September is National Recovery Month, a month dedicated to the societal benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery for mental and substance use disorders. In lieu of Recovery Month, there are numerous events that take place all over the country. The goal is to bring recovering addicts and their families together in clean, sober and fun environments to celebrate their recoveries. Events include golf outings, outdoor picnics, rallies and 5K runs. Other events are more educational and provide information and resources to the community.
This year’s theme is Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out. This theme really hits home with us at The River Source because we find that many people are still misinformed about the nature of addiction. Some people still believe that addiction is a choice. A weakness. A case of poor judgement. It’s hard to change this belief system right off the bat, but we believe that with the right education and tools, we can change this attitude in some people.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has supported more than three decades of research that has proven that addiction is a complex brain disease. It is characterized by uncontrollable drug cravings, and this can lead to devastating consequences. NIDA also reports that addiction is a developmental disease, meaning it typically starts in adolescence and can last a lifetime if left untreated.
Why Does Addiction Take Hold of Some and Not Others?
What makes one person more likely to be addicted than another is still unknown. We can attribute some of this to environmental factors or genetics, or it may be a co-occurring disorder such as anxiety or depression at the root of it all. The trouble is that some people still think that addiction is a choice. While the decision to experiment with drugs in the first place is usually by choice, research tells us that the ability to choose is largely influenced by the above mentioned factors.
For example, say Cody and Max are friends in high school. They are almost identical in a general sense. They both come from affluent families, attend the same school and play football. They were brought up in the same community with similar values and rules to follow. The one difference is that Cody deals silently with feelings of depression. When the boys are at a party and offered a drug, Cody feels it can help with his sadness. Max, on the other hand, says no.
Once the drugs take hold, regardless of who the person is, choice is no longer a reality. Drugs disrupt a person’s ability to control their behavior, and this is what makes addiction a compulsive disease. Giving a drug addict an ultimatum or asking them to stop won’t be effective. Intervention is needed.
Speaking Up and Reaching Out
What we love about this month’s theme for National Recovery Month is that it focuses on speaking up and reaching out. Addiction is a complex brain disease, and it needs to be recognized as such. Being trapped in outdated belief systems is damaging to society. We can’t be effective at treating addicts unless we are compassionate and understanding of the disease and its uncontrollable nature.
Recognizing the signs of addiction and behavioral health issues is part of the puzzle. People need to know what to watch for in others, and remember that addiction can affect almost anyone of any age. For example, illicit drugs are a hidden epidemic among people over 65 years of age. Children, on the other hand, may not be abusing drugs or alcohol, but they may be showing signs of anxiety or depression that can lead to addiction. By educating teachers, employers and the general public, we can be more responsible in recognizing addiction and intervening early on.
It’s also important to be realistic about recovery. We want recovery to be positive and enjoyable, but it has its ups and downs. The more recovering addicts and their loved ones are aware of what treatment entails, the better they will handle both the good and bad days. One bad day does not equal failure. Relapse does not mean treatment was ineffective. There are always second chances in life, but we have to work for them.
Make this month count. Get involved either by attending an event, starting one of your own or sharing information about addiction. It’s time that we erase our limited misconceptions of addiction and be positive influencers for addicts, recovering addicts and their families. Addiction knows no boundaries, so it could be any of us dealing with addiction one day. Why not work together to create a supportive community?
For more information on National Recovery Month, visit www.recoverymonth.gov.