September is National Recovery Month: Can you help reduce the stigma of substance-use disorder?

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September is National Recovery Month, and it’s a good time to talk about substance use disorders (commonly referred to as “drug or alcohol addiction”) and mental health so we can help fight the stigma associated with these diseases. The more comfortable people are about talking about these conditions, the more likely they will seek treatment.

How do we know if someone is in recovery?

Recovery is an ongoing process that includes a person’s entire mental well-being, and how well they can function on a daily basis. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not guaranteed that someone will stay in recovery once they’ve achieved it. It is a life-long process that depends on many things, including robust recovery support systems. People who have a good support system are better able to maintain recovery.

There are four major dimensions that support a life in recovery:

  • Health: Making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.
  • Home: Having a stable and safe place to live.
  • Purpose: Conducting meaningful daily activities, such as working at a job, volunteering at a school, taking care of family members, or doing creative work, and then having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
  • Community: Having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

How do we help diminish stigma?

We have to be willing to talk without judgment about mental health and substance use disorders, much like we do cancer or diabetes. Think about how you would feel to tell someone you care about that you have cancer. Now consider that same scenario with an addiction or with schizophrenia. It becomes much scarier because of the stigma surrounding these conditions. The reality is that 1 in 5 adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime. If they don’t feel comfortable or are scared to ask for help, they won’t get it until they are in crisis. And then recovery is much more difficult.

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How do we know if someone is suffering from a mental illness or a substance use disorder? Are there general symptoms we should watch for?

Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But it becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause stress and affect a person’s ability to function on a daily basis. Some common signs of substance use disorder include a neglect of responsibilities, legal trouble from drug or alcohol use, and problems in relationships caused by substance use.

What should you do if a loved one is showing signs of mental illness or a substance use disorder?

You should have a frank and honest discussion with them about your concerns. Offer encouragement to see a doctor and support them in their treatment. Learn about their issues so you can understand what they are experiencing. Be open if and when they ask for help and encourage them to join a support group and to be as social as possible as they seek recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or substance use disorder, resources are available by dialing the Idaho Careline at 2-1-1. If you or someone you know have concerns about suicidal thoughts, text or call the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 208-398-4357. And if it’s an emergency, call 9-1-1.

A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on KBOI 670AM in Boise; this is the transcript of the Aug. 28, 2018 program. 

Other resources:

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