Young People in Recovery Recovery Messaging and Q & As

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1 1 Young People in Recovery Recovery Messaging and Q & As There are many ways to support young people in or seeking recovery. One very effective way is for other young people in recovery to be recovery communicators, reaching other teens and youths seeking help. Each person should decide to speak out based on his or her level of comfort talking with friends, family or as an advocate. If you choose to advocate, you can be visible, raise your voice with others to create awareness of the need for and reality of recovery for teens/youths, reverse discriminatory policies, break down stigma and support the policies that will help young people get the help they need to achieve and sustain long-term recovery. The language or message that you can use to talk about recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs is based on in-depth public opinion research with members of the recovery community, including young people, and the general public. We encourage you to use this messaging or language whenever you re speaking as a person in recovery, a family member or friend. This new way of talking about recovery in a clear and credible way will help move our advocacy agenda forward, making it possible for more young people to get the help they need to recover.

2 2 1. Make it personal, so that we have credibility 2. Keep it simple and in the present tense, so that it s real and understandable 3. Help people understand that recovery means you or the person you care about is no longer using alcohol or other drugs. We do this by moving away from saying in recovery to saying in long-term recovery, by using concrete examples from our lives to talk about stability and by mentioning the length of time that the person is in recovery. 4. For young people speaking to other teens/youths, mentioning the age at which you entered recovery is the best way to ensure that they can relate to your story. It is fine also to say how old you are now and how many years you have been in long-term recovery, but you should lead with mentioning your age of sobriety. 5. Talk about your recovery not your addiction 6. Help people understand that there s more to recovery than not using alcohol or other drugs, and that part of recovery is creating a better life Core Long-Term Recovery Message for a Young Person in Long-Term Recovery: I m [your first and last name] and I am a young person in longterm recovery, which means that I have not used alcohol or other drugs since I was [x] years old. Today I m [y] years old and in long term recovery for [z] years. Long-term recovery has given me new hope and stability. I ve been able to create a better life for myself, my family and my community. I m speaking out to offer hope and so that others have the opportunity to achieve long-term recovery, as I have. Core Long-Term Recovery Message for a Family Member of a Young Person in Long-Term Recovery: I m [your first and last name]. [My son/daughter/sister/brother] is a young person in long-term recovery, which means that [he/she] hasn t used alcohol or other drugs since [he/she] was [x] years old. It has brought stability to [his/her] life. We ve become healthier together, enjoying family life in our home. Long-term recovery has given me and my family new purpose and hope for the future. I am speaking out now because I want to help make it possible for other young people and their families to do the same.

3 3 What's Not in the Message and Why I m a young recovering addict (alcoholic). When people hear the words addict or alcoholic, it reinforces the idea of a revolving door; that you or the person in your family is still struggling with active addiction. These words also reinforce negative stereotypes, define the person by the condition, and emphasize addiction over recovery. A definition of recovery. The message we seek to deliver describes rather than defines recovery, so that the person you are speaking with, or the audience you are addressing, can see what recovery means namely, that you or your family member is in long-term recovery and that other young people should have the opportunity to recover as well. You are not speaking out as a social worker or school counselor who is advising a teen/youth struggling with active addiction, as a physician who is diagnosing a person who needs a treatment referral, or as an insurance company deciding whether or not someone s care should be covered. A detailed explanation of your active addiction. You are conveying a message about recovery and hope based on your personal demonstration that young people struggling with addiction can find long-term recovery. We have sidestepped focusing on what addiction involves and gone straight to our message: Real teenagers and young people, from all socioeconomic groups across the country, are in long-term recovery. Their lives and the lives of their families are better because of it. No matter how many young people are struggling with addiction, what s important is to make it possible for them to get the help they need, and once they are in recovery, to remove the barriers that may keep them from long-term recovery. Addiction is a disease. Addiction is a health problem. In our research, and as we re sure you know from your own experience, we found that many people believe that addiction is a moral issue, not a health problem. We ve sidestepped a discussion about whether or not addiction is a disease vs. moral problem and gone straight to our message. What we are doing is delivering a message of hope to other teens/youths about the possibility of long-term recovery and to policy makers that it makes sense to invest in recovery.

