End the stigma of abuse, recovery month
Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

September is National Recovery Month, which aims to bring attention to the prevalence of substance use disorders in the United States, the new evidence-based strategies and treatments for helping those struggling with it, and the many, many stories of individuals in recovery across the country.

SAMHSA—the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—offers a variety of resources and activities to raise public awareness around mental health and addiction recovery.

Let’s talk about why.

National Recovery Month Addresses the Widespread Struggle of Substance Use Disorder

Statistics can help us get a better sense for just how common and widespread substance use disorder is.

According to the CDC just a few years ago, more than sixty-five million adults in the United States reported binge drinking within the past month. More than thirty-five million said they’d used an illicit drug—like cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, or opioids—or misused a prescription pain reliever in that same time period.1

More than twenty million people met the criteria for substance use disorder in the year the study was conducted.

That’s not a small number.

And it stands to reason, with a number that high, that addiction might not always look the way we tend to imagine it. It might not always closely resemble the portrayal we see in movies or in television shows.

In fact, substance use disorder might not be at all what some of us expect.

What Does Substance Use Disorder Mean?

First, the official stuff: substance use disorder is officially diagnosed when certain criteria are met.

Someone can be assumed to be struggling with substance use disorder if, within the last twelve months, they:

  1. Consumed or used a substance in larger amounts than was intended and/or over a long period of time;
  2. Regularly feel desire to but can’t seem to cut down or otherwise control their consumption or use;
  3. Spend a lot of time gaining access to, using, and recovering from the substance;
  4. Experience cravings and urges for the substance;
  5. Fall behind at work, school, or at home because of the substance;
  6. Jeopardize relationships by continuing to use the substance;
  7. Find themselves avoiding or skipping their regular activities because of use or consumption of the substance;
  8. Continue to use the substance, even if they wind up in dangerous situations;
  9. Disregard physical or mental challenges they know are caused or exacerbated by the substance;
  10. Have an increasing tolerance for the substance; and
  11. Experience withdrawal symptoms when they don’t use or consume the substance.

The disorder can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on how many of those items apply. And any combination of them can signal that someone is struggling to control their use of a particular substance.

Millennial Drinking Trends Are Evolving

While other substances tend to get more media attention, alcohol is responsible for a lot of illness and death every year in the United States.2

And a shift has been happening where Millennial drinking trends are concerned.

Millennials seem to be drinking more than their Baby Boomer or Gen X counterparts were at their age.3 A recent study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) proposes that 31.5 percent of alcoholics in the US can be classified as young adults.4

How did that number get so high? The answer may lie in the methodology. Many past studies that have attempted to classify groups of individuals struggling with alcohol use have focused on those who have sought care for it from their doctor or some kind of treatment facility.

But it’s thought that only about 25 percent of people with an alcohol use disorder receive treatment. By including those who haven’t, this study suggests a number that may be more representative of our general population.

And while alcohol has certainly been part of the social landscape for generations, you could argue that it’s marketed to younger folks today quite differently than it was to our parents or grandparents.

From bottomless mimosas at weekend brunch to fancy cocktails at happy hour and a seemingly endless array of cute, wine-centric merchandise aimed at young moms, the encouragement to drink is everywhere.

For those Millennials who’ve never felt a deep pull to drink more than they’ve consciously wanted to, the risk may be low. But according to the NIAAA study, there might be more struggling than we might have previously imagined.

Why We Should Kick the Stigma to the Curb

It’s no secret that there’s a significant amount of stigma attached to addiction of any kind. Friends may quietly turn away, or families speak in hushed tones when a loved one struggles with substance use.

There’s a general sense that addiction is an embarrassing, immoral thing to experience—and so the person struggling with it can easily feel guilt and shame.

But this is dangerous for several reasons. Shame can prevent someone from seeking help, leading to worsening symptoms and serious consequences on a personal or professional level.

It means we remain, as a population, largely uneducated about both the causes of addiction and the warning signs—because those around us are uncomfortable talking openly about it.

And, perhaps most dangerous of all, doctors and medical professionals aren’t immune to buying into the stigma either, even subconsciously. This impacts the care they provide to patients and the choices they make when deciding to refer someone for appropriate treatment.

We already know that addiction is not a moral failing. We know from years of scientific study that it’s a chronic brain disorder5, that it can come part and parcel with other mental health diagnoses, and that addiction—just like anxiety or depression, for example—can be managed well with proper care.

So many people struggle with addiction at various levels. Perpetuating the stigma associated with the disorder only serves to stand between them and the help they need, leaving them at risk of increased usage, escalating physical and mental health issues, chronic unemployment, homelessness—even incarceration.

National Recovery Month Can Help Increase Access to Care

The good news is that we can kick the stigma, shift public perception, and ultimately increase access to valuable support services.

And one of the ways to do that is by highlighting the stories and amplifying the voices of people in recovery, as well as sharing information, research, and understanding about the evidence-based practices and treatments that work.

If you’ve had concerns about yourself or a loved one—or if you just want to learn more and help reduce the stigma around substance use disorder—check out SAMHSA.gov for additional resources.

Need a referral to a mental health practitioner who can help you navigate recovery? Get in touch today!

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Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

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