September is National Recovery Month

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I have not always worked in evaluation. I have not always focused much of my work on substance abuse prevention. I started out like a lot of young psychology majors; I wanted to be a clinical psychologist so I could ‘help people.’

How I ended up working in the community is a story for another day but to make a long story short, I got burnt out. Two things happened that made me change directions. First, while working as a recovery therapist on an adolescent unit, a fifteen-year-old with an addiction to huffing (paint), died from an overdose 24 hours after her discharge. She was not the only child I knew who died, just the last. The second thing that happened was that I had to fly a fourteen year old mother back to her home state and commit her to the state hospital. Our unit had kept her as long as we could, long after her insurance ran out. She was simply too ill to return home and there were no other options.

After all these years, I still believe in two things, the possibility of recovery and the moral obligation to try and prevent addiction.

I always say, people in recovery are the healthiest people I know.

It’s hard to go a day without hearing about someone who has overdosed from opiates or heroin addiction. These pictures may lead us to believe that recovery is not possible and may reinforce our stereotypes that addiction is some sort of moral weakness. It is not. The more society demonizes those with addiction, the more likely it is that people with addiction will stay in the shadows and not seek help.

Recovery is hard. Relapse is a reality, but recovery is possible. September is national recovery month. What can you do to promote prevention in your family or community?

  •  Check your judgement. It’s one sure way to keep people from seeking help.
  • Support celebrations of recovery in your community.
  • Stop with the denial already. Contact a local Al-anon group or AA/NA to get help for you or a family member.
  • Get educated. Learn about prescription drug abuse and other types of addiction. Start here with a few short videos featuring Dr. Merrill Norton of UGA:
    http://www.ncyi.org/www/docs/8.261 and
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m6wyOGEu34 .
  • Get involved in your local community prevention coalition.
  • Ask your local law enforcement agency if they have access to Naloxone, a drug that counteracts the effects of opiates and heroin.
  • If you are a parent of a teen who is about to get their wisdom teeth out or any other type of surgery, ask the doctor about the appropriate use of pain killers. If you need surgery, you may want to have the same kind of conversation with your doctor.
  • And finally, talk to your kids if addiction runs in your family. You would tell them if they were at risk for cancer wouldn’t you? I had a very interesting discussion with my own teen the other day while driving. These teachable moments often present themselves spontaneously rather than a planned “drug talk.”

For more on national recovery month, see https://www.recoverymonth.gov/.

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