Article Title

Awakening: 'Spontaneous recovery’ from substance abuse among Aboriginal peoples in Canada


There is a paucity of research on spontaneous recovery (SR) from substance abuse in general, and specific to Aboriginal peoples. There is also limited understanding of the healing process associated with SR. In this study, SR was examined among a group of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Employing a decolonizing methodology, thematic analysis of traditional talking circle narratives identified an association between a traumatic life event and an ‘awakening.’ This ‘awakening’ was embedded in primary (i.e., consider impact on personal well-being) and secondary (i.e., implement alternative coping mechanism) cognitive appraisal processes and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation rooted in increased traditional Aboriginal cultural awareness and understanding. This contributed to both abstinence (i.e., recovery) and sustained well-being (i.e., continued abstinence). Three key interrelated ‘themes’ specific to the role of culture in SR and recovery maintenance were identified: Aboriginal identity, cultural practices, and traditional values. These findings, combined with the limited literature, were developed into a prospective model of SR from substance abuse in Aboriginal peoples. This model highlights the potential need for substance abuse treatment and intervention policy to consider culture as a determinant of health and well-being.


The authors wish to thank all of the individuals who shared their experiences for others to learn from in this study, the Ancient Spirals Retreat Centre for making available a suitable meeting space, and the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation for financially supporting this research. Appreciation is also offered to Charlotte Fillmore-Handlon for her editorial assistance. Particular appreciation and gratitude is expressed to our study’s Elder who guided the gathering; without his cultural guidance this study would not have been undertaken. We would also like to thank the external reviewers from the International Indigenous Policy Journal for their helpful comments, and members of the Saskatchewan Team for Research and Evaluation of Addictions Treatment and Mental Health Services (STREAM) and their associates, who likewise provided insightful guidance and comments—Elder Billy Ermine, Sharon Acoose, Russell Bone, Peter Butt, Joe Custer, Michelle Kushniruk, Larry Laliberte, Glen McCallum, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, David Mykota, Ron Ratte, and Cynthia Shorting.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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