Drug abuse and addiction have invaded small towns across America, destroying lives and tearing apart communities. To show support for addiction recovery, many local and national groups hold rallies, walks and other activities to increase awareness and understanding. But what does this acknowledgment of local drug problems do for addicts and people in recovery? What kind of impact can these groups have on individuals, neighborhoods or even national policies? Let’s explore the benefits—and potential downsides—of these community events.
The Benefits of Recovery Advocacy Groups
Organizations such as Rally for Recovery claim that holding demonstrations about drug addiction and recovery can involve a number of benefits to addicts and the larger community. These include:
Many groups hold events to offer hope to anyone currently struggling with drug addiction and who are in need of or seeking treatment. Since many who participate in marches and rallies are former addicts who have achieved sobriety, this can strengthen the recovery community and provide inspiration for those still suffering from drug addiction or alcoholism. These events show current addicts that addiction recovery is possible and how it can turn your life around.
Austin, Indiana has long struggled with high rates of HIV as a result of IV drug use. At one point, the town’s HIV rate matched those of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Many families have lost loved ones due to drug abuse and addiction. But a recovery community in Austin has begun to grow. More events are taking place that aim to inform people about the process of recovery and the resources that are available. People who have struggled with addiction are openly speaking out to others in their community. And this community acknowledgment of drug problems has helped to inspire change within Austin, Indiana. HIV rates are no longer increasing, needle sharing has decreased and the number of people attending recovery meetings has risen tenfold.
Reducing the Stigma of Addiction
Demonstrations like the Rockin’ Recovery Rally aim to tackle the stigma attached to substance abuse and drug addiction. In society, many people view addicts and people in recovery as weak-willed, selfish and having poor character. But this is far from the truth. Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. It’s not a way of life that anyone is pursuing for his or her own benefit. Recovery also has a certain amount of shame and embarrassment associated with it. The general public may view recovery as a sign of failure or a lack of self-reliance. However, addicts need effective treatment, which should be encouraged. The Rockin’ Recovery Rally was sponsored by Wisconsin Voices for Recovery and took place as part of National Recovery Month. Its goal was to increase the visibility of those in recovery in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Voices for Recovery organizes these rallies to emphasize that people with drug addiction are still important members of local communities who deserve support and respect. By reducing the stigma of addiction and recovery, many drug addicts may feel more comfortable seeking out addiction or mental health treatment.
Extolling Community Benefits
A vibrant recovery community doesn’t just benefit those who suffer from addiction. When people enter drug rehab, this can end up being of huge value to not only themselves, but also to family, friends and everyone else who makes up a local community. When people recover from alcohol and drug problems, they are able to maintain jobs, pursue new ambitions and add valuable contributions to society. Many people who complete the 12-step program—as well as others who have witnessed a loved one struggle with addiction—become active advocates for recovery. This can play an extremely important role in improving a community as a whole.
Inciting Political Change
It may be hard to know whether these local groups and events are reaching politicians and changing their minds so that they prioritize addiction treatment. However, studies have shown that rallies can lead to political change. By raising awareness about addiction and recovery we can encourage the general public to change the way they vote and engage in politics. Understanding the devastating effects of addiction and the promise of recovery can encourage people to vote on policies that increase community resources and access to treatment.
The Potential Downsides of Recovery Advocacy Groups
For some addicts, community acknowledgment of drug problems might not be very helpful. Here are some potential downsides of advocacy groups and events.
Not Reaching Addicts
One potential problem with these sorts of rallies is that they might not directly reach people suffering from drug addiction and alcoholism. As a result, drug addicts may feel left out of the conversation or not be aware that people in the community are even concerned about their struggles. Many of these rallies are organized on social media and then reported in the media, which, again, may miss many drug addicts. It’s important for people in the local community to actively and personally engage with drug addicts or those in recovery so that they can really feel acknowledged and included.
Potentially Increasing Stigma
Rallies can help eliminate stigma, provided that they are communicating the right kind of message, for example inspiring hope about recovery. But if a rally just focuses on the problems that drug addiction is causing in society, then this could make drug addicts feel more ashamed about their condition and ostracized from their neighbors. It may give addicts the impression that they are solely seen as a problem, instead of helping them feel cared for or supported.
Community Groups Need to Support Addicts, Not Ostracize Them
As we can see, community acknowledgment of drug problems can entail some challenges and potential risks. But given the way that most rallies are operating, it seems that they are helping to promote the benefits of recovery and inspire change. As with any effective demonstration, it’s important for communities to focus on solutions, rather than just protest against problems. The aim should always be to reduce the stigma attached to addiction and encourage addicts to pursue the path of long-term recovery.