20 SepSubstance Recovery Month: A Journey to Sobriety and Wellness by Dr. Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D. In this article, we explore the significance of Substance Recovery Month and its role in promoting sobriety and wellness. Join us as we delve into the importance of substance recovery, the impact of addiction, and the support available for individuals seeking recovery. The Meaning of Substance Recovery Month I recently saw a meme that said, “Recovery is when your kids can look at you and trust what they see.” Whether you are a parent or not, the meme betrays a sense of clarity, authenticity, and most of all consistency that sobriety provides patients in recovery as well as friends, family, and people at large that surround them. When an individual is struggling with addiction and faces that all-too-familiar, hellish crossroads of being pulled into the ecstasy of the substance of their choice or remains sober, the gravity of that choice in that moment is the heaviest burden that a person can face. Choosing oneself over a poison may seem like a no brainer for people who don’t struggle with addiction, but for an addict, all common sense, all dreams and hopes to evaporate and the effect of the substance is all that clouds one’s judgment. I say all this to alert the reader to the importance of Substance Recovery Month! It is not simply another month to acknowledge the ever-present battle that most addicts face on a minute-by-minute basis, but to celebrate the enormous task that the individual faces on a continuous, day by day, sometimes even hour by hour, struggle to remain sober. If you have someone in your life that is in recovery, please celebrate their accomplishment. You may not relate to their struggle but helping them empower themselves to maintain sobriety is a powerful act of love and kindness that you can show during Substance Recovery Month. Recognizing the Impact of Addiction It is no surprise that addiction has detrimental effects on physical and mental well-being, however the most immediate people that suffer are the loved ones surrounding the addict’s struggle. As an old Irish adage goes, the man takes the first drink and then the drink takes the man, which is symbolic of how addiction can metastasize insidiously without the person even realizing that they are in the throes of addiction. The impact is not limited to the addict’s personhood but begins to impact everything and everyone around that individual. In addition to social and interpersonal conflicts that often arise, the financial consequences, just in the US alone, is approximately $510 billion annually. Taken together, the individual, familial, societal, and financial impacts of addiction have far-reaching consequences that permeate all levels of society. Physical and Mental Health Consequences Addiction is a multi-faceted problem that has both physical and mental aspects to its presentation. For one, individuals struggling with addiction often have significant physical health challenges from relatively mild issues like dehydration and fatigue to more severe consequences like cancer, stroke, and heart disease. The longer the duration of the addiction the more severe the consequences. In terms of mental health concerns, addiction often exacerbates existing psychological issues or contributes to depression and anxiety. Supporting Substance Recovery The path to recovery is usually a difficult one, because the “rock bottom” that a person needs to hit to consider changing their lifestyle is different for different people. For some, it is an argument with a partner, for others it is getting their first, second, or third DUI, yet for others it is serious health consequences like liver transplants and cancer. The road to recovery is fraught with many challenges, such as defensiveness about one’s freedom to do what they want, the physiological withdrawal symptoms that may draw the person back into using the substances, or the feeling of lack of support of loved ones. These behavioral, cognitive, and emotional roadblocks are often what stand in the way of the person giving up the substance for good. To me, it is not necessarily that there aren’t great resources available, but that the person is ambivalent at best about appropriately utilizing them. Therapeutic Approaches to Recovery Once a person is willing to consider sobriety as an option for their path forward, there are many therapeutic approaches that are readily available. In the most acute, severe stage of addiction, both detoxification programs (detox), which focus on medically stabilizing the patient, and drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs (rehab), which focus on getting started on a sobriety path, are readily available. Some even can send a car to pick you up and most are covered by insurance. Once the person is medically stable and has gotten accustomed to several weeks of sobriety, there are several options that are available to continue the journey. Group therapy or supportive groups like A.A. and N.A. are free and are relatively easy to find in one’s local area. In addition, some patients also choose psychotherapeutic and psychiatric treatments as well. Many patients I work with are surprised to find that there are medical management options that have shown promise