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Addiction and mental illness are issues that affect our lives and communities every day. National Recovery Month, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) every September, is a great opportunity to bring these stories into the open, reduce stigma, and seek solutions.
While we place special focus on this topic in September, addiction is a serious issue that deserves attention year-round. In 2016, 20.1 million Americans aged 12 or above had a substance use disorder, including 15.1 million people with alcohol use disorder.
With these kinds of numbers, it’s likely that you or someone you know has wrestled with addiction. And even if that’s not the case, addiction likely touches your life in some way through its larger impact on our nation.
This month, and every month, we must work to raise awareness of treatment options, support those in need, and recognize the journeys of those who have battled substance abuse.
How Recovery Benefits Society
For society in general, addiction is both dangerous and costly. It slows workplace productivity, harms families, and is connected with crime, health issues, and death.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are approximately 88,000 alcohol-related deaths each year. In 2014, 9,967 driving fatalities involved alcohol. In general, alcohol is the United States’ third leading preventable cause of death.
Alcohol is also considered to be the most harmful drug to other people (through domestic violence, assaults, etc.), followed by heroin and crack cocaine. While heroin is associated with the most crime, alcohol is associated with the greatest family adversity, injury, and economic cost.
In 2010, for example, alcohol misuse cost the United States nearly a quarter trillion dollars—more than the economic impacts of obesity, smoking, and diabetes. And that’s just alcohol: In 2007, the additional cost of illicit drug use was an estimated $200 billion.
Considering these statistics, placing a priority on treatment and recovery should be extremely beneficial to society. Effectively addressing addiction saves money and makes our society safer, happier, and more productive. It improves the physical and mental health of individuals, families, communities, and our nation as a whole.
How Social Stigma Prevents Recovery
It’s clear that treating addiction is in our best interest as a society. However, of the 21 million people who needed treatment for substance abuse in 2016, only 3.8 million received it.
Reasons for this include individuals not believing they need treatment, not being ready to stop using, not knowing how to get treatment, or worrying about the cost of treatment. But another major factor is our cultural stigma around addiction.
In our society, people are often stereotyped and judged for having drug or alcohol problems. Naturally, this causes many feel ashamed, and to hide their struggles with addiction from others. Instead of asking for help, they isolate themselves from loved ones and lie when questioned.
Feelings of shame also lower self-esteem, making problems with addiction even worse. People may use more drugs or alcohol to cope with these feelings, reinforcing a negative cycle.
Too often, therefore, the fear of being judged keeps people from seeking treatment. And left untreated, addiction can lead to serious health issues and death. Stigmatizing addiction isn’t just hurtful or cruel—it can be lethal.
Providing Support, Not Stigma
Fighting against addiction stigma saves lives and improves our society. Here are a few steps we can take to support others during national recovery month, and every month:
- Inform ourselves. Addiction is not a moral shortcoming or a lack of self-control—it’s a disease, and it can happen to anyone. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) classifies addiction as a chronic, complex brain disorder. When we understand addiction as an illness that disrupts a person’s decision-related brain circuits, we can begin to dismantle stigma.
- Use person-first language. Try replacing dehumanizing terms like “addict” with “a person with a substance use disorder” or “a person with drug/alcohol use problems.” These terms may be a mouthful, but words matter. It’s important to emphasize that people who struggle with addiction are human, just like everyone else. They are more than their disease.
- Listen without judgement. If someone has the courage to talk to you about their struggles with drugs or alcohol, listen without judging. Offer compassionate support, and mention resources that can help.
- Speak up when you see or hear others stigmatizing addiction. Once you know the facts, you can also share them with others. If you hear someone else ridiculing or shaming people with substance use disorders, say something. Explain that addiction is a disease, that everyone deserves respect and dignity no matter their struggles, and that stigma is one reason people don’t get help. Fight against stigma with evidence-based facts.
- Share your stories. If you struggle with or have struggled with addiction, share your story with others. Knowing that they’re not alone can encourage people to come forward. Even if you haven’t personally struggled with addiction, perhaps you know someone who has. Having the courage to share your stories helps people find the courage to share theirs.
How Ria Health Can Help
In addition to stigma, there are many barriers to treatment involving time, money, and an individual’s specific needs. Many people believe that treatment for addiction is costly, and requires taking time off work to attend rehab. Additionally, affordable alternatives like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) tend to follow an abstinence-only approach, which does not work for everyone. Incompatibility with the 12 step program can increase feelings of failure or shame, and make people feel like there isn’t a solution.
It’s important to know that effective alternatives are available. Ria Health uses telemedicine to provide access to expert medical care, one-on-one support, and digital tools to treat alcohol addiction—all from the comfort of home. Moderation is an option, the program is covered by many insurance providers, and the whole thing can be done using an app on your smartphone.
Ria Health members set their own personal goals, and receive customized treatment plans. This approach has proven very effective so far: On average Ria Health members reduce their drinking by 75 percent within the first 12 months. If you or someone you know is hesitant to seek treatment because of the barriers described above, Ria Health may be able to help.
This National Recovery Month, we want you to know that treatment works. With effective assistance, people can break free of their addictions and live happier, healthier lives. We’re proud to highlight the success stories of our real-life members.
Maria in Florida, for example, was a daily drinker—often drinking a bottle of wine in one sitting. After making the decision to get help through Ria Health, she says, “I am finally rid of the temptation to drink.”
Across the country in California, Mark was frustrated that four or five stays at rehab and AA attendance hadn’t helped him stop drinking. “With Ria Health,” he says, “after less than one year, I don’t even think about drinking anymore.” In the same part of the country, Rob also found success with Ria’s program. In his words, “I am happy to say that after ten years of heavy drinking, I no longer abuse alcohol!”
Hear Bill’s Success Story with Ria Health
Addiction is a treatable disease, affecting millions of individuals, their families, and the communities that surround them. It can happen to anyone. As a society, we can come together to offer support, reduce stigma, and offer resources rather than ridicule.
Listening with compassion, offering empathy, and encouraging people to seek treatment changes lives and improves our society. This Recovery Month, and every month, let’s commit to understanding addiction, supporting those who experience it, and celebrating those who recover.