4 4 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS These questions and answers apply to young people in recovery as well as their family members. They are a tool to help you answer hard (and easy!) questions that you may be asked by friends or in the media. As such, they should not be explicitly shared with the media they are a guide for you to become more comfortable with applying messaging in various situations. Age-related Q1: How is it possible that you can already be in long-term recovery at such a young age? A1: Addiction can happen to anyone at any age, and the consequences are equally devastating whether a person is a teenager or already a mature adult. What is important to know is that long-term recovery definitely is possible at any age, including during youth; I myself am [or my son, daughter, sister, brother is] living proof of this. Whenever people enter recovery, because they are no longer using alcohol or other drugs, they can work on reclaiming and rebuilding their lives and relationships. Q2: Doesn t it take many years to develop an actual addiction, to get to the point that you can t just stop when you want to? A2: It s different for each person and there are experts who can tell you more about that. For me, it was [x] years before I began my recovery. Today, I have a new life, free from alcohol and drug problems for the last [x] years. Q3: How could you tell you were addicted and not just going through some phase or set of adolescent changes, as your friends seemed to be doing? A3: Thank you for asking. I m here to talk about my life today. I was able to get the help that I needed to stop using alcohol and other drugs and today I m speaking out so that other young people can get the help they need, when they need it. We need more services and support for young people so that they can have a safe place to live and go to school once they stop using alcohol or other drugs. Q4: Are there a lot of other young people in long-term recovery? A4: Yes. There are thousands and thousands of young people all over the country who are in long-term recovery. And there are many more who are seeking it. I m speaking out because we need more services and support for young people so that they can have a safe place to live and go to school once they stop using alcohol or other drugs. I know that recovery is a reality for teens and youths.

5 5 Q5: Do you feel isolated from other young people, or very different? How do you cope with that? A5: My life in recovery is incredible! I ve found new friends and new ways to socialize. It s been great to find other young people in recovery and build healthy friendships with them. The more time that I am in recovery, the easier it is to get more confident and build bigger networks of friends at school, work and in the community. I found recovery programs targeted specifically to young people extremely helpful. I want other young people who are still struggling to know that young people in recovery have fun; you can definitely still have a wonderful social life. Recovery-related Q6: How should young people s addiction to alcohol and other drugs be treated? A6: Just like with other health conditions, there are many pathways to long-term recovery and we need to make sure that effective treatment and recovery support services are available to teens and youths so that they can get the help they need, when they need it. For me, [describe your experiences, including recovery support.] There is very little help currently available to young people seeking recovery. Services and programs that are developed specifically for young people are badly needed, with different options so that young people can find the pathway that works best for themselves and personalize their own recovery. Youth-focused programs should empower teens/youths and be fun and activity-filled, with many opportunities for young people to develop self-esteem. There also is a very real need for more back-end support for young people in recovery, such as for housing, jobs, GEDs and school. Young people who lack a strong supportive family may need to build other networks of support that can include mentors such as teachers, counselors, coaches or social workers. Q7: Why should taxpayers and society spend precious resources helping young people climb out of a hole they dug for themselves out of sheer irresponsibility? A7: My recovery has meant [describe]. It s important to get help to people when they are young so that they can become contributing, productive members of their communities.

