Let's Celebrate Adolescent Recovery

September 20, 2016

Let’s Celebrate Adolescent Recovery
Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC

In their book, Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism (2011), authors James Milam and Katherine Ketcham discuss worldwide research that suggests that the longer a society or culture has been exposed to alcohol, the greater the decrease in the rates of alcohol use disorders. The passage of time allows groups to develop cultural norms that support more responsible or ceremonial use of alcohol. The Jewish community is highlighted as an example of a group with a low rate of alcoholism compared with other groups, due to their long exposure to alcohol and clearly defined rituals around use (Kinny, 2014). 

In 1981, the same authors predicted that longer exposure to alcohol would increase rates of recovery among Native Americans, where alcohol had limited use among most tribes until arrival of the first European settlers. They were correct! At the time of this writing, groups like White Bison are helping tribes return to culture, dispel the myth that alcoholism is a part of their culture, and achieve recovery rates as high as 50-70%. The Alkali Lake Tribe in British Columbia, Canada went from 100% alcoholism to 95% recovery (Sanders, 2011). 

The United States, with just 240 years as a nation, has evolved from heavy, regular alcohol consumption during colonial times (see Colonial Americans Drank Roughly Three Times as Much as Americans Do Now)—to beginning to create sober rituals. During September, National Recovery Month, we celebrate recovery from substance abuse and mental health disorders with marches, rallies, parades, and other community events.

SAMHSA's 2015  National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that alcohol and cigarette use has declined among adolescents ages 12-17:Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health’
While there is reason to celebrate this shift, these sober rituals and celebrations have not yet trickled down to the youngest members of the recovery community, teenagers. During National Recovery Month, let us remember as a field the importance of celebrating adolescent recovery

Many youth today continue the celebratory rituals of getting high the day they graduate middle or high school. For some, this has become a rite of passage. Then there’s National Weed Day (April 20) along with all the other holidays that adolescents celebrate (as they see adults celebrating) by getting high in some way.

But promising practices are emerging for teens and recovery.  For example, as we’ve travelled through the Midwest, we’ve encountered:
  • Hope Academy, a recovery high school in Indianapolis, has a school wide celebration each time the entire student body puts together a collective 4,500 days of recovery. Hope Academy is one of more nearly 40 recovery high schools now helping teens maintain their sobriety. Find out more at the Association of Recovery Schools, a non-profit organization that supports the recovery high school movement. 
  • A Native American adolescent dance troop from Wisconsin does sacred hoop dances throughout the state to celebrate Native American recovery. 
  • A residential facility in Chicago holds bi-annual recovery celebrations for youth between National Weed day and July 4 and also near Christmas and New Years.These are high-risk drug using periods for teens. This September, youth at this treatment facility are invited to participate in the Recovery Olympics, where there will be a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, relay races, a jump rope contest, board games, food, and sober fun.
Also, this month’s keynote speaker at the Illinois Chapter of NAADAC’S annual Recovery Month luncheon is an 18-year-old who celebrates several years of recovery and is headed to college.

And across the United States, Young People in Recovery chapters offer peer support for young people transitioning from high school to college. Many of these organizations operate from college campuses and prove that it’s possible to celebrate and demonstrate school spirit alcohol- and drug-free.

How are teens celebrating National Recovery Month in your community?  Share your story in the comment section below.

Guest blogger Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC, director of OnTheMark Consulting, is a member of the faculty of the Addictions Studies Program at Governors State University. He is an international speaker in the addictions field whose presentations have reached thousands throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands. A partial list of clients includes: Youth Outreach; Wisconsin Department of Corrections; Nashville, Tennessee, Public School System; Northwestern Hospital, Institute of Psychiatry; Hazelden Foundation; and United States Army, Navy, Airforce, and Marines.

Kinney, J. (2014). Loosening The Grip: A handbook of alcohol information. New York,
NY. McGraw Hill.

Miliam, J.R. & Ketcham, K (2011).  Under the Influence: A guide to the myths and
realities of alcoholism. New York. Bantam Books

Miliam, J.R. & Ketcham, K (1981).  Under the Influence: A guide to the myths and
realities of alcoholism. Seattle, WA. Madonna Publishers

Sanders, M. (2011).  Slipping through the Cracks: Intervention Strategies for Clients
with Multiple Addictions and Disorders. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

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