We’ve come a long way since the first National Recovery Month in 1989.
A lot has changed. The way we view and treat addiction, the way we view and treat mental and behavioral health disorders, and the way we, as a society talk about both addiction and mental health disorders.
If we go back thirty years and take a peek at 1989, when National Recovery Month first started as Treatment Works! Month in Massachusetts, we see a different world.
Here’s what things looked like back then:
- The disease model of addiction was in the early stages of acceptance and implementation by the medical community. The disease model – which treats addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease, similar to diabetes, hypertension, or cancer – changed our approach completely. At that time, many people, including medical and mental health professionals, viewed addiction as a character defect, a sign of weakness, or a moral failure. Those days are over.
- The federal agency that now organizes National Recovery Month – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – had not been created. Congress authorized its formation in 1992. That year, Congress also passed legislation formally incorporating the National Institute on Drug Abuse into the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Public stigma around addiction and mental health issues kept many people from seeking treatment, which meant – and yes, this is obvious – they went untreated. What’s not obvious, and what’s uncounted, is the number of lives lost because people were afraid to seek evidence-based support to achieve sobriety and/or manage the symptoms related to their mental health disorder.
Thankfully, that era is in the past.
We’ve come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do. That’s why we’re writing this post to spread awareness about National Recovery Month.
The 21st Century: New Voices, New Vocabulary, New Treatments
We mentioned it above, and it’s important. The way we talk about addiction has changed. We avoid the word addiction as much as possible. We also avoid words like addict, alcoholic, and drug abuse, and drug abuser. They added to the negative stigma and kept people from seeking the treatment they need. Instead of addiction, we use the word disorder: substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder, and opioid use disorder, for instance. And instead of addict, alcoholic, or drug abuser, we say a person with an…alcohol use disorder, a substance use disorder, or an alcohol use disorder.
Why do we do that?
Because the most important thing we do now is put people first. When talking about these people now – these people who are our friends, family members, and peers – we use non-judgmental, respectful language. We say they’re a person with an alcohol use disorder, for instance. Because that’s what they are. A person first, a person with a medical, psychiatric, or mental health condition or disorder second.
It’s really that simple.
The idea is to unite, rather than divide, and to bring people together, rather than drive them apart. This year’s theme for National Recovery Month aims to do just that:
“Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We Are Stronger”
It’s an invitation to everyone to help. Whether you have direct experience with recovery or not, you can help raise awareness about recovery from alcohol, substance use, and/or mental health disorders. SAMSHA offers the goals for this year on their website:
“Join the Voices for Recovery emphasizes the need to share resources and build networks across the country to support the many paths to recovery. It reminds us that mental health and substance use disorders affect us all and that we are all part of the solution.”
In addition, SAMSHA offers a wealth of resources that enable anyone interested to participate in National Recovery Month as much as they’re willing and able.
Recovery Month: Priority Community Members
If you want to “Join the Voices for Recovery” this month, visit the National Recovery Month website and download their Recovery Month Toolkit. It includes resources you can start using immediately to raise awareness. The focus this year include five key target populations:
1. The Community
Click this link to learn how you and everyone in your community can help raise awareness about treatment and recovery.
2. First Responders
In many cases, first responders are first to arrive on-site at a crisis involving alcohol or drugs. That means they’re often the first people in a position to begin the treatment process. Click this link to learn more about how you can help them.
3. The Healthcare Community
These are the medical and mental health professionals who work every day to support people living with alcohol, substance use, or mental health disorders. Click this link to learn more about how you can help them do their vital community work.
4. Youth and Emerging Leaders
Our young people are growing up in a world where it’s okay to ask for help, seek treatment, and talk about their experience with alcohol, substance, and/or mental health disorders. They will be our future policymakers, clinicians, and community organizers. They will usher in the next era of treatment, which we’re looking forward to. Click this link to learn more about how you can help them shape the future.
5. Treatment and Recovery Support Services
Click this link to read more about what’s new in treatment and recovery. You can also access the online resources such as emergency hotlines and treatment locators SAMSHA maintains on its website.
What You Can Do Every Day
Finally, if you want to help but simply don’t have the time to participate in any organized way, there are some things you can do:
- Adopt the new way of speaking about addiction. Use person-first language and refer to them in the following way: alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, opioid use disorder, or cannabis use disorder. This language is consistent across types of disorders.
- If you know someone in recovery, congratulate them on their hard work and offer your support.
- Search yourself for any vestiges of the old stigma. Honestly consider the idea that alcohol and substance use disorders are chronic, relapsing diseases similar to diabetes, hypertension, or cancer.
End all conversations around recovery with this message from SAMSHA:
“Treatment works! People can and do recover from alcohol and substance use disorders. People with mental health disorder can and do learn how to manage their symptoms and live life on their own terms. Treatment works!”
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.