Addiction is an invisible killer. It affects people of all ages, genders, races, orientations, ethnicities, nationalities, and faiths. Addiction, the “family disease,” can affect people who aren’t addicted: the parents, children, friends, coworkers, and partners of addicts suffer, too. In 2010, over 23 million Americans reportedly had substance abuse disorder. That number has only increased in the last seven years. Addicts and alcoholics—sober and not yet sober—are everywhere, yet we rarely make it into the news unless we’ve relapsed, died, or worse. So how do we bring awareness to addiction and recovery?
Support Your Local Addict
Simply being visible and vocal is one way to bring awareness to addiction and recovery. Many people, who are not addicts or have no knowledge of recovery, make assumptions about addiction. They may think that addiction is like what they see on television or in the movies. When they think “heroin addict,” they think of someone shooting up under a bridge with a dirty needle. “Alcoholic,” in their minds, means someone drinking out of a paper bag and sleeping on a park bench. Speaking up and showing that addiction affects all kinds of people can help change these stereotypes. Many alcoholics and addicts look just like everyone else. We hold jobs, raise families, and coach Little League. In recovery, we have the gift of leading normal lives.
If you’re not comfortable sharing about your personal recovery story, sometimes it’s enough just to remind people that addiction is a mental illness, not a moral failing. If you hear someone saying negative things about an alcoholic, for example, you might politely point out that alcoholism is not that different from obsessive compulsive disorder. You might also say that because of the immense amount of negativity and shame put on addicts, only 10% will ever seek treatment. Offering new information might be the key to changing the way someone else perceives addiction.
Massive Changes in Addiction Treatment
Over the last century, treatment for addiction and alcoholism has changed dramatically. Addicts, once considered to be morally bankrupt, were subjected to horrific, inhuman treatment in the interest of “scaring them sober.” This still happens in other countries today. Addicts are beaten, sprayed with cold water, forced to drink or use until they become sick, and put in isolation. Thankfully, we’ve learned more about how addiction works and how to treat it. These changes, which include group therapy, learning new life skills, holistic care, and individual therapy as well as psychiatric medication when needed, happened in part because of addiction advocates. By insisting that addicts are people, too, and deserve equal access to health care and safe, respectful rehabs, these advocates have changed the face of addiction treatment.
We still have a long way to go, especially when it comes to how addicts and alcoholics are treated by the medical community. It’s important to keep pushing for policy changes that reflect that addicts are people and deserve to be treated with dignity. Important advocacy today focuses on making treatment available to everyone, eliminating rules that exclude people with addiction from participating in blood drives or donating tissue, and not restricting or refusing social services to people with addiction or their families. If you want to get involved with addiction advocacy, reach out to your local Alano Club, treatment center, or addiction support group. Write a letter to your state representative. Get educated about the social, political, and economic issues that specifically affect addicts. Even one person can make a big difference.
Save Your Own Life, Every Day
Once we are recovered, it’s very tempting to dust our hands off and move on. “I’m sober!” we might say to ourselves. “Why should I care about anyone else’s recovery?” However, evidence shows that staying connected to a community of like-minded people, whether that’s a supportive group of friends, a 12 Step group, or a treatment center, can be key to maintaining long-term recovery. People with a significant amount of time in recovery know that getting sober isn’t a one and done situation. We have to save our own lives, every day.
By continuing to bring awareness to addiction and recovery, we are not only creating the world where it’s easier for us to stay sober. We are creating the world that makes it possible for the people who come after us—those who still struggle with addiction, who haven’t gotten sober yet—to enjoy the amazing gift of recovery, too. Our recovery is not complete until we have passed on what we’ve learned. Whether it’s contributing a story to Addiction Unscripted, reaching out to someone in need in a Facebook group, or simply calling a friend who’s struggling to see how they’re doing today, our recovery keeps the door open for others who want what we have. When we bring awareness to addiction and recovery, we’re not only doing ourselves a favor. We’re building a better future, for all people with addiction.