Substance use disorder continues to be a massive problem in our society. According to statistics from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, approximately 20.4 million people lived with a substance use disorder in 2019. In addition, it’s estimated that around 25 million people are in stable recovery from substance use disorder, meaning they have been successful in sobriety for one year or longer.
Even though we know more about the science of addiction than ever before, there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding this subject. Individuals who struggle with substance use may be considered undesirable by some segments of society, and this prejudice may persist even after someone has been successful in their recovery for many years. For this reason, some people like to keep their recovery private, only discussing it in certain circles—which was one major appeal of Alcoholics Anonymous when that program first started.
However, times have changed since then, and a growing number of recovering individuals no longer want to be anonymous. Instead of feeling ashamed of their past substance use, they prefer to feel proud of their new lives in recovery, and they want to share their stories with others. This is the purpose of National Recovery Month, which this year focuses on the theme, “Recovery is for everyone: every person, every family, every community.”
Indeed, we can all play a part in supporting recovery in our communities, and there are many ways to help or receive help. We spoke with Erin Flick, our Substance Use Disorder Team Lead for Putnam County, to learn more.
Why National Recovery Month Matters
First observed in 1990, National Recovery Month is an annual celebration of the gains made by individuals in recovery, as well as of the treatments, recovery practices and community supports that have helped them along the way. “It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to recovery, as well as an opportunity for community stakeholders to come together and celebrate one another, and celebrate sobriety,” Erin says.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement in the recovery community to reject the stigma of substance use disorder and instead focus on the accomplishments of those in recovery. Erin explains, “Sometimes we’re tucked away in meeting rooms or in church basements, not always living out loud. We experience stigma every day in regards to substance use disorder. But about a decade ago, there was a surge in the recovering community, and we no longer want to be anonymous.”
Over time, public opinions about substance use disorder have started to change. Although stigma still remains, many people now know that addiction is a disease rather than a discipline issue, and our language for talking about addiction has become less discriminatory. Every year, the focus of National Recovery Month is on continuing these advances, as well as on supporting everyone whose life has been impacted by substance use disorder. As Erin says,
“It’s always nice to come together and celebrate, because with the disease of addiction, there’s so much trauma, tragedy, and premature death. But the great thing about the culture of recovery is that it’s more about the celebration of life and healing. And the most important piece is welcoming newcomers, showing them that they’re not alone, and showing them that if we can do it, they can do it.”
How You Can Support Others on Their Journey of Recovery
Although the stigma surrounding substance use disorder is lessening, and more individuals want to be “in the open” about their recovery, the fact remains that those in recovery need support from friends, family members, and their communities. Addiction is a chronic disease, and recovery from addiction is a lifelong process. Care and support from other people can often make the difference between continued sobriety and painful setbacks.
For both recovering individuals and those who know someone in recovery, Erin emphasizes the importance of open and honest communication. “For family or friends, my overall advice is just to talk out loud, to whomever, and eventually you’re going to get linked to something that might be beneficial for supporting that individual,” she says. “And for someone who is in recovery, the same thing: tell your story out loud, because you may say something that impacts someone who is struggling or a family member who doesn’t know what to do.”
However, if you do not personally have experience with substance use disorder, the first step is to seek to understand those who do. Erin explains, “As human beings, it can be easy to judge and take other people’s inventory. A lot of times, drugs and alcohol are a symptom of deeper issues—usually of trauma. If we listen to understand, then we can gain insight into an individual and their circumstances and have empathy, and by doing that, we can build knowledge about the disease of addiction.”
Finally, Erin stresses the importance of connecting with recovery-oriented organizations and participating in the recovery community:
“Do your research, get connected to community resources, and see what you can do, because we can’t do it alone. It takes a village. And a recovering community is a lot healthier than a community that says, ‘Not in my backyard.’ We can help individuals who are struggling become active participants of the community, whether it be through offering jobs, treatment, or an in-kind donation to a community resource. By the time someone gets to a point where they’re ready to make a change in their life, they might have nothing. So it’s about reaching out to the community to see how you can help. I just did this with a community member this week. In order to get them into sober living, where they really needed to be, it was going to cost $130 for their first week. I reached out to a church, and because they are recovery-informed, they committed to sponsoring the first week so this individual could get into sober living and be safe.”
Helpful Resources for Recovery
Fortunately, getting involved in your local recovery community isn’t difficult. There are many existing support groups for both individuals in recovery and those who know someone in recovery. Below, we’ve made a list of some of our favorite support organizations, as well as websites you can visit for useful facts and statistics about substance use and addiction.
Recovery & Support Groups
- Alcoholics Anonymous — 12-step recovery groups for people who suffer from alcohol addiction
- Narcotics Anonymous — 12-step recovery groups for people who suffer from addiction to narcotics
- Heroin Anonymous — 12-step recovery groups for people who suffer from heroin addiction
- Gamblers Anonymous — 12-step recovery groups for people who suffer from gambling addictions
- Overeaters Anonymous — 12-step recovery groups for people who suffer from compulsive overeating
- Co-Dependents Anonymous — 12-step recovery groups for people who suffer from co-dependence on others
- Al-Anon/Alateen — Support groups for adults and teens who are negatively affected by another person’s substance use disorder
- Adult Children of Alcoholics — 12-step recovery groups for individuals who have been negatively affected by a parent’s addiction
- SMART Recovery — Recovery groups focused around the Self-Management And Recovery Training model
- Yoga 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR) — Recovery groups that combine the 12-step model with the practice of yoga
- Celebrate Recovery — 12-step recovery groups with an emphasis on the Christian faith
- Young People in Recovery — Peer support and life skills training for young adults in recovery from substance use disorder
- Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) — Support groups for individuals with a child or children who suffer from substance use disorder
- Faces & Voices of Recovery Mutal Aid Resources — Links to support groups and programs for people in recovery from a wide variety of mental health challenges
- SAMHSA 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health — Statistics on a variety of mental health and substance use topics in the U.S.
- Cordant Health Solutions Drug Resource Library — Useful information about a variety of drugs and addictive substances
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Over-the-Counter Medicines — Information about over-the-counter medicines and their potential for misuse
- Foundation for a Drug-Free World: The Truth about Alcohol — Facts and statistics about alcohol use geared toward youth
- CDC Drug Overdose Death Among Adolescents Data Brief — Statistics on overdose deaths among adolescents aged 15–19 from 1999–2015
- Verywell Mind Statistics on Teen Marijuana Use — Facts and statistics about marijuana for parents of teenage children
- Monitoring the Future — Statistics on adolescent drug use based on annual survey results
- Your Choice Foundation — Substance use prevention program based around a personal story of addiction and recovery