What is a Recovery Community Organization (RCO)?

Prevention ➨ Treatment ➨ Recovery.

Recovery is not treatment. 

The Intersection of Prevention and Recovery has been an important topic with the coalitions that TurnKey w/ Kim Brown serves. There is a need to highlight the role that recovery plays in the continuum of care.

What is needed?  Programs that offer: group therapy, one-on-one therapies, assistance with unemployment, or continuing education are ALL needed to prevent relapse. This support network rounds out the continuum of care. 

These resources do often exist but fail to have the visibility of the treatment facilities, such as rehab, due to lack of promotion.  This is where we come to Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs).  Let’s begin our discussion by exploring their role: what they are and what they do.

What is an RCO?

A Recovery Community Organization (RCO) is an independent, non-profit organization led and governed by representatives of local communities of recovery. These organizations: 

  • organize recovery-focused policy advocacy activities,  
  • carry out recovery-focused community education and outreach programs, and/or  provide peer-based recovery support services (P-BRSS).  

The broadly defined recovery community – people in long-term recovery, their families, friends, and allies, including recovery-focused addiction and recovery professionals – includes organizations whose members reflect religious, spiritual, and secular pathways of recovery.  

The sole mission of an RCO is to mobilize resources within and outside of the recovery community to increase the prevalence and quality of long-term recovery from substance use disorders. Public education, policy advocacy, and peer-based recovery support services are the strategies through which this mission is achieved.   

Three Primary RCO Strategies 

Recovery community organizations use three primary strategies to achieve their mission,  fostering recovery-focused and oriented values and communities. Each organization determines  the mix and priority given to each of these core strategies:  

1. Public education and awareness 

Putting a face and a voice on recovery to educate the public, policymakers, service providers,  and the media about the reality of recovery offers hope and dispels myths and pessimism about the power and reality of long-term addiction recovery. This strategy also draws attention to the social and policy barriers facing people in and seeking recovery. Growing numbers of individuals are speaking out publicly and sharing their experiences as members of recovery community organizations. They are using Faces & Voices recovery messaging to advocate while respecting the anonymity traditions of 12-step programs they may participate in – advocating with anonymity.  

Recovery community organizations have websites, speakers bureaus, host educational forums at schools, host Town Hall meetings, cable TV shows, and carry out many other public awareness activities. They are training people in recovery and family members as speakers and organizing public events, bringing recovery to the broader community. One well-known national awareness effort is the annual September National Recovery Month observances. Groups across the nation and now worldwide organize walks, rallies, and other events to focus attention on the reality of recovery. 

2. Policy advocacy 

To build recovery-oriented and supportive communities, recovery community organizations are addressing the public policy barriers that keep people from sustaining their recovery for the long haul. One consequence of addressing addiction as criminal justice, not a public health crisis, has been the imposition of legal barriers on people with criminal records. Advocacy is aimed at ending the punishment and incarceration of people for their status as people with histories of addiction. These barriers make it much more difficult for people to get their lives back on track, get a job, obtain housing, and reunite with their families and friends.  

Recovery community organizations are also engaged in advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels to promote policies and regulations in health insurance, program development, and resource allocation that make sense for the recovery community. Advocacy is a core prevention strategy. Prevention professionals and the recovery community can work together to educate legislators about pending legislation and its implications. 

3. Peer-based and other recovery support services and activities 

Recovery community organizations are innovating and delivering a variety of peer recovery support services and places to deliver those services, building a lasting physical presence in communities. Recovery coaching, telephone recovery support services, all-recovery meetings,  and other services are being organized and delivered by trained volunteers and/or paid staff.  A growing network of recovery community centers is home to these services as well as a place for community-wide sober social activities, workshops, meetings, and resource connections.  These also are services provided by prevention providers and other community-based organizations. 

Recovery Capital 

“Recovery capital is the breadth and depth of internal and external resources that can be drawn upon to initiate and sustain recovery from severe alcohol and other drug problems.” (Cloud &  Granfield, 2004). There are three types of recovery capital that can be influenced by addictions professionals: Personal, Family(Social), and Community (White & Cloud, 2008). 

Recovery capital is conceptually linked to natural recovery, solution-focused therapy, strengths-based case management, recovery management, resilience and protective factors, and the ideas of hardiness, wellness, and global health.  

The concept of Recovery Capital: 

  • The goal in recovery is to build one’s recovery capital at all levels: Individual,  family/social, and community. 
  • Communities must assess recovery capital on an ongoing basis.  
  • Our work is to support recovery-linked cultural revitalization and community development movements.  
  • We must constantly evaluate the effectiveness of our recovery programs and your own professional response to the recovery community.

William White explained at the Summit on Recovery: “The phrase ‘recovery community’  suggests something monolithic, while the phrase ‘recovery communities’ more accurately  reflects the great diversity – including adolescents, the elderly, race/ethnicity, roads to recovery – that characterizes those seeking and finding recovery, all of whom need to: 

  • be at the table,  
  • stay at the table, and  
  • respect the rights of others to be at the table.” 

Many coalition groups set out with prevention as the ultimate target.  While treatment is understood as the means to heal the existing substance abuse within their communities, it alone falls short of the goal line of creating sustainable community wellness.  

If you are interested in creating or strengthing an existing RCO, TurnKey w/ Kim Brown has a wealth of experience in helping groups find the answers they need.        


  • Selected Papers William L. White
  • Cloud, W., & Granfield, R. (2004). A life course perspective on existing addiction: The  relevance of recovery capital in treatment. NAD Publication (Nordic Council for Alcohol  and Drug Research) 44, 185-202. 
  • Faces and Voice of Recovery. (2012). Recovery Community Organization Toolkit. Retrieved  February 15, 2016
  • Outreach Competencies: Minimum Standards for Conducting Street Outreach for Hard-to Reach Populations.  
  • SAMHSA. (2010). Financing Recovery Support Services: Review and Analysis of Funding  Recovery Support Services and Policy Recommendations. Rockville, MD: Substance  Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved September 19, 2017 
  • Sheedy C. K., & Whitter M. (2009). Guiding Principles and Elements of Recovery-Oriented  Systems of Care: What Do We Know From the Research? (HHS Publication No. SMA)  09-4439). Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, SAMHSA. 
  • White, W.L., & Cloud, W. (2008). Recovery capital: A primer for additions professionals.  Counselor, 9(5), 22-27.  
  • White, W.L. (n.d.) Recovery management: What if we really believed that addiction was a  chronic disorder? GLATTC Bulletin. Retrieved February 15, 2016
  • White, W.L., Kelly, J. & Roth, J. (2012). New addiction recovery support institutions:  Mobilizing support beyond professional addiction treatment and recovery mutual aid.  Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 7(2-4), 297-317

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