September is Recovery Month, a time when we join treatment professionals and advocates and focus our efforts on raising awareness about anything and everything related to recovery. It’s a time to recognize the people who work through and past the challenges of mental health and substance use disorders to find balance, harmony, and live a lifestyle that promotes health and well-being.
Recovery Month: A Brief History
The Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsored National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) every September for twenty years, from 1999-2019. In 2020, the non-profit mental health and recovery advocacy organization Faces & Voices of Recovery stepped in and assumed sponsorship and organizational duties for the month. The first thing they did was shorten the name to Recovery Month, to acknowledge the recovery of people around the world, not just in the U.S.
All information and details about Recovery Month events and objectives now appear on their Recovery Month website. If you’re interested in joining the movement can download social media and event toolkits here.
What is Recovery Month?
Recovery Month is a month-long series of events that began in Massachusetts in 1989 as Treatment Works! Celebration Day and grew into Recovery Month in 1999 when SAMSHA adopted the event. Over the next twenty years, Recovery Month transformed into a significant observance and advocacy month around the world. In 2018 alone, Recovery Month included over half a million participants, almost fifteen hundred separate events, and hosted events in a dozen countries outside of the U.S.
The fundamental goals of recovery month are:
- To spread awareness about substance use and mental health treatment and recovery support and services.
- To reduce stigma related to mental health and alcohol/substance use disorders.
- To educate the public that evidence-based treatment can and does enable people with mental health and alcohol/substance use disorders live healthy, rewarding, and productive lives.
In late 2022, the organizers at Faces and Voices of Recovery decided to create a permanent theme and tagline for Recovery Month, rather than create a new theme for each year. Here’s the permanent theme for National Recovery Month, created in 2022, and now adapted for long-term use:
“Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person. Every Family. Every Community.”
The organizers describe the overall philosophy and how it supports with the theme:
“Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery from substance use and mental health, just as we celebrate improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. We work to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.”
Here are several ways we can all work to raise awareness during Recovery Month:
- Share what we know about mental illness substance use disorders
- End stigma connected to people with mental illness and people who use substances
- End stigma connected to mental health and substance use treatment and recovery
- Tell friends, family, about evidence-based treatment for mental health and substance use disorders
With regards to that last bullet point, this is the message we encourage everyone to share:
Evidence-based treatment provided by licensed, qualified professionals is effective and can help people with substance use and/or mental health challenges manage symptoms, restore balance and live full, productive, vibrant lives in recovery.
What Happens During Recovery Month?
Around the world every September, advocates organize hundreds of events to raise awareness about recovery from mental illness and/or substance use disorder. Events come in almost any form you can imagine. Recovery walks and awareness rallies accompany modern virtual webinars and old-fashioned potlucks and barbecues. All these events share the common goal of encouraging people from every walk of life to address the ongoing need for a worldwide expansion treatment, prevention, and recovery resources.
We encourage everyone to participate in Recovery Month activities, with a focus on people in recovery, and the following individuals and groups:
- Active-duty military service personnel and veterans
- First responders
- Local municipal leaders
- Grass-roots community organizations
- High school and college students
- High school, college, and university educators
- Employers, from large corporations to small local businesses
- Churches and other faith-based organizations
- Church, spiritual, and faith leaders
- Friends and family members of people in recovery
- Justice system personnel
- Prevention, treatment, and recovery organizations
- Peer recovery specialists
- Recovery community
- Social service organizations
- Youth and young adult groups and organizations
When we work to reach all these people, from professionals, to family members of people in recovery, to concerned members of the community, we improve our communities by promoting not only physical health, but also emotional, psychological, and spiritual health and well-being,
What is Recovery?
We’ve been using that word throughout this article. Before we continue, we’ll define recovery so we’re all on the same page.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as:
“A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”
Experts identify four core components that promote recovery:
- Health: Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
- Home: A safe stable place to live.
- Purpose: Having a reason to fully participate in life, such as a job, going to school, volunteering, or being a loving, supportive spouse, partner, sibling, or family member.
- Community: Relationships or social networks that promote recovery-friendly activities and support long-term health and well-being.
SAMHSA also understands that recovery is an individual process. Therefore, there are as many paths to recovery as there are people in recovery. Pathways to recovery may include clinical support, non-clinical support, and self-directed support. It’s common for one individual to use multiple pathways during their recovery journey. Examples of recovery pathways include, but are not limited to:
- Peer-supported recovery, which typically involves participation in mutual aid groups like 12-step programs and social support systems/people such as peer support specialists, recovery housing, and collegiate recovery programs.
- Treatment-assisted recovery, which most often means professional support from a therapist, a doctor, or another credentialed professional. Treatment-assisted recovery may include medication, therapy, or both.
- Faith-based recovery, which leverages religious and/or spiritual belief systems as frameworks for recovery, and may involve congregation- or clergy-based support services.
- Natural recovery, which happens when a person achieves recovery through individual, interpersonal resources. Natural recovery occurs in the absences of professional treatment, mutual aid, or peer support groups.
It’s critical for everyone interested in recovery to understand that what works for one person may not work for another. When a person decides to seek support for a mental health and/or substance user disorder, it’s essential to allow them to discover which pathway will work best for them, and support them on their recovery journey, whatever path they choose.
Recovery Month 2023: Week-By-Week Themes and Goals
For 2023, SAMHSA created weekly themes and goals to help advocates clarify their messaging and reach more people with reliable facts and information about treatment and recovery. We’ll share these weekly themes and goals now.
