News About Addiction, Recovery and Advocacy

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High degrees of variability in the pathways and styles of addiction recovery obscure shared mechanisms of change across such healing processes.

The alcohol and drug problems arena is filled with professional claims and counterclaims, excessive marketing hype, and riveting personal testimonies of how such problems can be best resolved.

Technologies to promote recovery have targeted the individual with only token interest in interventions in larger social networks. Three provocative discoveries challenge this limited focus:  1) An individual’s prognosis for addiction recovery is profoundly influenced by the family and social environment—a point now widely acknowledged but rarely reflected in the clinical treatment of substance use disorders, 2) the resolution of alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems is often a product of social contagion–multiple people within an extended social network simultaneously initiating and maintaining recovery, and 3) the greater the density of recovery carriers within a social milieu, the greater the likelihood other addicted members within that  milieu will initiate recovery.

In previous blogs I have suggested that when I’m at a loss for words— doesn’t happen often— I use the words of others. I am reading a book by friend and mentor, Johnny Allem, titled Say The Second Thing—That Comes Into Your Mind. This book is a “tool box” that supports the work and joy of recovery.  I know that recovery support for self and others is not a job but requires work. In describing his early days, Johnny writes about the tools of work. 

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recently released Standards of Care: For the Addiction Specialist Physician.  The Standards outline the responsibilities of addiction medicine specialists in the areas of assessment and diagnosis, withdrawal management, treatment planning, treatment management, care transitions and care coordination, and continuing care management.  There is one sentence in the Standards that deserves particular acknowledgement:  “Recovery check-ups by addiction specialist physicians, just as those by primary care physicians or other providers, may promote sustained recovery and prevent relapse” (p. 13).

Eighty-year old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently commented on the changing American attitudes toward gay people: “The change in people’s attitudes on that issue has been enormous. In recent years, people have said, ‘This is the way I am.’ And others looked around, and we discovered it’s our next-door neighbor — we’re very fond of them. Or it’s our child’s best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that ‘this is who I am,’ the rest of us recognized that they are one of us….Having people close to us who say who they are — that made the attitude change in this country.” Justice Ginsburg’s observation offers observed testimony to the power of contact strategies—public disclosure of personal stories by individuals who share a concealable stigma for purposes of changing social attitudes and social policies.

The threats to health that occur during active addiction have been widely communicated in the popular media and in the scientific literature, but the health profile of  people in long-term recovery from substance use disorders remains something of a mystery.  While one might assume that physical and emotional health rapidly improves following recovery initiation and stabilization, a health survey of Philadelphia and surrounding counties just published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reveals a more complex and ominous picture. 

Summary: Individuals with a history of alcohol use disorder might be eligible to participate in a brief online survey about personality, mental health, and substance use. Those who complete the survey and provide a DNA sample (in the form of saliva) will be compensated for their time and effort.

The addiction recovery experience has been sliced and diced in all manner of categories: secular, spiritual, and religious; natural recovery, peer-assisted, and treatment-assisted; and abstinence-based, moderation-based, and medication-assisted, to name just a few. Recovery achieved through any of these frameworks is often referred to as a pathway of recovery. The growing consensus that there are multiple pathways of long-term addiction recovery marks an important public and professional milestone within the alcohol and drug problems arena.

The first annual Ramstad/Kennedy Award was presented in 2008 during a National Recovery Month reception at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) State Systems Development Program (SSDP) conference. During this past year, the 200+ Planning Partners have been working to re-focus our national efforts on expanding Prevention, Treatment and Recovery support for the millions of Americans still suffering from addiction and their countless hurting family members who are also struggling to recover from addiction's impact on them.

Historically, family members were more likely to be viewed by addiction professionals as causative agents of addiction or hostile interlopers in the treatment process than people in need of recovery support services in their own right. Overcoming such attitudes has taken on added urgency due to the rising prevalence, morbidity, and mortality of opioid addiction in the United States and its rippling effects upon families and communities.