For over 20 years – since 1999 – the Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) organized and promoted National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) every September. The goal of Recovery Month is to spread awareness, reduce stigma, and educate individuals and families about the importance of mental health and substance use treatment and services. This goal has four core elements:
- Behavioral Health Awareness. Mental and behavioral health are an essential part of overall health and wellness. Behavioral health includes psychological and emotional wellbeing, as well as psychological and emotional issues related to alcohol and substance use and/or misuse.
- Prevention Awareness. The first step in preventing conditions such as alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) is knowledge. An informed individual can make decisions about alcohol or substance use based on facts derived from evidence-based research.
- Treatment Awareness. For years, treatment for mental health and alcohol/substance use disorders was misunderstood, underrecognized, and stigmatized. In the 21st century, we know – and spread the word – that seeking support for mental health or alcohol/substance use issues is a sign of strength.
- Recovery Awareness. Treatment works. Millions of people have received treatment for mental health and alcohol substance use issues – and millions of people have recovered and live healthy and productive lives.
This year, SAMHSA passes the sponsorship and organization torch to the non-profit recovery advocacy organization Faces & Voices of Recovery. All information related to this important awareness month now lives at the new Recovery Month website. The theme for Recovery Month 2019 included a message of unity:
“Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We Are Stronger”
The theme for 2020 builds on this vital theme of unity, and adds an element that resonates loud and clear during the coronavirus pandemic:
“Join the Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections”
This year, it’s more important than ever to stay connected to our recovery communities. Public health experts advise us to maintain social distance and stay home when we can, but that does not stop us from connecting to and celebrating fellowship with our peers and friends in recovery. In fact, staying connected in any way we can – virtually, socially distanced, or otherwise – is more important now than ever.
Why is Recovery Important?
Recovery is important because right now, there are millions of people in the U.S. diagnosed with mental health and/or substance use disorder. Among those millions, hundreds of thousands are adolescents. We raise awareness to help those young people find positive and productive ways to recover from their health conditions, the same way we help people recover from and manage other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, or asthma.
Awareness is all about removing stigma, and removing stigma is all about reminding people that mental health disorders or alcohol/substance use issues are relapsing medical conditions that respond to treatment. When our friends and loved ones have a medical condition, we support them. That means when our friends and loved ones have a mental health or substance use condition, we support them, too.
This article will focus on alcohol and substance use and misuse. We’ll write another article that shines light on emotional and mood disorders – keep an eye on this blog for that one, coming soon.
We’ll now offer and analyze the latest facts and figures for alcohol and substance use among adolescents, then discuss ways you can get involved in the awareness movement this year.
Alcohol and Drug Use Among Teens: Facts and Figures
Let’s take a look at the statistics on alcohol and substance use disorder for adolescents for 2017-2018. These numbers were published in 2019 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and SAMHSA in the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
First, the big picture prevalence numbers:
Alcohol and Substance Use Disorder Among Adolescents Age 12-17
- Alcohol Use Disorder:
- 2017: 443,000
- 2018: 401,000
- Substance Use Disorder:
- 2017: 992,000
- 2018: 916,000
Now let’s dig deeper, and look at how many of those adolescents received treatment:
Received Treatment for AUD or SUD: Adolescents 12-17
- Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder:
- 2017: 95,000
- 2018: 73,000
- Treatment for Substance Use Disorder:
- 2017: 143,000
- 2018: 130,000
Finally, let’s dig deeper still, and learn how many adolescents who received treatment got treatment specific to their disorder:
Received Treatment for AUD/SUD at Specialized Facility Adolescents 12-17
- Treatment at Specialized Facility for AUD:
- 2017: 39,000
- 2018: 26,000
- Treatment at a Specialized Facility for SUD:
- 2017: 56,000
- 2018: 80,000
At first glance, we see movement that’s positive. The prevalence of alcohol and substance use disorder decreased between 2017 and 2018 among adolescents. However, when we look at the treatment numbers, we see that the percentage of teens who received treatment for an alcohol or substance use disorder is a fraction of what it should be. When we say what it should be, we’re speaking idealistically. In our ideal world, every teen who has an alcohol or drug use problem should receive support for that problem.
We can see, clearly, that this is not the case.
Inside the Numbers
We’ll do quick math on the 2018 numbers to show you what we mean. In 2018, SAMHSA reports that 401,000 adolescents age 12-17 had AUD, while 916,000 adolescents age 12-17 had SUD. Of the adolescents with AUD, 73,000 received treatment – that’s just over 18 percent. And of the 916,000 adolescents who had SUD, 130,000 received treatment – that’s just over 14 percent. That means 82 percent of adolescents with AUD didn’t get treatment for AUD, and 86 percent of adolescents with SUD didn’t get treatment for SUD.
That’s not all.
Evidence shows that adolescents are more likely to achieve full recovery when they receive specialized treatment at a facility designed to treat them. That means adolescents with AUD/SUD should receive treatment at a specialized treatment center for adolescent AUD/SUD.
The numbers tell us that of the 401,000 adolescents diagnosed with AUD in 2018, only 26,000 of them received treatment at a facility designed to meet their needs. And of the 916,000 adolescents diagnosed with SUD in 2018, only 80,000 received treatment at a facility designed to meet their needs. That means that about 6.5 percent of adolescents with AUD got the treatment and support they needed, while 8.7 percent of adolescents with SUD got the treatment and support they needed.
We’ll keep doing the math. In 2018:
- 93.5% of adolescents with AUD did not get the type of treatment that gives them the best chance of sustained recovery.
- 91.3% of adolescents with SUD did not get the type of treatment that gives them the best chance of sustained recovery.
That’s why Recovery Month happens every year. Although we’ve come a long way from the days when people thought disordered alcohol and drug misuse was a character flaw or a moral failing, we have a long, long way to go.
How You Can Help
You’ve already done the first thing on the list: you increased your awareness about recovery by reading this article. You learned about what mental health professionals call the treatment gap, which is the difference between the number of people who need treatment and support and those who receive treatment and support. The treatment gap for alcohol and substance use disorder is significant: the numbers above show that in no uncertain terms. The treatment gap for mental health disorders is significant as well – we’ll discuss that in another article.
For now, your new, increased awareness will help address the treatment gap. You can tell anyone you know about the four core components of Recovery Month:
- Behavioral Health is an important part of overall health.
- Prevention of alcohol and substance use disorder is possible.
- Treatment for alcohol and substance misuse is effective.
- Recovery from alcohol and substance use disorder happens every day.
That’s the second step: telling people you know what you know. The third step is visiting Recovery Month website, checking their calendar for events near you, downloading their sharable materials, and sharing them with all your friends and connections in any way you can, starting with any social media accounts you may have.
This year – 2020 – you can celebrate the connections you have, make new ones, celebrate those, all in the name of the National Recovery Month 2020 theme:
“Join the Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections”
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.