Week One: September 4th – 10th
Theme: Youth and Young People in Recovery
This theme highlights the role that families have in supporting loved ones in recovery, seeking recovery, or at the beginning of their recovery journey.
- When a person enters recovery, it not only affects them, but also their family, friends, and anyone who cares about them. For a young person, this could mean teachers, coaches, tutors, or anyone directly involved in their life.
- Recovery means recovery for the whole person, which means improving their family life is part of their journey. Parents and caregivers play a key role in supporting young people in recovery, and creating a home atmosphere where they can grow and thrive.
- It’s hard to manage recovery and school: that’s why it’s important for families to be compassionate, caring, and supportive when a young person enters recovery
- Many family members and caregivers spend significant time and energy supporting their loved one in recovery. It’s important to recognize them and encourage them to engage in consistent self-care.
Week Two: September 11th – 17th
Theme: Ensuring Equitable Access to Recovery Resources
This theme brings attention to demographic groups traditionally underserved by the existing treatment and recovery infrastructure.
- People of color, older adults, people who live in rural areas, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, veterans, and people with disabilities are entitled to equal access to all recovery resources.
- Recovery and treatment that acknowledges and accepts cultural differences and embraces all cultural values and belief systems is called culturally competent treatment. When a person engages in culturally competent treatment, they’re more likely to achieve success.
- No one is alone on their recovery journey.
- Everyone has the right to choose a recovery path based on their values and life goals.
- With the right resources at the right time, everyone and anyone can recover and learn the skills they need to live a full and meaningful life.
Week Three: September 18th – 24th
Theme: Holistic Approach to Recovery and the Social Determinants of Health
This theme brings attention to the fact that recovery is about more than physical, mental, and emotional health: it involves every aspect of life, from environment to education to access to essential social support services.
- Recovery involves total wellness, and improves all aspects of a person’s life, and is not limited to addressing mental health or substance use issues.
- Evidence-based treatment can help people restore balance to their lives, regain control of their behavior, and contribute in positive and proactive ways to their communities and families.
- When an person with a mental health and/or substance use disorder has equal access to social support, adequate housing, quality education, and stable employment, their chances of achieving sustainable, long-term recovery increase.
- The most effective recovery is not one-size-fits-all: it’s personalized. The best treatment and recovery plans include individualized care tailored to meet the specific needs of each person.
Week 4 Four: September 25th – 30th
Theme: Peers and Peer Support
This theme highlights the importance of recovery peers and recognizes the value of peer support services in helping individuals and their families navigate the recovery journey.
- Experience recovery peers model the recovery lifestyle, and offer their personal life stories freely, of themselves, which engenders a sense of belonging and hope to those new to or considering recovery
- Seeing, hearing, and talking to someone who has been where they are – and built a successful recovery – makes people new to recovery believe in themselves, and helps them create a tangible vision of what recovery looks like for them, in their lives
- Peers can help people new to recovery manage the challenging process of seeking professional support, and help them find and access essential social services such as food, housing, and vocational resources.
- Peer support is for families, too. Mutual aid groups for family members of people in recovery from a mental illness or substance use disorder can remind people that they’re not alone in their experience: for every person in recovery, there are others who support them who need support themselves.
How We Can All Help During Recovery Month
The theme “Recovery is for Everyone” reminds us that when we work to heal one person, we heal an important part of our community, and when we work to heal our communities, that work supports individual healing for every member of that community.
Treatment and recovery experts at SAMHSA it this way:
“The ‘Recovery is for Everyone’ concept inspires people across the world to transform the “I” into “we” and build bridges between families, communities, and groups. We celebrate our diversity and seek to develop deeper understanding, caring, and connection that nurtures recovery.”
Doing our part for Recovery Month means something different for each of us. We offered a short bullet list towards the beginning of this article about how we can work to raise awareness and end or reduce the stigma attached to mental illness/substance use and treatment for mental illness/substance use. Treatment professionals are in a position to have a large impact because people will listen to them, based on their experience and expertise.
However, one area we can all help is by reducing stigma. To do that, we need to look within, and try to understand and address the vestiges of unconscious stigma that persist in our thoughts and feelings. When we can unpack those issues, we can help others do the same. The internal work is personal, but there are things we can do and say – or not do and say – that have an impact.
For instance, we all want to avoid using these words/phrases:
This word is heavy with judgment, and it’s time to put it to rest. Labeling a person as an addict often relegates them to second-class citizen status – in their mind and in the minds of the people who use or hear the term.
Ditto what we wrote about the word addict. This is an archaic, non-medical term that has, for decades, served to ostracize people with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
This phrase marginalizes people who use drugs, and decreases the likelihood they’ll feel safe in seeking support.
A person who does not use alcohol or drugs in no cleaner than a person who uses alcohol or drugs.
A person can have sober thoughts regardless of whether they’ve had an alcohol or drug use disorder.
A person with a mental health disorder is not crazy.
Finally, if you’re interested in advocating for Recovery Month with graphics or any kind of pictures, please avoid using stereotypical images like hypodermic needles for drug use, straightjackets for mental health treatment, or any depiction of alcohol or drug use that either glamorizes or overtly stigmatizes the behavior/activity.
When we’re all on the same page, heading in the same direction, working toward the same goals, we can and will make a difference during this Recovery Month, and in the months and years to come.
Finding Help: Resources
To find treatment and support for yourself or a loved one, or learn more about treatment and recovery, please use the following resources:
- The SAMHSA treatment finder here
- The American Psychological Association (APA) treatment finder here
- The National Empowerment Center
- Youth Move National, a resource for youth seeking peer support
- SAMHSA-sponsored links for treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD):