September is Recovery Month: It will work if we work it

September is Recovery Month. Smart investments will provide big dividends as we tackle substance use disorder. Photo by Getty Images.

September is Recovery Month in Minnesota and across the country. From Florida to Washington state, California to Maine, millions of Americans who are in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) — you probably call it addiction — will celebrate their freedom from one of the most misunderstood medical conditions in the world today. It is estimated that 23 million Americans are in recovery from SUD. The fact is that people can and do recover. And they do so in many different ways. 

Recovery is different than rehab — or treatment as it’s called — but no less important. Think of rehab as the time when a person with a heart attack is in the hospital, while recovery is the no less important work of the ongoing support that patient will receive post hospitalization, monitoring his condition and helping him make healthy changes like diet and exercise. Without resources for recovery, the chronic affliction of substance use disorder will likely return. 

Some recovery journeys begin in treatment, but not all. Some recovery journeys utilize a 12-step approach, but not all. Some recovery journeys use medical assisted therapies like Suboxone or Methadone, but not all. But what nearly all recovery journeys have in common is that they are sustained and supported by what is sometimes called “recovery capital.” 

“Recovery capital” consists of things like a strong family, a job, stable housing, education, good friends and a whole host of other supports not everyone is gifted. For some, recovery capital is found in cultural or faith traditions. 

Recovery community organizations (RCOs) like Minnesota Recovery Connection (MRC) are organizations that work to meet individuals where they are at and help them build or find that recovery capital. RCOs are not treatment providers, but they fill the gaps in and around treatment so that individuals are able to get the support they need to keep moving forward on their recovery throughout their lives and, in turn, help others find or sustain recovery. 

Look at all those people in recovery — in a photo captured before the pandemic, thousands went to the Capitol to celebrate recovery and lobby for investment in it. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Recovery Connection.

RCOs do this primarily through peer-to-peer support services: one-to-one coaching with a person with lived experience in recovery that helps individuals build their recovery capital. These recovery support services are evidence-based and shown to work. They capitalize on people’s strengths, remove barriers and connect individuals to recovery resources. They are proven to increase recovery outcomes and decrease costs — significantly reducing instances of relapse, hospitalization, incarceration, overdose and death.

Recovery community organizations also serve as connectors between an often fragmented and siloed human services system, and can be woven into the fabric of other support services. For example Minnesota Recovery Connection is currently involved in several innovative initiatives to improve outcomes for individuals recovering from SUD including:

  • Working with HousingLink’s Beyond Backgrounds program to help those with less than perfect credit find and sustain housing. The Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank recently cited this program as an example of “What Works in Housing Affordability.” 
  • Providing peer support for a mobile substance use disorder crisis team that was created by east metro health care leaders who recognized that the existing substance-abuse treatment system had a gap between the emergency supports of hospitals and detox centers — where patients wound up in a crisis — and the outpatient and residential recovery programs that have waiting lists. 
  • Entering into a pilot initiative with Hennepin County Child and Family Services to provide support for women at risk of losing their children. This new model addresses the unique needs of women with substance use disorders and children, providing peer support to help them sustain recovery and keep their families together.
  • Working with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Ramsey County, Wright County, and other organizations, MRC is piloting innovative programs to reduce recidivism and support individuals in their transition from incarceration to recovery and citizenship. 

And the need for these types of services has never been greater. The opioid epidemic is still taking a toll on families and communities across Minnesota. Methamphetamine sales and abuse are again reaching crisis levels. Alcohol remains the number one abused substance, and in 2017 was mentioned on 2.6% percent of all death certificates in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped matters either, significantly affecting people’s mental health and reducing access to critical recovery support services. Stigma around SUD remains a huge obstacle, with many still equating this disease to a moral failing and not treating it like the medical condition that it is. 

But while SUD and the stigma associated with it continue to be a problem, a bright spot is that more and more recovery community organizations are springing up to offer strength, hope and support for individuals. In the past three years the number of recovery community organizations in Minnesota has grown from two to nine, with new organizations popping up in Duluth, St. Cloud and Minneapolis. 

Now more than ever, people need places they can turn to help them navigate the complexities of their recovery journeys, and more and more recovery community organizations are serving that need. 

In spite of this progress, widespread availability of recovery support services remains a dream, not a reality. Roughly 21 million Americans are estimated to continue to suffer from SUD. Obstacles like shame, minimization, and stigma stand in the way of realizing that dream. As we enter into Recovery Month, we invite you to join us in challenging yourself to meet us where you are. By engaging in conversations around SUD, challenging our preconceived notions and learning about the different pathways that exist to recovery, together we can break the stigma and help realize a world where recovery is possible for everyone.  

Drucker and Rouleau are both in recovery and serve on the board of Minnesota Recovery Connection. If you or a loved one are looking for recovery support see here for a list of resources.