Media Attention Misrepresents Long Term Recovery

The spate of articles on high-priced private treatment programs that are dominating the nation’s airwaves with misinformation and scintillating details about people still struggling with addiction are incredibly one-sided. They certainly aren’t helping people who still need help, or their families, find the pathway to recovery that will help more people experience the reality of a new life, reunited with family and community, in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs.

A recent New York Times article, “Stars Check In, Stars Check Out,” summarized June 18 by Join Together with the headline “Little Evidence That Costly Treatment Programs Work,” is a case in point. “Part of the problem in talking about a success rate is you’re talking to an alcoholic to gather that information, who is ready to lie and not give you accurate facts,” said Richard Rogg, owner of Promises, a facility in Malibu. The reporter failed to challenge Rogg’s derogatory comment about people in the recovery community. According to a 2007 report from the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), researchers found that the vast majority of tobacco and other drug users accurately report their own consumption.

This media coverage is shaping how the public and policymakers think about people who need help and people in long-term recovery. Over 22 million Americans are still struggling with addiction. They need information that will move them to commit to a recovery path and the ability and support to get the treatment and recovery supports that they need.

One of those paths is 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They don’t cost $49,000 a month, the amount that Lindsay Lohan was shelling out at Promises. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2005, more than half of the 2.3 million persons aged 12 or older who received specialty substance use treatment in the past year also received “treatment” (our quote) at a self-help group (1.4 million persons). This number doesn’t include the millions of Americans who are in long-term recovery from addiction through participation in a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

There is even research on the fiscal benefit of self-help or 12-step group involvement in recovery. According to a recent paper by Keith Humphreys and Rudolf Moos, “Actively promoting self-help group involvement may therefore be a useful clinical practice for helping addicted patients recover in a time of constrained fiscal resources.”

We’ll give the New York Times reporter her due, however, when it comes to our failure to provide reliable information about the many pathways to recovery to the public. Our government spends millions of dollars each year to research every facet of our nation’s alcohol and drug using — alcohol, heroin, other opiates, cocaine, marijuana, hashish, methamphetamines, tranquilizers, sedatives, hallucinogens, PCP, inhalants — how often people use it, their age, their ethnicity, their — you name it. 

It’s time to invest some of that money in finding out and educating the public about the growing numbers of effective pathways to recovery and the types of recovery supports that will help people sustain their recovery. We need to remove policy barriers that make it difficult for people to get their lives back on track once they are no longer using alcohol or other drugs. To make recovery a reality for even more Americans, let’s respect and honor those in long-term recovery and their families. It is their stories about the reality of long-term recovery that will inform the misinformed and help others find the pathway that will work for them. 

Pat Taylor is the Executive Director of Faces & Voices of Recovery.



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