Author’s Note: This blog post is a revision of a forthcoming Op-Ed piece that is being published in January 2019 in a southwestern Virginia newspaper. I have edited it to speak more to any community affected by addiction and how promoting recovery is a tool for community betterment and community development.
In 2018, everyone knows something about addiction; whether from personal experiences or news media reports, addiction – especially opioid addiction – is front and center. Everyone has heard the horror stories about the opioid addiction epidemic and its decimation of rural and small city American. Everyone has heard or knows about people who are living with drug and alcohol addiction.
We keep hearing stories of addiction and the epidemic. But where are the stories of people in recovery and the powerful positive impact recovery has upon entire communities?
Don’t get me wrong, the addiction epidemic is a major, catastrophic problem who negative consequences ripple out to all of society. And I keep saying addiction epidemic, because although the numbers around opioids (overdoses and mortality) are atrocious, more people are addicted to and dying from alcoholism than opioids and cocaine combined. That we are an addicted society is not changing but what we are addicted to will fluctuate based on anomalous trends.
When we talk about addiction, the focus is far too often on the ‘problem’ element of it: the rise in overdose deaths; the lost days, weeks, months and years of peoples’ lives as they spiral out of control from drugs and alcohol use; the rise in crime; the losses; the scourge, the stigma, and the death.
But what if the greatest thing we could do to start creating long-term solutions to addiction was to begin a major shift in perspective?
What is if we started focusing more on the solution to addiction which is recovery? What if we stopped the blame game (blaming addicts, families, communities, law enforcement) and started pointing towards solutions?
What if, rather than focus on the problem of addiction (and in sensationalizing it), and focused more energy on the solution of recovery?
What if we started looking at recovery and funding recovery services from a broader, community building perspective?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 10% of any given population is living with Substance Use Disorders. Also, according to NIH, for every person living with Substance Use Disorder (SUDs) there are five people directly impacted; that means for all the communities in America, 50% of the population is negatively impacted!
In rural America especially, those numbers are mind blowing: 50% of communities living under the addiction epidemic are impacted, whether acknowledged or not.
Addiction impacts our economy, law enforcement, emergency services, our hospitals, schools, and places of worship; addiction impacts our neighborhoods and our homes.
But let’s focus on a solution-oriented paradigm. In using the same statistical breakdown, for every person in these communities who enters recovery, those same 5 people that were negatively impacted are now positively impacted. The communities with a 50% negative impact would be flipped and would see 50% of communities positively changing based on the principles of recovery (abstinence, honesty, integrity, connection, and service).
Addiction is not just my problem; addiction is our problem. And more importantly, recovery is not just about me; recovery is about all of us – there is no”us” and “them”, there is only US.
The Problem is addiction. The solution is recovery, and recovery is possible. I know; for I am a person in long-term recovery from addiction. Recovery is not only possible, but it is also necessary. And recovery is not only about personal recovery.
Recovery is one of the greatest untapped tools for community betterment and development!
When people get clean and sober – in short, when people live recovery – the positive outward flow of that decision and lifestyle makes a tremendously beneficial impact upon the community.
When people find recovery, here is a snapshot of what happens: we find jobs, we work well, we pay our bills, we pay our taxes, we parent our children, we stop committing crimes, we stop being abusive, and we start giving back to our communities.
When we promote and work for recovery in impacted communities, everyone in the affected community wins. People are restored to their families and communities, parents stop losing and burying their children, drug and alcohol-related crimes drop allowing police to spend more time with community policing and protecting and serving.
When we promote and support recovery, our emergency rooms stop being overwhelmed with overdoses and misappropriated resources dealing with addictive behavior, emergency medical personnel spend less time and money on overdose calls. When we focus on recovery unemployment drops, parents become more involved, churches, mosques, and synagogues thrive. In short, when we promote and support recovery, entire communities get healthier and happier one person at a time.
In short, when people find recovery and communities support recovery we are creating broad -bases sustainability and community betterment! We are creating and supporting an abundance of untapped human capital when we help people find recovery. And when small cities tap into a huge pool of human capital, their communities thrive!
When one person finds recovery, we become restored citizens, and all that comes with this restoration only betters and benefits everyone.
Recovery saves lives, families, and communities. Recovery builds up local economies and communities. Investing in recovery is indeed investing, not only in the people but also in the long-term economic sustainability and viability of the small cities and rural communities. Recovery is the solution. Recovery is the answer.