Skip to main content

Recovery Month: Are we willing to make it reality?

September 17, 2007
(Editor’s note: The month of September is designated as “National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Michael Shafer, director of ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, writes that the real hope for recovery lies in early detection and treatment.)


The month of September is designated as ‘Recovery Month’ by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  This designation is designed to promote awareness of the reality that addiction and substance abuse is something from which people recover.   This message of hope will be shared in countless communities throughout the state during this month through Recovery Fairs, Festivals, and Walks.  This promise of recovery however, is a promise shared by a minority of the individuals afflicted by addiction and substance use disorders. 

Consider the facts.  While nearly 1.5 million Arizonans either used illicit drugs or drank excessively in the past month, over 500,000 who need treatment never got it.  While over 30% of all prisoners reported being high on drugs when they committed their crime, less than 10% will ever receive treatment.   

Indeed, there is ample evidence documenting the explosive growth in our prison population is directly attributable to the implementation of politically attractive campaigns that have resulted in mandatory sentencing and other heavy-handed approaches to drug users.  When Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, the United States spent $4 on treatment and prevention for every $1 that was spent on drug interdiction and criminal justice systems.   Today, unfortunately, that ratio has been reversed, as drug interdiction and the criminalization of drug users is big business, accounting for 80% of all public expenditures while substance abuse treatment and prevention programs account for about 20% of these expenses.

For many individuals afflicted by addiction and substance use disorders, the promise of recovery and sobriety may never come, or may only come after their substance use has destroyed a promising career, a vibrant family, and driven the individual onto the street and – all too often – into our overloaded criminal justice system. 

Over the past decade, we have been witness to a greater understanding of the basis and course of the disease of addiction, a disease that shares many qualities to other preventable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.  Both of these conditions are largely preventable, but I have yet to hear us blame someone for acquiring hypertension or arresting the diabetic caught eating chocolate cake.  I have yet to hear of a doctor terminating treatment to patients who have failed to exercise or maintain their diets, yet it is all too common for the patient with a substance use disorder to be thrown out of treatment because they had used again.   Every year when I get a physical, my doctor checks my blood pressure, my cholesterol level and at my age, my PSA count.  For the life of me, I can’t ever remember my doctor asking me about my drinking or drug use habits, and I am almost certain that that urine and blood samples that they take have ever been tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs.         

 Extending the promise of Recovery and Sobriety to more Arizonans can be achieved.  We must begin by normalizing the disease of addiction and making the detection and early intervention of this disease as common as we other health screenings, such as PSA testing and mammography.  This is a disease more common than asthma or diabetes, yet rarely discussed with social circles.  Like diabetes, this is disease is preventable and like diabetes, not the result of personal weakness or moral defect.  Like breast cancer, substance use disorders follow a disease trajectory with clinically significant markers as the disease progresses from substance use, to substance abuse, and finally, to substance dependence (‘addiction’).  Like breast cancer, early detection and early intervention is critical, saving both lives and money. 

The promise of Recovery and Sobriety is real, are we as Americans willing to make it a reality?