National Recovery Month 2022: Recovery Benefits Everyone

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In 1989, a group of alcohol and drug addiction recovery awareness advocates in Massachusetts held an event called Treatment Works! Celebration Day to bring attention to the bravery of people in recovery in their state. In 1999, the Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) took over this awareness day, expanded it to the national level, included mental health recovery as part of its mission, extended it for the entire month of September, and renamed it National Recovery Month.

National Recovery Month is now an international phenomenon and includes over a thousand recovery-themed events worldwide with more than half a million people joining the voices for recovery awareness, education, and support.

In 2020, SAMHSA passed the torch to the non-profit advocacy organization Faces & Voices of Recovery,  which now organizes the effort. SAMHSA still maintains their webpage for National Recovery Month, but anyone interested in participating in National Recovery Month will find all the latest information and updates on events, media toolkits, and unified messaging on their Recovery Month Website.

National Recovery Month: A New Theme for 2022 and Beyond

The primary goals of National Recovery Month are to:

  1. Celebrate the brave individuals in recovery from substance use and mental health disorders and recognize the gains they make and the recovery work they do every day
  2. Promote and support evidence-based treatment and recovery techniques and practices
  3. Recognize the treatment providers who make recovery possible
  4. Thank the community organizers and volunteers that support people in need, when they need it most

This year, organizers identified a new theme, which will replace the annual Recovery Month themes and serve as their permanent goal, tagline, and motto:

“Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person. Every Family. Every Community.”

Here’s how they describe their new mission, and how it aligns with the new, permanent theme:

“We are all called to end gatekeeping and welcome everyone to recovery by lowering barriers to recovery support, creating inclusive spaces and programs, and broadening our understanding of what recovery means for people with different experiences.”

The way recovery advocates – and anyone reading this article – can work to achieve the goals of Recovery Month and spread the message of recovery to every person, every family, and every community involves taking the following steps:

  • Increasing awareness of about knowledge about treatment and recovery for mental health and substance use disorders
  • Reducing the lingering stigma associate with substance use disorders, mental health disorders, and their treatment
  • Educating the general population about the fact that evidence-based treatment delivered by qualified professionals can help people in recovery live fulfilling, productive lives

That’s important work for all of us to participate in, in whatever way we can. One thing the last two years have taught us is that no one is immune from mental health or substance use disorders. Since we’re a substance use disorder treatment facility, we’ll share the latest statistic on alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder in the U.S., in order to give you a clear idea of the scope of the problem and underline why National Recovery Month is more than another commemorative month: if we use our platform effectively, we can improve, change, and save lives.

Alcohol and Substance Use Disorder in the U.S.: Facts and Figures

Every year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct a nationwide survey called the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Researchers collect data from more than 70,000 participants from around the country. Questions focus on the prevalence of drug and alcohol use and treatment, mental health disorder prevalence and treatment, and various related issues. Researchers break down the data by age, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic region, and various additional demographic metrics in order to give policy makers, treatment professionals, and the general public on the current state of drug use and mental health in the U.S.

The size and breadth of the sample set – the 70,000 + participants – allows us to make population-level generalizations about the prevalence of alcohol/substance use/mental health disorders, and the annual nature of the survey allows us to view data over time to identify past trends and predict potential future directions.

Here’s the latest data on alcohol use disorder (AUD) and substance use disorder (SUD):

AUD/SUD Prevalence 2020

  • AUD Among adults (18+): 27 million total
      • 15 million men
      • 12 million women
  • SUD Among adults (18+): Almost 39 million
      • 22 million men
      • 18 million women

Now let’s look at the harm caused by alcohol and drug use since 2015, using the most serious measures possible: alcohol-related fatality and drug overdose:

  • Between 2005 and 2019, an average of 140,000 people died from alcohol-related causes each year
  • Between 2015 and 2021, an average of 74,500 people died from drug overdose each year

In 2021, over 107,000 people from drug overdose. That’s the most since we’ve been keeping records on drug overdose – and it’s something we can work to correct. Before we talk about how we can all work to reduce these numbers, let’s take a look at another set of statistics on a subject directly related to recovery: the treatment gap, a.k.a. the difference between the number of people who need addiction treatment and the number of people who receive addiction treatment each year.

