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National Recovery Month highlights a way out of addiction’s grip

National Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month, and given the dire headlines surrounding addiction and alcoholism that are often buried beneath more urgent news items, it’s more important than ever to recognize it.

National Recovery Month, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “is a national observance held every September to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.”

Last year, SAMHSA turned over administration and planning of the annual tradition to the organization Faces and Voices of Recovery. This year’s theme, according to the National Recovery Month website, is “Recovery Is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.” It’s a message made more critical when the most recent statistics on alcohol and drug use in the United States are taken into account.

National Recovery Month: Addiction

Drug addiction is a long-standing problem in this country, but every time recovery advocates and organizations make strides toward improving the lives of those who suffer, it seems to only get worse. According to The Commonwealth Fund, “Recently released data by the CDC show that drug overdose deaths reached a record high of 93,331 in 2020. While these estimates are not final, this is more than 20,000 deaths above the previous high in 2019 and the largest single-year percentage increase on record since 1999.”

Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), calls those statistics “horrifying” in a recent article for Scientific American: “We must eliminate the attitudes and infrastructure barring treating people with substance use disorders. This means making it easier for clinicians to provide life-saving medications, expanding models of care like digital health technologies and mobile clinics that can reach people where they are, and ensuring that payers cover treatments that work.”

The “attitudes and infrastructure” that serve as impediments to addicts getting the help they need continue to be a grave concern among treatment providers like Volkow. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the latest for which statistics are available, only underscores that concern: “Among the 21.6 million people aged 12 or older in 2019 who needed substance use treatment in the past year, 12.2 percent (or 2.6 million people) received substance use treatment at a specialty facility in the past year.”

In other words: 19 million Americans needed some form of substance abuse treatment for drug or alcohol addiction during 2019 but did not receive it. It’s little wonder, then, that Volkow considers last year’s overdose deaths horrifying … because one of the ways in which they could be prevented are so difficult for those who need it to get it.

Even more alarming: The numbers seem to be getting worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control, provisional overdose data for the 12-month period ending in January 2021, the latest for which records are available, predicts a record high overdose number of 95,230 deaths.

National Recovery Month: Alcoholism

National Recovery MonthNational Recovery Month isn’t just about calling attention to drug addiction resources: Alcohol is just as deadly, and according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “An estimated 95,000 people (approximately 68,000 men and 27,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.”

In addition, the NIAAA reports:

  • In 2019, 25.8 percent of people ages 18 and older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month … and 6.3 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.”
  • In 2019, Almost 15 million people qualified for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD), the clinical terminology for alcoholism.
  • Perhaps even more alarmingly, almost 414,000 adolescents ages 12-17 also qualified as having an AUD in 2019.
  • “In 2019, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 10,142 deaths (28.0 percent of overall driving fatalities).”

On top of that, the organization reports, a troubling new trend has emerged over the past year: high-intensity drinking, “defined as consuming alcohol at levels that are two or more times the gender-specific binge drinking thresholds.” Those who drank at twice the binge-drinking thresholds “were 70 times more likely to have an alcohol-related emergency department (ED) visit,” while “those who consumed alcohol at 3 times the gender-specific binge thresholds were 93 times more likely to have an alcohol-related ED visit.”

And yet despite those numbers, the rate of those needing treatment for drinking problems is just as small as it is for those who need drug rehab. Only about 7.3% of adults who needed treatment for an AUD in the past year actually received it, another reason that National Recovery Month is more pertinent than ever.

So What Can You Do?

According to the National Recovery Month website, there are a number of ways in which you can take part, and you don’t necessarily have to be a recovering addict or alcoholic to do so. These include:

  • Take part in National Recovery Month-related events. There’s a calendar you can consult on the website here, and local recovery communities throughout the country are holding their own observances, seminars, workshops and ways in which to spotlight that recovery is possible.
  • Speak up and speak out! If you are in recovery, it’s always important to maintain anonymity in regards to specific programs. The 11th Tradition of 12 Step fellowships is meant to safeguard the reputation of those organizations from being associated with any one individual … but letting others know you’re in recovery without identifying the specific program to which you belong doesn’t break that Tradition. Social media is a great platform through which to share your recovery story, and using the hashtag #recoverymonth allows your posts to be found and shared by local and national organizations that want to spread the word: Recovery works.
  • Get involved: According to the National Recovery Month website, “Write to representatives and local government officials, encouraging them to sign proclamations in support of Recovery Month. Remind them that this simple act demonstrates a common commitment to improving access to recovery.”

Recovery is often a quiet process, and that’s more than understandable. However, as the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors points out, “Since these successes often go unnoticed by the broader population, Recovery Month provides a vehicle for everyone to celebrate these accomplishments. Each September, tens of thousands of prevention, treatment, and recovery programs and facilities around the country celebrate Recovery Month. They speak about strides made by those in recovery and share their success stories with their neighbors, friends, and colleagues. In doing so, everyone helps to increase awareness and foster a greater understanding about mental and substance use disorders.”

As the aforementioned statistics indicate, the news surrounding addiction and alcoholism is often grim … but National Recovery Month demonstrates that those figures don’t tell the whole story. As the NAADAC points out, “Recovery Month will continue to educate others about substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders, the effectiveness of treatment and recovery services, and that recovery is possible.”

By highlighting those possibilities, through your own success stories or those of individuals whom you love, you lift up a light against the darkness. Now, more than ever, National Recovery Month is a way to let those who suffer know that there is a better way of life awaiting them on the other side of addiction.