And members of the National Recovery Advisory Committee (NRAC) say those recovery stories are the ones that need to be told in an effort to dispel stigma and spur more individuals into dealing with their drug or alcohol addictions.
“Recovery needs to be viewed positively by the health care, legal and social services system as well as the broader community. We have to celebrate recovery every opportunity we can,” said NRAC member Marshall Smith, a recovering alcoholic and Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) senior adviser for recovery initiatives.
On Thursday, the CCSA and the NRAC released findings from the country’s first-ever Life in Recovery from Addiction in Canada survey.
Completed in the summer of 2016, the key finding of the report is that 91 per cent of the 855 participants surveyed attest to having a better quality of life now that they’re in recovery and that 51 per cent achieved recovery without a single relapse.
It also found that 12-step programs such as alcoholics or narcotics anonymous were used in 92 per cent of cases.
While those numbers are encouraging, there’s still much to be done, as 82 per cent of respondents reported barriers to initiating recovery.
In addition to stigmatization, lack of supportive social networks, delays for treatment and a general lack of knowledge of where to turn, a common barrier was the belief that the problem wasn’t severe enough to warrant a response.
“When I open a newspaper or see a television clip about addiction, undoubtedly the imagery that goes along with that is the picture of a needle, a lighter and a spoon and a lonely downtown alley,” says Smith. “Canadians don’t see themselves reflected in that imagery, so it allows them to say, ‘that’s not me, and therefore I don’t have a problem.’ As a result of that, the problem continues to grow.
“If we don’t get upstream and start treating the illness earlier while people still have homes and jobs and families to be connected to, then we’re going to see a lot more of this crisis in the future.”
Rita Notarandrea, chief executive officer for the CCSA, says it’s time to change the perception of substance use disorder and treat it like the serious chronic health condition that it is and adopt a co-ordinated system for dealing with it.
“The system needs to be set up in a way that it is truly dealing with this health condition in the same way it’s dealing with diabetes or cancer, and having available services so when I do go to my primary care professional I shouldn’t be sent elsewhere. That primary care pro has a responsibility to help me through that journey and to really know what system is available for me.”
Committee member Dr. Ray Baker, a retired associate professor from the UBC faculty of medicine and also a recovering addict, says it may surprise many people to know that most primary-contact health providers require more education about addiction and recovery.
“We need to train our professionals differently about addiction because we’re still concealing it,” Baker insists.
“We’re talking about the opioid addiction rather than the real epidemic of addiction and alcoholism that has been killing that many people every year since the beginning, but we still don’t talk about it.”
Smith says in addition to an increase in public support and understanding, all levels of government need to step up their efforts in not only funding more treatment and recovery initiatives, but also using the voices of individuals in recovery to help change the conversation and raise the issue’s profile.
“When it comes to cancer or breast cancer for women, we see tremendous mobilization behind that. We see pink shirt days, balloons and I don’t know a politician in this country that would take the podium at a breast cancer announcement that wasn’t flanked by women in recovery,” Smith says. “We don’t do that with addiction. We have to start at a very basic level with this.”