By now we’ve all heard the staggering rates of overdoses — over 100,000 dead in one year. There is another side to this story. The side of redemption, hope, recovery.
It is estimated that over 20 million people are in recovery from addiction.
September is National Recovery Month, an observance held annually to promote evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, acknowledge the strong and proud recovery community, and highlight the dedication of providers and community members across the United States that make all forms of recovery possible. National Recovery Month began in 1989 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), originally under the name “Treatment Works! Month” to increase public awareness surrounding mental health and addiction recovery and as a way to honor those working in the field of substance use disorders. In 2011, SAMHSA transformed the event, renamed National Recovery Month, to provide those in recovery a time to honor and celebrate their success stories and to illustrate to those grappling with a substance use disorder that living in recovery is possible.
As we celebrate recovery, we must also acknowledge the failed War on Drugs and its disparate impact on BIPOC communities. Decades of disastrous anti-drug use policies negatively affected those with a substance use disorder by increasing incarceration, stigma and bias, poor treatment in health care settings, and difficulty establishing stable housing and gainful employment. These policies have followed people into their recovery as well — from rigid background checks that prohibit individuals gaining professional licensures and certifications to restrictions to affordable housing. We still have a lot of work to do in this area.
What Do We Know About Addiction and Recovery?
Science and best practices work!
- Medications for addiction treatment have decades of science demonstrating effectiveness. Medications such as buprenorphine, naltrexone and methadone have ample evidence of outcomes, and support people in their recovery and ability to live a self-directed life.
- Evidence-based and promising practices such as cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, peer-delivered services and culturally responsive interventions are key to enhancing the likelihood of recovery.
- Harm reduction initiatives keep people safe, alive and connected. Not everyone is ready or will be ready to stop using. Interventions such as naloxone distribution, syringe service programs and drug testing help reduce harms and untimely death.
- Low-barrier or low-threshold treatment and recovery supports make services more accessible to those seeking help. Treatment on demand is the gold standard and allows immediate entry. Recovery supports need to be widely available, including peer support specialists, mutual aid groups and recovery-focused fellowship events. Recovery supports should be available and tailored to specific groups, such as BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities.
How Can You Support Family, Friends and Colleagues in Recovery?
In the workplace:
- Ensure materials such as employee training materials and drug-free workplace policies reflect destigmatizing, person-first language
- Offer non-alcohol drink options at work-sponsored events
- Offer alternatives to work-related happy hours and alcohol-centric events
- Reach out to employees who are in recovery to ask them about ways they can feel supported during company events with alcohol present
- Celebrate recovery milestones
- Talk about recovery as if it’s the norm and not the exception
In your personal life:
- Inquire about friends’ and family members’ recovery
- Ask family or friends how you can support their recovery
- Celebrate recovery milestones (add loved one’s recovery date to your calendar and send a text or card)
- Reduce conversations about alcohol or substance use in front of those in recovery, especially those in early recovery
- In a setting where alcohol (or other substances like marijuana) may be present, ask your family member or friend if they are comfortable, or choose to not drink in show of support to their recovery
Acknowledge and respect that not all people want to be open with their recovery status. Individuals who talk openly about their personal recovery are taking a huge risk, as many times they have been ostracized and treated differently because of being in recovery. Support those who are open and create an environment where individuals can talk about being in recovery if they choose. Always use nonstigmatizing, unbiased language when discussing substance use and recovery.
There are many paths to recovery, and it’s important to understand that everyone’s recovery may look different. Some individuals attend recovery support meetings, others may take medications or attend counseling, while some engage in health-focused activities such as running, hiking or recovery gyms, and some may use traditional ceremonies or spiritual or religious support as their recovery foundation. All paths are good paths.
Addiction impacts everyone. Recovery is possible.
Christi Hildebran is the senior director of research and evaluation at Comagine Health. She is a person with lived experience in long-term recovery from addiction. Christi lives with her husband, Chris, and 10-pound shorkie, Gerry, in Portland, Oregon.