Substances use disorders, and those suffering from them, remain heavily stigmatized across the country. Individuals struggling with a substance use disorder may hesitate to seek help for fear of judgement. Many of those people will also find it difficult to open up to their loved ones because they don’t believe anyone will understand them.
For most people in recovery from a SUD, support is primarily found within the walls of treatment centers or in the rooms of recovery support groups. While high quality treatment and identification with others in recovery are both vital, it is also important that those struggling with SUD feel supported by others within their communities, homes, and workplaces.
Who is a Recovery Ally?
A recovery ally is an individual who has made the commitment to support others struggling with a substance use disorder. This support can be expressed in a variety of ways but generally includes expanding their awareness of what someone with an SUD experiences, practicing empathy, challenging their personal biases, and advocating for the rights and fair treatment of those recovering from an SUD. Being a recovery ally doesn’t require a certification, title, or personal experience. Anyone can make the decision to be an ally to the recovering community. If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few tips to get you started.
- Educate Yourself
An integral part of being a recovery ally is having a working understanding of substance use disorders the different paths to recovery. A large part of the current stigmatization of SUD is the belief that developing a substance use disorder was a choice and that recovery is a matter of willpower. Both of these ideas are untrue and help to perpetuate other harmful stereotypes. Educating yourself on how substance use disorders work, how they impact the individual, and what resources are available will better equip you to offer valuable support to someone in need.
Listening to the experiences of someone in recovery is one of the most powerful ways to understand what it entails. There is no better way to understand the power of a SUD or the strength recovery requires than listening to a personal testimony. If you meet someone in recovery, and they’re willing and open to discussing their story, don’t hesitate to ask them questions. Asking questions about what has helped them on their journey or what challenges they face will make it easier to dispel any biases you may have.
- Show Up
As a recovery ally, you have to be prepared to show up for people in recovery. Joining advocacy groups or attending community recovery events are great options. There are many recovery advocacy groups accepting volunteers and your time could have a huge impact. Showing up for the recovery community can also be comprised of smaller actions on a more individual basis. For example, you could help create social environments that are recovery supportive for recovering people in your life. This could simply mean coordinating activities that don’t include the use of alcohol or other substances, or supporting your loved one during a difficult time without judgement.
- Find Your Voice
The language we use matters. How we talk about individuals in active substance use and in recovery plays a huge role in combating stigma. Using degrading language like “junkie” or other insulting terms, speak up. Confronting offensive terminology on a one-to-one basis, when you hear it, is a great way to be an ally. Calling out stigma shouldn’t be an act of aggression, rather an opportunity to raise awareness to the negative impact of the language and asking the person to explore their beliefs surrounding substance use disorders.
- Take Action
Think about areas of your life where you have an opportunity to effect positive change within your community and take action. Advocating for the recovering community can happen in the workplace, schools, spiritual institutions, or at the government level. Taking on the perspective of someone in recovery when deciding how to approach certain issues is crucial in advocating for those in recovery.
Remember, becoming an ally doesn’t happen overnight and it will not always be easy. It takes time, patience, and commitment. Your choice to be an ally to those in recovery from a substance use disorder can have a huge impact.