There is a famous quote – “Americans Will Always Do the Right Thing — After Exhausting All the Alternatives” often credited to Winston Churchill. I have been thinking about the quote as it relates to the narrative around deaths of despair and the erosion of social connections, hope and purpose. These deaths are often related to addiction, and addiction seems to be at the heart of so very much that ails us as a nation. To address deaths of despair related to addiction we must focus on developing community recovery capital as a primary intervention strategy.
So what is community recovery capital? For a definition of Community recovery capital, I would refer readers to this 2008 paper by William White and William Cloud titled Recovery Capital: A Primer for Addictions Professionals. They define community recovery capital as encompassing community attitudes / policies / resources related to addiction and recovery that promote the resolution of alcohol and other drug problems. In short, developing community recovery capital strengthens civic engagement while providing participants hope and purpose.
This is exactly what we should wake up every day trying to increase across America right now.
This is because expanding recovery capital spreads recovery. Yes, recovery is contagious – it spreads. So “seeding” and nurturing recovery at the community level can offer broad benefit to the whole community. To understand how recovery can be contagious, I would refer readers to a paper by David Best and Alexandre B. Laudet titled The Potential of Recovery Capital. In that paper, they describe how “smoking cessation by a spouse decreased a person’s chances of smoking by 67%, while smoking cessation by a friend decreased the chances by 36%. The average risk of smoking at one degree of separation (i.e. smoking by a friend) was 61% higher, 29% higher at two degrees of separation and 11% higher at three degrees of separation.” This works for other addictions as well.
Pause and consider that expanding recovery in our communities has protective and preventative elements for the entire community. Additionally, broad, societal focus on expanding hope, connection and purpose within communities would be beneficial to changing the dynamic of our current addiction crisis by spreading recovery.
A huge problem is that as a society, we incorrectly conceptualized our addiction problem as an opioid epidemic (even as 90% of persons using opioids are using other addictive drugs). We are currently measuring “success” as the reduction of overdoses even as addicted persons continue to die from things other than overdose. In short, the wrong metric – reducing overdose deaths will end up having us miss the boat on effective strategies to save and restore lives and communities while keeping us stuck in tragic loss and the cycle of addiction.
It is important to change the narrative to one in which we educate our communities on the broad impact that recovery has and get our policymakers and philanthropic leaders to focus resources beyond our traditional care system (while still supporting care for acute service needs).
We cannot develop the resources and supports necessary to strengthen recovery within our communities if policymakers largely see things from a traditional acute care framework. We must change the narrative to focus on expanding recovery capital at the community level. The primary healing agent in healing addiction is community, lets focus resources there.
- Focus on long term recovery – 85% of people who get into long term recovery remain in recovery for life.
- Continue to reduce overdose rates, dead people cannot recover. Harm reduction efforts are key to keeping people alive, yet as multiple drug addiction is the norm, not the exception, the ultimate goal for addicted persons must be recovery.
- Not get trapped in narrow metrics. We have an addiction epidemic in which recovery is the probable outcome given the proper care and support for people who have substance use conditions.
- Most persons with addictions use multiple substances so whole person care is imperative with an emphasis on developing and sustaining resources within the community is key to saving lives and communities.
- The development of community recovery capitol must be funded as a primary objective, not as an afterthought.
We cannot simply hope it will happen without resources and sustained focus. This will require broad sustained effort across government and philanthropic institutions. Advocacy starts with us.
It is beyond time. Our communities are worth it.