to help the patient to stay sober. In addition, various therapy approaches such as CBT, ACT, DBT have all been shown to be beneficial for the person in recovery. Taken together, at least in my point of view, willingness and consistency are the 2 biggest ingredients that are needed to successfully stay sober. Support Networks and Communities Some researchers and clinical giants in the field of substance use posit that substance use disorders (SUD) are manifestations of one’s difficulty in managing feelings of guilt, loneliness, and disinterest (otherwise known as boredom). If we allow ourselves to look at SUD through that lens, it becomes apparent that social support and networks become paramount in one’s ability to maintain sobriety. Therefore, programs like A.A. and N.A. as well as SMART Recovery and/or Refuse Recovery. All these programs are focused on building and supportive sober communities. Of course, there are plenty of social activities that do not require drugs and/or alcohol for enjoyment, often, I find, patients that have been struggling with addictions for a long time, have a hard time finding activities that are fulfilling and drug free. In these cases, psychotherapy focusing on value realignment, emotional regulation, i.e., how to manage big emotions and urges, and strategies to become socially involved, may be helpful. Overcoming Stigma and Promoting Understanding Addiction, as I like to say, is a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you are poor, rich, educated or not, substance abuse disorders roughly affect 10-15% of the US population above 12 years of age in 2023. This is approximately 30 million people. Though the number of people struggling with SUD is high, the diagnosis or label of an addict still carries a fair amount of judgment from society. It is often seen as a person just being out of control and a sentiment of “if they really wanted to stop, they would, so they are weak willed.” As researchers and clinical practitioners, we know that substance use disorder diagnosis, and hopefully subsequent recovery, is a complicated picture of genetic and biological markers, temperament, childhood rearing, adverse life events, as well as social integration. Taken together, a person in recovery is a miracle in itself and should be applauded and celebrated in such a manner. I am glad that September is National Recovery Month to acknowledge, support individuals in recovery as well as their social support network. Spreading Awareness and Encouraging Participation I think one of the best ways to engage in substance abuse recovery awareness is to speak about it. In today’s world there are many opportunities to do that, from local community events to social media, the willingness to engage and share journeys of recovery is what gives other people hope, in what often seems like a hopeless situation. Community Events and Activities Local community events are probably one of the best ways to foster support and understanding as it comes to substance abuse recovery. This allows not only for individuals in sobriety to celebrate their accomplishments but also to inspire others along that journey. When people see other people succeed it often gives motivation to get started on the path to recovery. Online Campaigns and Social Media In today’s world, of course, few campaigns work as well as social media. For example, during COVID-19, AA moved online and was able to provide support for millions around the world when the trigger to relapse was probably one of the highest in a generation. With social media platforms posts, to IG Lives, to webinars – accessibility to information and personal stories of bravery to overcome addiction abound. Continuing the Journey: Maintaining Long-Term Recovery There are 3 pillars that prop up long term recovery. First, the individual can connect with a recovery group that meets regularly to ensure that recovery is top of mind for that person. Second, spending time connecting with their life’s values to feel fulfilled. Third, creating meaningful interpersonal connections that will help them live a purposeful life. Taken together, long-term recovery is really the crafting of a life that is worth living. Most Frequent Questions What month is National Recovery Month? September What Is Recovery Month? National Recovery Month (Recovery Month), which started in 1989, is a national observance held every September to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the nation’s strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and communities who make recovery in all its forms possible. HOW TO OBSERVE #NationalRecoveryMonth Many recovery communities come together in September to host a variety of celebrations that typically include music, food, games, as well as offering motivational speakers and educational resources to continue to support you in your recovery. Why National Recovery Month is Important? To celebrate all people that have chosen to remain sober. How can I get involved? Join local community that gather to celebrate National Recovery Month. Are there treatment advocates for Recovery Month? Activists who embody this mission exist in every recovery community. They are often the first line of defense in community awareness and education about addiction, and squashing unhelpful stigmas.