James Haggerty Recovery

Harnessing the Power of Community: A Pathway to Recovery from Substance Use Disorders

June 12, 2024
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Community Support for Effective Recovery from Substance Use Disorders

I know firsthand how isolating substance use disorder can be. Sometimes, our surroundings leave us feeling isolated and powerless, but with the right community, you can find strength. This is well aligned with the larger concept of hope in recovery; while the path to recovery can be challenging, hope and possibility exist for everyone.

Depending on where you are in your journey, you may feel like the state you are in cannot change. I can tell you this isn’t true as long as you continue on your journey; these hard times won’t last forever, and you aren’t alone. In fact, support for people with substance use disorder can come right from the community, whether that’s the community around you or the community you build.

Community is essential in empowering you to make a big difference in your mental health and your approach to recovery from SUD. You can navigate the challenges of recovery more smoothly knowing you have encouraging relationships with people who truly want the best for you.

While dealing with social stigma and lack of empathy can be heavy, community support can help empower you to lift and remove the weight. Here is how.

The Stigma Surrounding Substance Use Disorders

#14 - Stop the Stigma Around Addiction

Without community, people battling mental health issues and SUD can feel alone. Isolation can come when we distance ourselves from friends and family due to shame, the desire to keep using substances, and more – but these are problems that can compound themselves. Stigma about substance use disorders is prevalent in our society, and people judge others instead of welcoming them. This can create barriers preventing many from reaching out for support.

Instead of creating barriers, it is crucial to foster supportive environments for people who need them by educating ourselves and the people around us. While in recovery, it’s important to

understand that more and more people have developed an understanding of SUD. Together, we can break down that stigma and replace it with understanding, support, and compassion.

Societal Stereotypes

I was taught the importance of not believing in or spreading stereotypes when I was younger. However, although many of us are taught this, we sometimes make mistakes because we are only human. In addition, not everyone receives proper information about SUDs and how they can be treated, which can create barriers to acting with empathy.

Substance use disorders are chronic, treatable medical conditions, but many times, people who have one are treated as if they are seeking attention, acting out, or lesser than others. This behavior can further alienate someone just trying to get treatment or better their life.

Of course, I know not everyone understands that stereotypes and commonly used terms referring to substance use disorders are harmful. It is essential for people perpetuating the usage of these terms to realize that the terms are rooted in misconceptions about SUDs. There is a common misconception that all substance use is a choice rather than a compulsion. This attitude reinforces the dehumanization of people.

Effect on Those Seeking Help

Making the decision to talk about a substance use disorder – and the subsequent decisions necessary to mitigate any damage and seek recovery – should be met with compassion. People seeking help should be supported, and the steps they are trying to take should be positively acknowledged. When a space that should be for emotional healing is instead a place of judgment, someone seeking help may stop or increase their substance use because of shame and guilt.

Recognizing Physical, Emotional, and Mental Trauma

Trauma and Addiction

It is also crucial to acknowledge that many people who struggle with substance use disorder have experienced traumatic events in their lives. These traumatic events can lead to or exacerbate substance use disorder in various ways:


Post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest after someone experiences something traumatic. To manage the side effects of PTSD, like intrusive thoughts, nightmares, anxiety, and more, someone may attempt to self-medicate or numb these side effects by misusing prescription medication, drinking alcohol, or consuming street drugs. This can bring on a new set of mental and emotional problems.

This correlation can also travel the other way. A person living with substance use disorder is more likely to experience new traumatic events, which can create a cycle.

Physical Pain

Someone who has suffered physical trauma can be in a lot of pain. Many times, to deal with this pain, they are prescribed medication. The higher the amount of pain, the higher the prescribed dosage, which can lead to a higher risk of addiction. Still, others may attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or street drugs.

Emotional Trauma

Although most people feel they understand physical trauma, emotional trauma can be more complex to recognize- but that doesn’t make it any less critical to understand. People who have experienced emotional trauma or emotional abuse can experience mental health issues as a result, such as depression and anxiety. These issues can take time to learn how to manage, and some people may begin to use substances to attempt to numb their pain. Their attempt at a coping mechanism eventually may turn into a substance use disorder.

People dealing with each of these types of trauma need compassion from their community. If people in recovery know that they can count on their community to respect their healing, then they are more likely to seek treatment.

SUD Effects On Others

Sometimes, people who love someone with SUD have a hard time ridding themselves of the stigma and stereotypes surrounding SUD. While it can seem on the surface that these people are just hard-hearted or stubborn, there is an elevated chance that they have been negatively impacted by their loved one’s SUD.

Family and friends of someone with SUD likely have their own trauma and side effects that the person with SUD may not have noticed. They may be carrying anger, physical and emotional stress, or other harbored feelings due to their loved one’s disorder. While difficult to see, I believe it is important for those involved to acknowledge and communicate their emotions in a safe, loving environment to rebuild the relationship.

The rebuilding process will take time. Just like your recovery journey, lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Taking the necessary steps and doing the work is crucial in recovery. Just as crucial is developing a network of supportive loved ones and friends who can offer support during recovery – just keep in mind that these individuals are also likely recovering from their own side effects.

The Power of Community Support

Community support can take many forms, and as with anything else in recovery, it’s important to find what works for you. For example, many people with damaged family or friend relationships find comfort and support in volunteering or attending support groups. Talking openly with someone you trust in your community can go a long way.

This element of life can enrich our lives and create space for healing and self-discovery.

Group Therapy for SUD

Community Support Systems

I feel understood when I feel involved in and supported by my community. This feeling is the same for many people dealing with mental health struggles. Community support systems provide a sense of belonging and acceptance that people in recovery need. People need to be able to share their stories. It’s motivating to hear what someone is going through and acknowledge where they are in their journey.

