Recovery is a Process
National Recovery Month in September highlights the issue on the issue of recovery from mental health and substance use disorders. As an addiction psychiatrist, I hope that attention to recovery continues throughout the year. For many people receiving treatment, recovery is a continuous journey. There is no end or month of celebration; rather it is an ongoing process.
Earlier this year, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism presented a new definition of recovery as a “process” to pursue remission cessation from heavy use, but also noted that, “For those experiencing alcohol-related functional impairment and other adverse consequences, recovery is often marked by the fulfillment of basic needs, enhancements in social support and spirituality, and improvements in physical and mental health, quality of life, and other dimensions of well-being.”
Recovery is a process. It can range from a family member taking the bravest step to ask for help, to a patient showing up for an appointment, to a person with a substance use disorder celebrating 30 years of sobriety. When someone has heart disease, we don’t declare at a cut-off that they don’t have heart disease—while an individual may reach targets, they are also working incredibly hard to sustain those accomplishments and integrate principles of recovery into their life. It is important to honor that incredible effort, even in, and especially in, the face of setbacks.
As a nation, we have certainly faced setbacks with substance use disorders as we learned of sobering numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July. Drug overdose deaths increased approximately 30% from 2019 to 2020 in the United States, and we learned recently of the stark disparities where overdose rates increased 44% for Black people and 39% for American Indian and Alaska Native people. Further, it was reported that most people who died by overdose had no evidence of substance use treatment before their deaths. A lower proportion of people from diverse racial and ethnic groups received treatment, compared with White people.
Recovery as part of healthcare must be available for all and we need to find sustainable and continuous ways to make that a reality.
This includes learning about evidence-based ways to support our patients, many resources of which are available through the APA. Psychiatrists and other mental health experts need to collaborate with colleagues, such as primary care and peer support to create a sustainable workforce. It is also important to advocate for ongoing funding for mental health and substance use; while one-time funding should be celebrated in the moment, substance use-related issues continue to exist, and impacts worsen. Further, we must realize true parity of mental health care including substance use disorders within health care. It is important to integrate substance use screening/treatment into mental health and general health, and for populations who have suffered disproportionately from unjust access to treatment and other disparities in health care, we must intensify our efforts to provide better care and recovery. Above all, we must continue to fight the uphill battle of stigma and discrimination in healthcare.
The White House celebrated National Recovery Month 2022 with a renewed commitment to “helping prevent substance use disorder, supporting those who are still struggling, and providing people in recovery with the resources they need to live full and healthy lives.” To close, I hope the psychiatry community and the community at large help sustain the month’s efforts.
See more on addiction and substance use disorder.