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Research & Advocacy: Powerful Weapons Against Stigma

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by Andrew Rothermel, President & CEO

“Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease, and if left untreated, alcoholism is fatal.”

Though these basic tenets are heard frequently in the addiction treatment industry, and in the greater recovery community as a whole, the public remains largely misinformed about alcoholism.

Alcohol Awareness Month serves as a powerful reminder that the social stigma surrounding alcoholism continues to kill thousands of alcoholics every year. While the opioid epidemic remains at the forefront of our minds, alcohol prevails as the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Regardless of advances in medical science, revelations in neurological research, and the personal experience of thousands of recovered alcoholics, many still see alcoholism as a moral failing rather than a serious medical condition. Without question, this destructive misinformation serves as a barrier to treatment for countless alcoholics who desperately need support. Though we know that alcoholics do not have a choice in regards to alcohol, they can make the vital decision to engage in recovery. As an addiction professional, I am passionate about eliminating the dangerous stigma that inhibits individuals and their families from seeking the treatment they deserve.

Research and advocacy are dynamic partners in the war against addiction.

Though the public perception of alcoholism has slowly (albeit surely) changed since the radical 12 Step movement took flight in the 1930s, widespread contempt towards the illness remains. Images in the media perpetuate the notion that alcoholics can never be trusted. Even in long-term recovery, many people fear disclosing their condition to employers on the basis that they will be discredited. Despite this shroud of stigma, those of us on the firing line are continually renewed as we come into a greater understanding of the illness of alcoholism and its treatment. Outcomes data increasingly reinforces much of what the original pioneers of 12 Step fellowships uncovered. Today, critical outcomes data can be used to inform new standards of practice that work in tandem with the spiritual disciplines contained in the early 12 Step texts. By harnessing the tools at our disposal, we become more equipped to aid those in need and fight the stigma that keeps so many alcoholics in the dark.

When we look at the facts, we change the conversation.

It is estimated that as many as 20 million individuals and their family members are living lives in recovery. Though the illness of alcoholism remains unchanged through the years, we are seeing a revolution in the way that the public perceives alcoholism and this revolution runs parallel to much-needed changes in the healthcare industry. More than ever before, there is a critical urgency for outcomes-informed treatment. Industry-wide reliance on “evidence-based” models that may not apply to all populations has created an overwhelmingly standardized approach to care that does not always factor in the demographic range impacted by alcoholism. Alcoholism is no respecter or age, status, gender or economic standing. In turn, healthcare leaders must continue in the vital effort to improve systems of care that cater to the unique needs of the individual.

We cannot rely on outdated messaging to form the public perception of alcoholism and we cannot rely on outdated methodologies to inform contemporary treatment models. 

At Origins, we remain committed to the notions originally proposed by the first 12 Step fellowship; we believe that alcoholism is a disease of body, mind, and spirit. Though the spiritual principles within the Steps endure, the methods in which we treat the mind and the body are continually improving. It is our goal to enhance the spiritual and emotional development of our clients by bolstering the time-honored 12 Step paradigm with the wealth of knowledge being generated through momentous discoveries in brain science. Unequivocally, we know that research reinforces, rather than disintegrates, the notion that alcoholism is an illness. As we serve our clients by applying this knowledge, we serve the greater community by using our voices to transform the dialogue about alcoholism.

Alcoholism is an illness. Stigma kills. 

While the provision of superlative client care is our primary mission, we know that each successful case can have a radical effect on the public perception of alcoholism. Men and women do recover, and those who recover impact others through their stories, either in larger advocacy efforts or in individual acts of service aimed at those in need. Our hope is that Origins is not simply a gateway for the individual to recover, but a launch pad for those individuals to serve as agents of change in their own families and communities. Personal recovery, community benefit, and public opinion are inextricably linked. When the recovery community as a whole dedicates themselves to the vital task of reducing stigma, outcomes improve, lives change, and those in need become more likely to seek the help they deserve.

Alcoholism Awareness Month is about more than spreading awareness about the consequences of alcohol dependence, it is a vocalization of the powerful effect education has in the hands of those impassioned by the cause of recovery. As the leader of our organization, I am proud to say that we are impassioned, we are committed, and we will not remain silent.