Millions of people live and thrive in addiction recovery. There is an active and vocal community of survivors and their loved ones. It is a community you or your loved one can join. This community is essential for maintaining and enjoying sobriety. It is essential for immediate and long-term mental health. The U.S. Surgeon General explains that addiction is, “a chronic disorder from which individuals can recover, so long as they have access to evidence-based treatments and responsive long-term supports.” Addiction and mental health recovery begin with professional treatment. Long-term support involves continued treatment. It includes housing, employment, and education. It requires friendship and community. Recovery is a comprehensive term because recovery is a comprehensive experience. Ending substance misuse is about more than long longer taking a drug. The Surgeon General continues, “Various definitions of individual recovery have been offered nationally and internationally. Although they differ in some respects, all of these recovery definitions describe personal changes that are well beyond simply stopping substance use.” Community encourages and supports many aspects of personal change and overall health. It supports those in recovery and those helping others find health and stability. Finding and joining an understanding community promotes wellness on multiple levels.
Inclusion within the Recovery Community
Being a part of a community leads to a better, more complete recovery. Mental Health America (MHA) explains that community, “is increasingly being recognized as one of the most important concepts for fostering the recovery of people with psychiatric disabilities, and for assessing recovery progress.” Individuals struggling with addiction and mental health benefit from belonging to recovery and treatment communities. These communities help individuals develop values and beliefs for long-term recovery. The Surgeon General explains that core beliefs supported by the recovery community include the following facts:
- People who suffer from substance use disorders (recovering or not) have essential worth and dignity.
- The shame and discrimination that prevents many individuals from seeking help must be vigorously combated.
- Recovery can be achieved through diverse pathways and should be celebrated.
- Access to high-quality treatment is a human right, although recovery is more than treatment.
- People in recovery and their families have valuable experiences and encouragement to offer others who are struggling with substance use.
These concepts are essential to long-term wellness. A community that shares these beliefs is a community that encourages individuals to get the treatment they need. A recovery community both states and demonstrates that life without active addiction is achievable, valuable, and enjoyable. They reconfirm that recovery is a good thing and that addiction is a reason for treatment, not shame.
Community and Caregivers
Caregivers are an essential part of many communities. They provide care and understanding to individuals who may otherwise find none. They want a sense of belonging and inclusion for themselves and their charges, but they may struggle to find this. Mental Health America interviewed caregivers for individuals with psychiatric disabilities. These disabilities can range from addiction to schizophrenia to any combination of mental and physical health concerns. Opinions regarding community stayed the same no matter the challenges facing individuals and their caregivers. MHA reports, “Caregiver comments reflected that they understood and appreciated the value of community inclusion for their loved ones, for themselves, and how more inclusion would also benefit the community.” Inclusion does more than help individuals heal. It supports those closest to them, and it supports those who otherwise believe themselves untouched by mental health or addiction concerns. Individuals with addiction and mental health issues are not the only ones affected by their struggles. Caregivers and close loved ones feel the effects of substance abuse and more. MHA shares, “Caregivers reported that caregiving negatively affects their own lives, especially in the domains of friendships, recreation, religious activities, and with respect to their participation with family activities and gatherings.” Individuals working hard to include those with mental health concerns need inclusion for themselves. This will encourage more people to take on supportive, caregiving roles. It will foster understanding, inclusion, and healing.
Recovering in the Community at Large
The recovery community is welcoming and supportive. The Surgeon Genera shares, “More than 25 million individuals with a previous substance use disorder are in remission and living healthy, productive lives.” These individuals can provide inclusion and understanding. However, there is an even larger community surrounding the millions of people in recovery and millions more in need of help and hope. This community is not always as inclusive. As Mental Health America shares, “in spite of considerable effort on the part of mental health providers and caregivers to help increase inclusion in community life for those they care for, structural, psychological, cultural, and financial barriers are omnipresent.” Barriers to community inclusion exist. They do not have to. Education helps the general public better understand addiction and mental health. There is already a growing change in how Americans view addiction. This disease is typically understood as just that, a disease related to brain chemistry and mental health, when it was once seen as a moral or personal failing. Treatment is more widely available.
Recovery support exists in more places and in more shapes and forms. As individuals continue to speak up, politicians and political figures respond. Policies and public opinions are changing. Communities are coming to embrace their importance in encouraging everyone’s long-term health and wellness.
 http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/sites/default/files/Community%20Inclusion%20from%20the%20Perspective%20of%20Caregivers%20FINAL.pdf. Community Inclusion from the Perspective of Caregivers of People with Psychiatric Disabilities. Mental Health America. 2016. Web. 30 Nov 2016.