There are so many tragic stories in the field of addiction, and no shortage of onlookers who are drawn to the shock and awe of addicts’ war stories. It’s easy to lose sight of the brighter side of the story: Treatment works and people do recover.
This was the message of a survey released last week by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), which found that more than 23 million people (10% of adults) in the U.S. have recovered from drug and alcohol problems.
David Sack, M.D., is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine, and writes a blog about addiction. He is CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, a network of mental health and addiction treatment centers that includes a teen drug rehab at The Right Step and Promises young adult rehab.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
This is a part of the story that is not told enough. If told more often, perhaps we would see more addicts moving beyond the shame and stigma of addiction, getting help, and sharing their success stories. Just as importantly, it would remind the 23 million Americans who have yet to find recovery that there is hope.
Why Hope Matters
Hope matters in addiction recovery because put simply, without hope nothing changes. Few people set goals or pursue them if there is no hope of achieving them. Few people embark on a difficult task if there is no hope of completing it, or at least reaching important milestones along the way. Those who cannot envision a future that is brighter than the present may fall further into drug use, depression or worse, give up on life altogether.
There are many ways to build hope. For some, it comes from a connection with a higher power or developing a sense of purpose. Others rely on their family and friends to have hope until they find it for themselves. By sharing the message that recovery can be a reality for people in the grip of addiction, we offer support and encouragement to those who need it most. Hope inspires the realization that “Other people can do this, and so can I.” And that is the beginning of addiction recovery.
Fighting Stigma with Awareness
Some people argue that calling addiction a brain disease has done little to reduce stigma. But this doesn’t mean we should stop defining addiction in this way – it means we need to call greater attention to the fact that addiction is a treatable disease that has been managed by millions of people.
The evidence being gathered by OASAS and other organizations helps garner this type of positive attention. The following additional survey findings, if supported by further research, may point us in the direction of improved outreach to populations that are currently underserved in addiction treatment:
• There are more men in recovery than women (12% vs. 7%).
• There are fewer young adults (18 to 34) and older adults (55 and up) in recovery than middle-age adults (35 to 44).
• The South and Northeast have a lower prevalence of adults in recovery (7% and 9%, respectively) than the West and Midwest (11% and 14%, respectively).
• Parents and non-parents are equally likely to be in recovery.
We’ve made significant strides in understanding the disease of addiction, but there is more progress to be made. We are seeing the beginnings of a movement to understand recovery and bring the type of treatment that we know works to the people still struggling with this disease.
While this may seem un-newsworthy and insignificant to some, to me this is a message that cannot be repeated enough: There is life after addiction, and it’s one that is well worth living.