenes and xylazine. We accept that people who access our services may continue to use drugs and alcohol, and our support is always tailored towards their own goals.

For James, this could mean stopping using heroin after 25 years by accessing residential rehabilitation and being part of a 12-step fellowship. For Jean, it could mean not drinking at the weekend so she can see her grandchildren. While for David, it could mean enjoying a social drink with his friends after using cocaine for years.

We recognise that recovery looks different for different people, and we help our clients to consider their options before choosing a recovery path that suits their unique strengths, circumstances and goals.

The recent debate on the use of "recovery", which has played out from the Scottish Parliament to social media, has been sparked by the publication of the Right to Recovery Bill. While we agree that people who use drugs and alcohol face unacceptable barriers in accessing treatment and support, we believe that the ideology of a drug-free society simply isn’t realistic.

More importantly, we recognise that any proposal to enshrine a right to treatment in law has to reflect all evidence-based treatment options. This means finding the right balance between abstinence approaches and harm reduction approaches, as well as ensuring that psychosocial interventions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or motivational interviewing, are provided to help people achieve their recovery goals.

To anyone reading who is concerned about their drug or alcohol use, or that of a loved one, please know that we are WithYou. Our focus is on working with people to ensure they have autonomy and feel empowered to make informed decisions, so that they can thrive - in whatever way works for them.

Louise Stewart is the Director of Service Delivery for Scotland at WithYou. To find out more about the charity’s work, please visit

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