September is National Recovery Month.
President Donald Trump made the official proclamation on August 31st, perhaps his most significant contribution to solving the opioid crisis since establishing a commission on the topic. Despite talking extensively about the epidemic on the campaign trail, the commission’s findings have yet to be acted on, leaving his proclamation more than a little hollow.
But the spirit of the month is not about inaction or ineptitude, but about celebrating those who have found success in long-term recovery and encouraging those in need to seek it for themselves.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the government’s chief promoter of Recovery Month, says this year’s theme is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities.” In their toolkit, they encourage everyone to spread messages of hope and supply information about addiction and recovery resources. The even offer sample scripts for media outlets and boilerplate proclamations like those made by states and cities across the country.
While the thoroughly vetted promotional materials can feel a little sterile, they at least offer a refreshing change in perspective on drug use in general. Whereas too often people discuss drug use as a drain on society and those who use as being lazy or weak, SAMHSA is at least attempting to turn the conversation to something positive.
Recovery is not an easy task, and finding success in long-term recovery is undoubtedly an achievement worthy of recognition. By celebrating the successes of those in recovery, we may inspire others to seek treatment or continue to dedicate themselves to sobriety. And by acknowledging the effort that it takes to achieve recovery, we may change some perceptions about drug users in general.
Now in it’s 27th year, it’s also worth noting that this year’s Recovery Month theme focuses on “families and communities.” Aftercare following treatment, particularly for family members, has been historically lacking in the treatment industry. Treatment providers have long accepted that lasting recovery is rarely possible without changing the environment a person lives in, but they often failed to consider the family structure as a major factor in that environment. Now more than ever, treatment providers are bringing family members on board both during and after treatment, leading to better outcomes for clients.
The idea that community is a large contributor to both addiction and recovery is also a topic worth revisiting for many people who continue to view recovery as a simple matter of “personal willpower.” Although professionals and advocates know this isn’t true, it’s a perception that persists to this day. By talking about addiction and recovery as a community issue, not a personal one, we can hopefully change some of those perspectives and increase community programming and services to help those in need.
Yes, simply naming a random month as Recovery Month is not going to solve anything. In August and October, there will still be roughly 20 million Americans with substance use disorders. September alone isn’t going to change that. But it’s worthwhile to remove our cynicism and our pessimism for a moment and remember that good things happen all the time. Every day someone has their last drink, or their last hit, and is able to change their life for the better. Whether they do it for themselves, their family, or their community, it’s an achievement worth celebrating.