The Treatment Gap in 2020: AUD and SUD

  • Individuals diagnosed with AUD: 27 million
    • Individuals who received AUD treatment: 2 million
      • That’s 7.4%
    • Individuals who received treatment designed specifically for AUD: 1.3 million
      • That’s 4.8%
  • Individuals with SUD: 38 million
    • Individuals who received treatment for SUD: 2.3 million
      • That’s 6.1%
    • Individuals who received treatment designed specifically for SUD: 1.8 million
      • That’s 4.7%

Those gaps are the reason we have National Recovery Month every year. Let’s present this data another way:

  • 92% of those with AUD received no treatment at all
    • Of the 8% received treatment, only 5% received specialized treatment

95% did not get the specialized, evidence-based treatment proven effective for AUD

  • 94% of those with SUD received no treatment at all
    • Of the 6% who received treatment, only 5% received specialty treatment

95% did not get the specialized, evidence-based treatment proven effective for SUD

In the 21st century, those numbers are simply not acceptable: millions of people who need help don’t get the help they need. But if we work together, we can change that, and turn these treatment gap numbers around.

Recovery Month has been around for over 20 years now, and 30 if we count the first ten years as TreatmentWorks! Celebration Day. In that time, we’ve come a long way. In another 20-30 years, we hope to look back on the statistic above and see them reversed, and hope our conversation revolves around getting those last 5-10 percent of people the treatment they need, rather than working to get 95 percent of who need treatment the treatment they need.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening right now in the U.S. to help move these numbers in the right direction.

National Recovery Month 2022: Big-Picture Action Steps

We’ll start with an update on the steps taken by public officials at the highest level to support the objectives of National Recovery Month. On August 26th, 2022, The White House released a proclamation at the beginning overdose awareness week, which is directly related to National Recovery Month. While the proclamation focused on opioid overdose, the level of attention to substance use disorder treatment – and the awareness of the nuance involved – is new at this policy level.

Here’s a partial excerpt of the proclamation:

“The overdose epidemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on our Nation, claiming the lives of far too many Americans and devastating families and communities across the country…We continue our efforts to enhance prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support services for individuals with substance use disorder and addiction.”

In addition, the text outlines several nationwide funding efforts related to recovery:

  • 3 billion dollars for:
    • Evidence-based substance use prevention
    • SUD and mental health treatment
    • Harm reduction services
    • Recovery support services
  • 90 million dollars to adult re‑entry and recidivism reduction programs
  • New programs to increase access to the overdose-reversing drug, naloxone
  • New programs remove barriers to effective treatment
  • Enhanced programs to mitigate harm caused by inequities in the social and structural determinants of health, including:
    • Safe communities
    • Expanded insurance access
    • Increased educational opportunities
    • Increased community vocational support and training
    • Environmental safety and parity: clean and safe air and water

Those are the things happening at the federal policy level to support recovery nationwide. However, there are things each of us can do – both small and large – to support recovery in our communities.

We’ll close this article by talking about those things and reminding everyone reading this article that when we work together, we can affect positive change.

National Recovery Month 2022: What We Can Do

First, it’s crucial for all of us to understand that to reduce stigma around recovery from a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder, we need to see the process as similar to recovering from or managing a chronic condition like asthma, diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease. Evidence-based treatment, lifestyle changes, and medication – when needed – are common components of treatment for any chronic conditions for which there is a chance of relapse. The same is true for recovery from a substance use disorder and/or a mental health disorder.

Once we understand that fundamental concept, we can understand these:

1. Mental Health Matters

    • Mental health  – which includes mental health disorders and substance use disorders – is an important part of overall health.

2. Integrated Treatment Works

    • The best treatment for mental health and/or substance use disorders is integrated, customized, and person-first, rather than one-size-fits-all.

3. Words Matter.

    • Changing how we talk makes a difference:
      • Move away from words like addiction and alcoholism to phrases like substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder
      • Move away from normative, stigma-heavy labels like addict and alcoholic to person-first language like person with a substance use disorder and person with an alcohol use disorder
      • Inclusive programs can use the acronyms LGBTQIA2s+ for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/ or questioning, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and seeking communities
      • Inclusive programs can use the acronym BIPOC for black, indigenous, and people of color

4. A New Perspective

    • The need to change “I” to “We”:
      • When we realize that by supporting the members of our society in need, we benefit society as a whole. A helping hand not only helps the person who needs help, it helps everyone.

That last point is critical. The more we grow in our empathy for others and our understanding of the needs of people in recovery, the more we grow in our maturity and understanding of what it means to create strong, resilient communities. When we add layers of protection to our must vulnerable, the benefit expands outward, and reaches us all. That’s another layer of meaning to the new – and permanent – motto of National Recovery Month.

When someone asks you what recovery is and who benefits, tell them this:

“Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person. Every Family. Every Community.”

You’ll be right – and you’ll be doing your part to help your community, one person at a time.