Panel Recap: Recovery from Substance Use Disorder

breaking the stigma of substance use disorder

Panel Recap: Recovery from Substance Use Disorder

Sojourner House helps families successfully navigate their journey to recovery from substance use disorder. We help families achieve their recovery goals by providing safe and affordable housing, support services, necessary referrals, and an atmosphere of community encouragement. Community awareness and understanding of what recovery treatment looks like are vital in our work. 

On September 23, 2021, we brought together our partners in the community to discuss recovery from substance use disorder, what recovery looks like today, and how the community can help shape its future. Here are some insights from this virtual panel discussion.

Breaking the Stigma of Substance Use Disorder

Why is it important to talk about substance use disorder and its recovery? Here are some stats to give you the bigger picture:

    • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults in the United States (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017. 
    • Taking opioids for more than three months increases the chance of addiction by more than 15 times. Most people in acute pain rarely need more than seven days of opioid pain medication.
    • 70% of substance users who have tried an illegal drug before the age of 13 are highly likely to develop substance use disorder within the next seven years. 
    • Every year in the United States, there are over 70,000 drug overdoses or drug poisonings.
    • Marijuana addiction is on the rise, primarily impacting young people. 
    • Poly-substance use, which means people using multiple drugs, is also on the rise.
    • Nobody wakes up and says, “I want to be an addict.” Some addictions, like alcohol, can give people severe withdrawal that they can die from. Educating the community on the signs, symptoms, and how they can react to help is critical.
    • People do recover. 75% of people in substance use disorder recovery achieve their goal. Addiction is a highly treatable disorder.

We Are Here for an Essential Reason

The cause or causes of addiction can be complex. It can be caused by genetics, environmental factors like the impact of stress, family, and community, or be related to mental health disorders. 

The Reality of Substance Use Disorder

Trauma is often at the root of substance use disorder. Trauma is an event that causes people to change emotionally, mentally, or physically. People struggling with substance use disorder are not just using drugs and alcohol without reason. It is often a coping mechanism to deal with trauma.

There are differences in substance use disorder treatment between men and women, which is why Sojourner House and many of our partners on the panel – like POWER and Familylinks – focus on helping women in recovery or have a dedicated program for women. There is stigma surrounding all people struggling with substance use disorder. Still, when you think about the stereotypes associated with women and their image in the community, it adds another layer of judgment for women that is generally not applied to men. It is not about one group being more important than the other. Men and women recovering from substance use disorder are just different, and they need to be treated differently. 

The Path to Recovery

The first step to recovery is receiving care from a provider that is also experienced in trauma treatment. The treatment setting and techniques are also very important. With the trigger to trauma differing from person to person, it is essential to make sure they have a healing path that makes sense for them and that they are in control of their treatment.

Treatment is a great resource for people seeking to recover from trauma. However, the healing process may involve exploring their feelings, emotions, and memories which may trigger a retraumatization. 

Stigma is often a roadblock to recovery. When people struggling with substance use disorder seek out services, there is a sense that they should stop themselves from continuing their current behavior, instead of noticing that what they are suffering from is a disease. 

It is easy to overlook what people have been through before they dare to start treatment. Everyone’s journey to recovery is different. 

Trust and Resources Needed to Help

City of Pittsburgh police officers are trained to give immediate care to someone in need. They are also trained on outreach strategies that don’t all end in an arrest. When an officer has positive interactions with the same person in their neighborhood, they build a rapport and can share information with the medical community and other people or organizations who can help. But it is more than just law enforcement.

Many people, especially people of color, still have difficulty accessing the resources and services for recovery because there are not enough professionals who are well versed in culturally inclusive substance use disorder treatment to help. More pathways to getting help are needed for people to get on and stay on the long-term recovery journey. 

Support from the Community is Critical

Substance use disorder is a disease like diabetes and cancer. When a person is sick with a serious illness, family, friends, the community, and support groups all come together to care for them. When it comes to those struggling with the disease of addiction, people often back away instead of leaning in to support them.

Educating others, being informed, leading by example, and staying open to receiving and hearing what people in recovery tell us are ways that community members can be part of the solution. Everyone can learn to understand signs and symptoms of distress, and how to refer people to support without retraumatizing those suffering. 

When the community holds regular conversations and acknowledges those suffering from the disease of addiction, it helps them to change their lifestyle and make a plan to move forward.

Share the Hopeful Stories and Be a Guiding Light

It may be hard for people in recovery or their supporters to share the positive, hopeful stories of recovery. But those are the stories that need to be shared in our social media feeds and that need to be amplified to the general public. 

More than educating the community, the success stories help to break the stigma surrounding the disease of addiction and bring hope that people do recover. 

You can hear more in-depth discussions from our panelists by watching the recording.



Thank you to our moderator Rosa Davis (CEO of POWER), and panelists Kelly Coldren (Director of Behavioral Health of Familylinks Pittsburgh), Dr. Staci Ford, Ph.D. (Trauma Response In School Coordinator, Neighborhood Resilience Project), Clarence Ford (City of Pittsburgh Police Officer), Robin Horston Spencer (Executive Director, Message Carriers of Pennsylvania), and De’netta Benjamin-Miller, LCSW, our Executive Director, for this insightful and inspiring discussion on recovery from substance use.