6 6 Q8: What do you say to critics who think that addiction is a personal failing and that recovery simply requires more personal responsibility? A8: There are many reasons that people of all age groups struggle with addiction. It doesn t matter how they got there; what s important is that they get the help they need to recover, like I did. I am here as living proof of the reality and power of long-term recovery, especially for other young people. I want to help expand and protect the services and supports that make it possible for other teens/youths to get well. I am speaking out because long-term recovery has helped me change my life for the better, and I want to make sure that other young people and their families can experience freedom from addiction and the joy of long-term recovery. Q9: What is long-term recovery? Is it different than general recovery? A9: For me, long-term recovery means that I haven t used illicit drugs or alcohol since I was [age when you entered recovery]. Since I am now [current age], that means I have been in long-term recovery for [number of] years. It has brought new hope and stability to my life. I ve been able to create a better life for myself, my family and my community. I am speaking out now because long-term recovery really works, for young people as well as for adults. I want to offer hope and help other young people reclaim their lives through long-term recovery, as I have done. Q10: Since recovery essentially means giving up activities that most young people enjoy, isn t it kind of depressing? A10: No, recovery, especially long-term recovery, is liberating. For me, it was difficult and hard work at first as I stepped away from many activities that I had been engaging in. The longer I was in recovery, I was able to reclaim my life and find new ways to enjoy life. I built new social networks of other young people in recovery who understood what I was going through. That helped a lot. I have a great life, freed from the demands of an addiction. Q11: Besides finding a compatible social group of other young people in recovery, what keeps you engaged in your recovery? A11: [Describe your personal experiences.] One way for me has been to find a way to help others who need help finding their own recovery. I am also advocating for policies and programs that serve people in active addiction or in recovery. I am speaking out now because I strongly feel the responsibility of working to remove the barriers that prevent other young people from getting better. I want to give back to others what has been so generously given to me.

7 Stigma-related FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY 7 Q12: How does the general social stigma attached to addiction and people in recovery affect young people? A12: That s why I m speaking out. Too often, instead of supporting young people who may be going through the most difficult thing they have ever experienced, society can pile rejection and scorn in their path, thereby making recovery from a life-threatening situation just that much harder. We need to understand that young people can and do recover and that there s a solution to the problem of addiction recovery. Family- and Community-related Q13: How do the families of young people struggling with addiction enter into the picture? A13: Young people in or seeking long-term recovery need support emotional, financial, and logistical. I know these supports were important to me in my recovery. Sometimes, they can come from a family, or sometimes from a new network of support. For me, [explain your own network]. Here are some additional thoughts that you can incorporate. Some young people report that their journey through addiction and into recovery was extremely difficult for their families. Addiction is often characterized as a family disease, and family members may have to work through their own issues related to the family crisis in order for stabilization and equilibrium to occur. In many cases, happily, the young person s recovery has allowed deep healing for the family, and many report that they and their parents/siblings are closer than ever, and on a new and better foundation. Young people who come from dysfunctional or broken homes, or who have entered the child social services or foster home system, may have a much more difficult time finding recovery without a family champion. In such cases many will need a proxy family, one or more unrelated adults who can mentor the young person and provide the stability and acceptance they require as they find (and retain) long-term recovery. Possible proxies may be teachers, counselors, coaches, clerics, or social workers. There is a tremendous need for social service infrastructures to be established and funded that can provide such support. Q14: Do families need access to recovery-related resources? A14: There are a number of family support opportunities including self-help groups (e.g., Al-Anon). There are also individualized supports such as counseling, psychiatric help or help from the faith community. Similarly to the woeful lack of

8 services for young people with addiction, there is unfortunately very little available for the parents and siblings of teens and youths seeking or in recovery. Advocacy-related Q15: Why are you an advocate for young people seeking recovery? A15: I m an advocate for recovery because it can work for everyone, at any age. I feel it is my obligation to advocate on behalf of other young people who are trying to take responsibility for their lives and achieve long-term recovery. In fact, [insert personal advocacy goals here]. I want to do my part to educate and mobilize other young people around the power and promise of long-term recovery because it is working for millions of Americans. [Name of organization] has given me the platform to speak out, and I encourage other teens and youths in recovery to do the same. 8 FOUR KEY MESSAGES These four general key messages should be part of your discussions with the media and within your community. They will help you steer your conversations in the right direction, regardless of how the conversation is initiated. 1) I am committed to long-term recovery because it has given me and my family new purpose and hope for the future, while helping me gain stability as I mature in my life. 2) I am not alone. Long-term recovery has made a difference in millions of peoples lives, including many other young people like me. 3) Long-term recovery should be as readily available to those who need it as help is for any other health condition. Every institutional and policy effort should be made to offer teens and young adults as many paths to recovery as possible. 4) Long-term recovery is liberating and fun for young people. March 2013 # # #

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