Recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is possible. Today, there are about 23 million Americans in long-term recovery according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). September is the month set aside to both celebrate those in recovery as well as raise awareness about recovery and addiction.
Now in its 32nd year, National Recovery Month aims to inform all Americans that substance use and mental health treatment work and help millions recover and go on to live healthy, vibrant, and fulfilling lives. In addition, this observance helps to solidify the message that good behavioral and mental health is crucial to overall health, prevention works, treatment works, and people can and do recover.
Celebrating Millions in Long-term Recovery: Recovery Can and Does Happen
Many times people are focused on the problem of alcohol and substance use disorders and forget that millions of Americans are living in recovery from both each day. In fact, the United States government doesn’t closely track those individuals in recovery but focuses on the number of individuals with an active addiction. National Recovery Month spreads not only awareness but also hope through the stories of those in recovery.
National Recovery Month was started by SAMHSA in 1989 and was called Treatment Works! Month as a way to pay tribute to those who work in the addiction industry. Then in 1998, it was renamed National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. This change was made to honor not only those who work in the addiction field but also those living in recovery and the work they do to stay in recovery.
In June 2020, SAMHSA announced that it would no longer sponsor National Recovery Month. Faces and Voices of Recovery then created a new Recovery Month website to host all events and assets that make this important month possible.
The theme for 2021 National Recovery Month is “Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.” This theme is to help remind all those in recovery or active addiction that they are not alone. Recovery is possible and we are all on the road of recovery together.
This is true not just for individuals in recovery but also for their families and their communities. Alcohol and drug addiction impact far more than just the individual with the disorder, it also has detrimental and often lasting effects on family and loved ones. In addition, some communities have been ravaged by drug and alcohol addiction. These communities also need to know they are not alone and recovery can and does happen every day.
In addition to addiction to alcohol or drugs, National Recovery Month also aims to raise awareness about those in recovery from co-occurring mental health disorders. According to SAMHSA, about 7.7 million Americans have both a substance or alcohol use disorder and another mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression. It’s vital to raise awareness as one often masks the other and effective treatment for both is essential for long-term recovery.
Understanding the Recovery Process
While taking the first step and reaching out for help for a drug or alcohol problem is often the hardest and most vital step, long-term recovery takes work and dedication. Just as each person is different and their story is different, so too is their journey of recovery. However, as this national month aims to convey, while the journey may differ, no one in recovery is alone.
As with life itself, there are ups and downs along the road which is true of recovery too. We all experience good times and bad ones, but with the support, love, and understanding of loved ones, family, and the community we make it through and often are better for it.
Recovery, particularly long-term recovery, doesn’t happen quickly, nor does attending a treatment center make it last. Long-term recovery and the good things that come with it happen over time and with work. According to addiction professionals, there are several pillars of recovery. These must be achieved in order to maintain long-lasting sobriety from substances or other mental health disorders.
Different groups believe there are different parts to recovery. In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) there are three pillars of recovery:
In this AA model, unity is the support and community received from attending and participating in AA meetings. Recovery means continuing to abstain from substances and heal the mind by working the 12 steps of the program, and Service is helping and giving to others which nurtures the spirit.
This model of recovery can be seen on the coins or chips given out at many AA meetings. These coins are used to celebrate both monthly and yearly sobriety. This is represented by a triangle with each pillar being like a leg of a stool. Each of the three legs is essential for long-term recovery just as each of the three legs of a stool is needed for it to stand.
SAMHSA also has a model of recovery with four pillars or dimensions. These four dimensions are as follows:
This includes managing one’s disorder and making choices that support healthy physical and emotional wellbeing.
SAMHSA states that this is having a safe and stable place to live.
Engaging in meaningful daily activities and having the income and resources to participate in the community.
This means having friends, relationships, and social groups that support love, hope, and friendship.
As you can see, both AA and SAMHSA pillars of recovery are much the same. From the basics of being free from substances and having a safe place to live to being a part of the community and contributing are paramount to long-term recovery.
Beginning with evidence-based treatment at a reputable addiction treatment center is the first step to meeting all of these dimensions of recovery. For anyone who is living in active addiction now (or if you have a loved one in active addiction), these all may seem impossible, out of reach, but as the 23 million Americans in long-term recovery can attest, no matter how far down you are now, recovery can and will happen if you do the work.
