Thursday, January 11, 2007

More alcoholics 'coming out' despite stigma, traditions

A march by more than 2,500 recovering alcoholics and addicts in Hartford CT has spurred a movement to end discrimination and drum up moral and financial support by urging more people to tell their recovery stories publicly. A lengthy report appears in the North County Times (Riverside, CA).

The movement models its efforts after the public awareness campaigns that pushed breast cancer and AIDS onto the country's radar screen and pushed back the walls of stigma and discrimination against gays and lesbians.

"I still don't think the general public believes that an addict or alcoholic ever gets well," says Phillip Valentine, executive director of Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, a state-based advocacy and support group that organized the first Recovery Walk six years ago. "Many, many people have long-term, sustained sobriety and you may not know about it. We need to put a face on recovery so people won't be so afraid or fearful or angry at it. It's not a hopeless condition."

People in recovery routinely encounter public and private policies that were created as a deterrent or punishment to alcohol and drug abuse. On paper, the penalties might make sense; in practice, they often are counterproductive to people trying to put their addictions behind them.

Those with alcohol or other drug diseases pay higher insurance deductibles and co-payments for treatment, get fewer visits and days of coverage, and have more restrictions on the amount they can spend, even when their insurance benefits cover treatment ---- if they are insured at all, according to Join Together, a project of Boston University School of Public Health that formed a national policy panel in 2002 to address the discrimination issues. The panel found that the Americans with Disabilities Act is applied very narrowly in these cases and that employees who seek treatment are frequently fired before they can get help.

Another barrier is the tradition of anonymity in the 12-step organizations. Author William Cope Moyers, an advocate for greater openness, says:

"This is a very contentious issue and I respect both sides of the debate, but I will tell you that I believe this misunderstanding of the traditions has made it very difficult for those of us in advocacy to mount a sustained and successful effort."

"This whole business of anonymity is where the thorn is," says Robyn Leary, who hosts a weekly radio show called "Recovery Talk" on WDFH-FM in New York's Hudson Valley. Leary gives her guests the option of using their names.

"It's not a matter of insisting that everyone go public," says Leary, who has organized an "Under the Influence" film festival. "It's a voluntary calling. I do think anonymity is going to keep people in recovery in the basement of churches. It's going to prevent more and more people from getting treatment." -- Read the whole report in the N.C. Times.

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