On February 27, I celebrated my 90th year on the planet. In all the years, alcohol was my only drug of choice. It served me well until it didn’t. Active in the recovery movement for many years in Colorado, I returned to California in 2019 and helped to start a new non-profit called The Purpose of Recovery (TPOR). At The Purpose of Recovery we value positive recovery language through our peer support services and community advocacy.
Recently I noted that Alcohol Awareness was being diminished by all else going on and I determined to edit my recovery language to feature alcohol and its effects.
What I noticed is that my language works in any month, whether it is Alcohol Awareness Month (April) or not. Ok, so who do we help (individuals, families and those in recovery) and what do we tell them about alcohol? Particularly, how do we guide their research on talking to kids?
Each April since 1987, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma, and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues.
Most adults in the United States who drink alcohol drink moderately and without complications. At the same time, alcohol-related problems are among the most significant public health issues in the country. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects about 15 million adults in the United States, and an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the nation. Read more here.
A young person’s brain is not fully developed until they reach their mid to late 20s, and any drinking while the brain is still developing can be problematic.
Regardless of age, alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment and coordination. It can also increase the incidence of aggressive or violent acts. Consuming large quantities in a short period of time — or binge drinking— which is defined as having 4-5 drinks on one occasion and is common among young people — can cause alcohol poisoning and even death. More than 16 million Americans misuse or are addicted to alcohol, which is a legal substance that is widely available and normalized in our society. Prolonged, heavy use of alcohol can lead to addiction as alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism. There is liver and heart disease, and other health consequences such as a weakened immune system and increased risk of developing certain cancers. Accidents related to alcohol use are among the leading causes of death for teens.
Every April the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness Month to increase awareness and understanding of the causes and treatment of the nation’s #1 public health problem: alcoholism. As part of Alcohol Awareness Month, the NCADD says local, state, and national events will be “aimed at educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, particularly among our youth, and the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.
Alcohol Awareness Month Resources —NCADD has several helpful resources on its website. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) underage drinking prevention campaign, ‘Talk. They Hear You,’ has talking points and tools for coalitions, parents, and caregivers so they can start talking to their children early—as early as 9 years old—about the dangers of alcohol.
The Alcohol Action Network (AAN) is a project of the American Public Health Association and is a nationwide network of alcohol prevention practitioners and researchers engaging in alcohol policy issues in their states or local communities. AAN was initially established to address the shifting alcohol policy landscape at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to bring prevention specialists together to address policy issues as they arise.
I grew up in South Dakota with the awareness that Sioux Native-Americans were a seen and unseen part of life. A friend, Don Coyhis, is a recognized leader and mentor of the Sioux Nation. He posted the following:
Thinking positive thoughts will flush out negative thoughts. There is not enough room for both. When we do have both, there is an internal argument with ourselves until we decide which one should go. There is only room for one. We change ourselves by being convinced, which means “to be persuaded by argument or evidence. – Don Coyhis
Look forward to becoming a positive thinker and using language that supports others in recovery whether from alcohol or other substances.
You may be surprised when your friends become a “flusher” of negative thoughts too.
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador
In the old West, when a community was plagued by bad guys, the townsfolk got together and formed a posse and chased the bad guys out of town. Western movies starring the Lone Ranger usually ended with the Lone Ranger riding into the sunset and a townsman asking, “who was that masked man” Any irony in this today? We might define each peer posse as being a group of peers with a common purpose to overcome the “bad guys”— Substance Use Disorders (SUD). First responders respond to the purpose and needs of the moment.
Clinicians and Peer Specialists respond to the purpose and needs of the future and the sustainability of positive outcomes.
It takes passion and courage but they get a big bang for their pluck.
In a previous blog, I wrote, Together We Are Stronger. A voice is a whisper, many voices are a shout. I note that there are many communities, collectives, coalitions, consortiums, and cultures seeking a broad spectrum of choice, chance, and change. With all these words and labels starting with “C”, there must be some relationship to the term “C” — change. It simply means transformation, so “Cs” the day. Between the pandemic and politics, its happening. Indications are that both parties are giving attention to the needs for clinical and peer support rather than incarceration. There is growing attention to the various mental health issues developing and growing due to the negative social impact of COVID-19. These include depression, suicide, addictions, and domestic abuse.
In 2018, mostly in response to the opiate crisis, congress took action in the passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. It includes policies and resources that support people in recovery from addiction across the lifespan. This provision reauthorizes and modifies the Building Communities of Recovery program to include peer support networks. It provides funding for community organizations providing long-term recovery support services related to substance use disorder.
There are opiate funds available. Seek and you will find. Recovery Community Organizations are being formed at a growing rate with knowledge that the pandemic will put new burdens on the community from increased mental health and substance use disorders.
Nothing About Us Without Us. People with personal knowledge of the recovery process and the historical challenges faced by people seeking and in recovery free of conflicted interests are the best suited for recovery advocacy leadership. RCOs can motivate and educate the newly elected or re-elected community leaders. “By repairing past and current harms in our communities, we bring new possibilities to the future.” Community leaders will be true and valuable servants.
The founders launched Orange County, California’s first Recovery Community Organization recently, The Purpose of Recovery—TPOR. Preceding the launch were conferences, trainings, virtual meetings. Legal matters and site visits to providers of Substance Use Disorders. Our focus was on peer support services. It was gratifying to learn about so many humans doing for other humans being. A fun experience for me was a visit to a new resource, Recovery Road providing food, clothing, and a place of fellowship. I loved the sight of stacks of Vienna sausages. Yum. The Salvation Army complex was a wonder of complete services to men and women. It was a community unto itself. It rang my bell. There are many providers and partners with TPOR with mutual opportunity to serve the local communities. Websites, Facebook and social media provide a broad range of information and resources. Working in peer support is an especially rewarding experience. You get to share the tools, skills, and information you have learned to transform your own life with individuals going through similar struggles. Not only do you get to contribute to the lives of others, but you also sustain your own recovery and wellbeing in the process. As more and more learn about the impact of peer support, opportunities, and career paths for peer specialists the support will grow and expand. The growth of peer support has the potential to radically transform the ways we support people in the behavioral health system. All states have a certification program with defined paths to career opportunities. Our California certification entity is CCAPP, California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals. The Association of Recovery Community Organizations—ARCO, provides a broad spectrum of information about Peer Recovery Services and vital insight into the national recovery movement.
Remember, they don’t care what you know till they know that you care.
Merlyn Karst – Recovery Ambassador