By Ariste Sallas-Brookwell, LICSW, Director of Behavioral Health Integration
September is Recovery Month. In the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 40.3 million people, about 14% of the population of the United States, had a substance use disorder. It’s likely that you or a loved one has been impacted. It can be difficult to know how to best support a loved one in recovery. Navigating how to do it can be hard and Mary’s Center is here to support you.
Here are a few tips:
- Be a good listener. It can be hard to see someone you love struggling. It is natural to want to intervene, fix, or otherwise give advice to that person. However, often it can be counterproductive to tell people what to do. Instead, focus on actively listening to them. Be curious. Active listening takes practice. Ultimately, if we can be present with others, we strengthen our ability to connect with that person, so they feel heard and understood.
- Learn about substance use disorders. It can be helpful to educate yourself. Substance use disorders are illnesses that impact a large portion of the population, and the Covid-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on everyone. Often, we know that substance use disorders can be related to a history of trauma. They are also closely linked to mental health disorders. This knowledge can help bolster your ability to better understand your loved one.
- Use non-judgmental language to decrease stigma. Language around substance use disorders is changing. Langue is powerful and can contribute to shame, isolation, and stigma. We want to recognize and acknowledge the whole person and use person-centered language. Instead of saying “they are an alcoholic”, you should say “they are struggling with a substance use disorder.” People are not their illness. We also want to avoid using stigmatizing language like “clean”, “dirty”, or “addict”. This language is judgmental and does not contribute to fostering connection.
- Familiarize yourself with resources in your community. It’s helpful to be aware of substance use disorder treatment and referral options in your community. The SAMHSA helpline can provide information about treatment options. In Washington, DC, visit the Department of Behavioral Health website here for information about local treatment options. There are also locally run virtual and in-person support groups.
- Seek out your own support. We want the people we love to be well. Having a loved one in recovery can be hard. Make sure you’re receiving the support you need to better help them, including access to resources such as support groups, individual therapy, and online communities.
In addition to the tips above, there are a few more ways you can be an ally to those in recovery. Carry naloxone In addition to the tips above, there are a few more ways you can be an ally to those in recovery. Carry naloxone (Narcan). Carrying this easy-to-use overdose reversal drug can be lifesaving. It is accessible throughout the Washington, DC, area. Check out where to pick it up here. Support advocacy efforts to increase funding for substance use disorder and mental health treatment and the decriminalization of substance use disorders.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, or, you’re interested in exploring your own relationship with substances, please reach out to the Mary’s Center Integrated Recovery Program. We have a multi-disciplinary team that supports individuals at all stages of recovery and we welcome new participants.
Learn more about the Integrated Recovery Program at Mary’s Center here or call us at (202) 253-1150.