September is National Recovery Month. Recovery is the part of addiction that most of the general population doesn’t see or understand due to the portrayal and stigma of addiction. Addiction is often incorrectly described as a character flaw and is frequently portrayed in stories of crime, overdose, death, jail, or a life wasted, even though only a small portion of people with addiction experience those things. For many people, the thought of becoming physically or mentally dependent on a substance is terrifying. Yet for millions of Americans, the disease of addiction is a reality.
While they battle their disease, people with addiction are often stigmatized by society, cast out by family and friends, and left with little or no resources. At the same time, they’re exposed to alcohol and drug references almost everywhere they turn—in movies and TV shows, advertisements and commercials, at sports games, concerts, holidays, and family or friend gatherings. But even with the odds stacked against them, many people with addiction are able to recover and live fulfilling lives, just as anyone can.
Recovery is powerful and should be encouraged. Achieving recovery is a long, difficult journey, but it is achievable and it is sustainable. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), 20 million Americans are in recovery, and that number is growing each day!
Reducing the stigma of addiction can help more people get into and stay in recovery. And it can help prevent discrimination and open doors legally and socially for those wishing to overcome their addiction.
Here’s how you can help reduce stigma:
- Educate yourself. Learn the truth about addiction and recovery to stay informed. Educate others when the opportunity arises.
- Don’t generalize. Not everyone who suffers from addiction is alike. Just like the rest of the population, each person is different, with different stories and life experiences.
- Respect recovery. It is a difficult, lifelong journey. People with addiction are never fully recovered, but at the same time, when they are in recovery, treat them as such without sensationalizing. Be proud without overdoing it.
- Don’t judge. Being nonjudgmental is imperative to helping someone with addiction sustain their recovery.
- Avoid defining people as “addicts.” Use language such as “people with addiction” to emphasize it’s not who they are, it is a health problem they have.
- Understand that there are different pathways to recovery. There is no “one size fits all” model of recovery. Everyone has their own path and their own method. What worked for you, a family member, or a friend may not work for someone else.
- Have patience. Recovery is a long process. It doesn’t happen overnight and it is a continuous journey for people with addiction. Be patient—they’ll find their way.
- You can’t force someone into recovery. It has to be on their own terms, and they have to want to do it for their own benefit, not yours.
- Don’t admonish relapse. With any disease, no matter how vigilant or how well you take care of yourself, relapse is always a possibility. This is no different with addiction. Relapse provides an opportunity for people with addiction to learn what works and what doesn’t work to help them sustain long-term recovery.
- Support, support, support. This cannot be emphasized enough. The best way to help reduce stigma is to show support and love. If you have a friend or family member with addiction or in recovery, support is valuable and immeasurable, especially in a society that stigmatizes.
- Share your story. If you’re in recovery, share your success with others. You may find yourself surrounded by people in recovery, people still trying to find success in recovery or their family members, and people who have no idea what it is like to have an addiction or even know someone with an addiction. Sharing your story among all audiences helps put a face to recovery, which can help reduce stigma.
- Learn more. Read “Five Ways You Can Reduce Stigma” to familiarize yourself with other ways you can take action.
For Health Advocate Members
If you are a Health Advocate member with access to our Health Advocacy service, call us! We have a team of Personal Health Advocates who specialize in behavioral health; they can help locate providers, treatment facilities and resources for you or your loved ones. Additionally, call us if you are a Health Advocate member with access to our EAP+Work/Life service–our Licensed Professional Counselors can provide help with substance abuse and many other issues.