Background: Substance use disorders are a major contributor to the economic and healthcare burden in Australia. Therapeutic communities (TCs) are utilised treatment methods globally, though low program completion rates continue to represent a major obstacle in effective and sustainable drug and alcohol treatment. The aim of this study was to explore reasons for early withdrawal from TC programs and perceptions of successful recovery. This study also aimed to explore how employment and volunteering related to early exit and perceptions of successful recovery. Methods: Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 13 ex-residents from a long-term TC program at a community-based rehab organisation in regional Australia. Results: Thematic analysis revealed a complex interplay of factors contributing to early TC withdrawal, and perceptions of successful recovery from a lived experience perspective and how this was shaped by employment and volunteering. Eleven themes were identified. Three relating to reasons for joining the program, which connected with ultimate withdrawal from the program: Pre-program existing relationships, pre-program employment situation and needing a 'circuit breaker' in their life. Three relating to reasons for early withdrawal: TC program characteristics, relationships during the program and planning future employment. Five relating to perceptions of successful recovery: Improved understanding of their addiction, reduced substance use, improved physical and psychological health, relationship success and employment success. Conclusions: Reasons for leaving treatment early are multi-faceted and revolve around relationships, planning future employment and program characteristics. The influence that each plays on their decision to leave early is varied and determined by the value they assign it. Perceived success extends far beyond achieving and maintaining abstinence to encompass improved relationships, psychological and physical wellbeing, understanding of addiction and employment, studying or volunteering. Self-worth and feeling able to contribute to society through employment, study and volunteering were perceived to be essential elements of successful recovery. Clinicians, policy makers and program developers should use the extended definition of successful recovery from the ex-clients perspective when determining the clinical and economic effectiveness of TC programs.