Thoughts from People in Long-term Recovery
Alcohol and substance use disorders can be devastating; families are broken, jobs lost, health is sometimes severely compromised, debts can be substantial, and there can be legal issues. It may seem like there’s no point in even trying, but take it from those in recovery—recovery does happen and it can for you too.
Here are some thoughts about recovery from those who understand it the best, people with at least one year in recovery:
“When I first went to an AA meeting I was broken. I didn’t think I deserved recovery let alone a great life. But I kept coming back and did the work. It wasn’t easy and I wanted to quit along the way. I’m so happy I didn’t quit then and I pray to stay sober today. The road isn’t always easy but today my life is beyond what I imagined possible and I have peace of mind most days. The work is well worth the payoff.” –Beth D. – 5 years in recovery
“Admitting I was an alcoholic was the 1st step and that my life was seriously affected by drinking and drugs. Regular attendance at AA meetings, active sponsorship, working the 12-Steps and a relationship with my Higher Power became a way of life. Thie gave me a shift in my thinking to have faith, trust, and also be responsible and accountable. All of these things have helped me to recover from my hopeless state of mind and body.” –Jill C. – 20 years in recovery
“After 34 years of drinking and using drugs, I went into treatment to try to get my family off my back. I didn’t want to stop using drugs or drinking and I didn’t think treatment or AA would work. It did work and I just celebrated 11 years of being sober. I show up and I do the work every day. I try to help others as much as I’m able. All of the things I always wanted but never thought possible are mine today. I have good relationships with my kids and family. I earn a good income and can support myself and family. And most of all I have freedom from the drugs that consumed my life. Getting into treatment was the best thing I ever did.” –Larry G. – 11 years in recovery
“The hardest part for me was the initial admission to myself that I was in fact an addict and powerless over alcohol even though there was overwhelming evidence. The thought of recovery was much more difficult than the actual work. Recovery definitely requires work but for me, the benefits outweigh the ‘work’ so much that it has become more of a lifestyle than a chore as it first was. The work is definitely worth the life I have today.” –Ian N. – 14 months in recovery
As you can see, and as National Recovery Month aims to show, recovery can happen for anyone who wants it. As the 2021 theme states “Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.” It can be for you too.
If you think that you may have an issue with alcohol use or a substance either illicit, prescription, or legal, it’s vital to know the signs. The sooner an individual with an AUD or SUD gets help the better. But, it’s also never too late.
Signs of Addiction
When it comes to any type of addiction, to alcohol, substances, or behavioral addictions, there are certain signs to know. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V) lists 11 criteria or questions to ask when trying to determine if you or a loved one have an AUD or SUD. Currently, the DSM-V only recognizes gambling as a behavioral or process addiction, however, much of the criteria are the same for other process addictions such as love and sex addiction, video gaming addiction, and more.
According to the DSM-V, here are the 11 criteria for determining an AUD or SUD:
- Drinking or using the substance longer than planned or in greater amounts
- Attempting to or wanting to cut down or stop but being unable
- Spending significant time using the substance, drinking, or recovering from the effects of using or drinking
- Experiencing cravings or hard to control urges to drink or use the substance
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, work, school, etc. because of drinking or substance abuse
- Continuing use despite problems in relationships with friends and family
- Giving up hobbies, social engagements, fun activities to drink or use
- Being in dangerous and risky situations as a result of drinking or drug use
- Suffering physical health or mental health consequences from using or drinking but continuing to do so
- Developing a tolerance and needing more of the drink or drug to get the same effect
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms that are relieved if alcohol or the substance is consumed
There are three subcategories under this classification; mild, moderate, and severe.
The more of these that an individual has experienced, the more severe the AUD or SUD. Experiencing two or three is a mild diagnosis, four to five is a moderate one, and more than five is a severe diagnosis.
No matter if someone is mild, moderate, or severe, evidence-based treatment works. You or your loved one can recover from an AUD, SUD, or behavioral disorder. In honor of National Recovery Month, Futures Recovery Healthcare celebrates our exceptional team of addiction specialists and the brave people living in recovery every day.
If you or a loved one is ready to get help for addiction or learn more, Futures is here for you. Contact us online to learn more about how we can help or call 866-804-2098.