There's a decent chance that someone in your life has the disease of addiction. Maybe that person is a member of your family, your best friend or a close work colleague. If you are lucky, maybe he or she is one of the approximately 23.5 million Americans in recovery today.
That stat is one to celebrate, don't you think?
If you count yourself among that number, as I do, or if you have a loved one in recovery, your answer is probably an emphatic yes!
The sad truth is much of the rest of society couldn't care less.
We struggle with the common sterotype of people suffering from untreated addiction. Television and media have too frequently depicted people with addiction as hopeless and desperate individuals willing to do horrible things for their next fix.
It's no mystery why people who need treatment for their addiction are afraid to ask for help. A whopping 90% of those suffering from addiction don't get treatment, largely because they don't seek it or don't really think they need it. Even people who have received treatment and are in recovery often don't speak out outside the walls of their 12-step groups because of the stigma of addiction.
Many of us are ashamed of this status or identity. Our society encourages this shame by the ways it stigmatizes this disease. But did you know that:
- About 20 million Americans suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. In addition, millions of family members and loved ones witness their lives crumble as a direct result of addiction.
- Ninety percent of people who are currently addicted began using drugs or alcohol before they were 18.
- Alcohol and drug addiction in the U.S. are estimated to cost society approximately $428 billion a year.
Moving from the negative perception of addiction to the celebration of recovery is a long road, but one well worth traveling. My new film, The Anonymous People, is premiering in New York City on September 17th. It will continue to be released in theaters across the nation in an effort to inspire and radically shift how everyone responds to addiction.
The movie is creating a tidal wave of awareness and engaging thousands of advocates to join the addiction recovery advocacy movement.
There are millions of people living productive and positive lives as a direct result of addiction recovery. Some of them are familiar faces and names; most of them are regular people like your dentist, your mechanic or your professor.
Far too many of these courageous people live secret lives, however. I know I did when I first found recovery. By day I was a student and employee and by night I was a kid who hung out in church basements with other anonymous people in recovery.
The problem is that there is a powerful epidemic of alcoholism and drug addiction in this country that's being perpetuated by generations of denial and silence.
Following the example of women with breast cancer and people with HIV or AIDS, we must turn the tide on addiction. Learning from the history of other stigmatized health issues, the only way to make a significant and lasting change in societal attitudes is for individuals, their families and friends to step out of the shadows and share their personal stories.
Although September is National Recovery Month, let's make the celebration year-round so that we create a new societal norm of successful addiction recovery. Can you imagine how attitudes toward addiction will change?