These communities also allow for peer mentoring, which can be vital for recovery for many people. People who are further along on the journey need to get the chance to offer guidance and encouragement to people earlier on the path to recovery. These systems help people stay accountable, provide the opportunity to share strategies, and benefit both individuals as they navigate recovery. Peer-to-peer networks create an inspirational network of people who want to get better and can navigate setbacks together.

I know that on my own journey, having a supportive community has made a huge difference. There were times when I was no longer certain I could see where the path was headed, but my community helped me stay on track. A particularly prominent example of how community support systems can impact recovery is a study conducted in Utah.

The Health Extension: Advocacy, Research, and Teaching (HEART) intervention brought resources to Utah counties with high opioid overdose deaths. They knew the problem was a community issue. These compassionate individuals spoke to rural healthcare providers about how the stigma of opioid use disorder prevented these counties from getting necessary opioid treatments. Additionally, the group provided stigma-reduction training to providers and community members.

As a result, the counties were able to build opioid monitoring programs, develop a digital collection of opioid narratives, and train community members in harm-reduction education and naloxone use. Now, the group conducts an annual summit to keep people educated and informed about what they can do to foster a community that addresses issues instead of overlooking them.

Family’s Role in Community

It can be challenging for someone on the path to recovery to feel that they don’t have attention and support from their loved ones. In other cases, someone’s family may seek to support them in ways they don’t want or may have held an intervention believing that would fix their problems immediately. No matter the case, both people in recovery and their families wish for the person in recovery to have help.

The family and friends of people with SUD can be the community they desperately need. To help a family member or friend in recovery, the family should first start by educating themselves on SUD and recovery. When people take the time to learn and understand what substance use disorder and recovery look like, it can show their recovering loved one that they care and seek to understand more than they seek to judge.

Education about recovery will likely lead a family to do what they can for their loved one: asking what they need, offering encouragement, and promoting accountability. When done compassionately, a family can be an empowering part of their recovering family member’s life and part of the community they need.

A Community of Friends

Friendship in recovery is immensely essential. A healthy support group of friends can assist in a person’s recovery and overall health and wellness.

When your friends ask how they can help you in your recovery, let them know they can:

  • Provide support and counsel. Friendships give us a sense of belonging and purpose, and spending time with friends can boost our happiness and encourage our self-confidence. People with SUD are no different from anyone else when it comes to needing support and counsel.
  • Help you avoid triggers. Maintaining supportive friendships during and after treatment is vital. Helping your friends understand your unique triggers can equip them with essential knowledge for assisting you.
  • Trust the recovery process. Your friends may not understand what you are going through and that your recovery is ongoing, but they want to understand. Seeking their emotional support and being honest with them can help them remain patient and realistic about your treatment.
  • Include you in recovery-forward activities. There are many non-triggering activities with friends, but sometimes, friends may not think of them themselves, and a nudge can go a long way. Once you assure them that you want to spend time with them, but in a way that aligns with your recovery, they can help support you the way you need.

Breaking Down Stereotypes: Role of Community

The role of a community is not to hold someone’s hand and make decisions for them. Someone has to follow their path through their own power, but they don’t have to do it alone. When it comes to my journey, I wouldn’t be where I am without the people I have that helped me along my way. Even indirectly, people can help by changing narratives around SUD and treating people respectfully.

People who don’t know someone with SUD personally can still help by showing empathy, understanding, and acceptance to the people in their lives and the strangers they may encounter. We all have work to do to change the language surrounding the recovery process. That’s why I want to help rewrite the narrative surrounding SUD.

Creating a Conducive Environment for Healing

Friends and Family Supporting an Individual in Recovery

People with SUD look for conducive environments for healing. Some find it challenging to attend recovery groups, but they collect friends with whom they can share their stories. Sometimes, people just need an ear to listen. Being a listening ear can empower people to reach out for help. When we create safe spaces for healing and connection, we establish communities that care about people, whether they are dealing with trauma or just need a smile.

Many people dealing with mental health issues have trauma that stems from their relationships with family. It can make a difference knowing that the family members you view painfully care about supporting you through the healing process. Seeking out family and helping them understand your disorder can be a necessary bridge for everyone involved to heal their respective trauma.

Removing Barriers to Care

While our society has drastically improved in its creation of effective programs for addressing mental health and substance use disorder, many experts estimate that under ten percent of people who could benefit from using these programs truly have access. If you are a member of a population that experiences barriers to care – otherwise known as an “underserved population” – you are more likely to experience events like emergency room visits, overdose, and increased distance from friends and family. Worse, you may not have access to a solid source of community: other individuals walking the path to recovery. These barriers to care may exist due to your status as a member of a traditionally marginalized population, like a racial or ethnic minority, LGBTQ+, a disability, low socioeconomic standing, or even homelessness.

Community resources are extremely important for eliminating financial or societal barriers to care. Community organizations can potentially help you find treatment outside of traditional rehab programs; locate more affordable treatment; identify treatment providers who have extended hours, same-day treatment, or telehealth services; prioritize flexible care options; utilize harm reduction practices; and more. I believe peer recovery support specialists are an especially important part of community organizations to provide assistance as you transition from an ER visit or overdose to seeking more comprehensive help.

I’d like to highlight a great example of such an organization already in place: Medical Home Development Group, a part of a larger initiative known as DC Partners in Care Network. Their peer recovery care managers are skilled at bringing together many important components of recovery, including urgent medical care, ongoing clinical care, and community care that lasts well into the recovery journey. MDHP, along with other opioid overdose recovery programs (OORPs) in the DC, New Jersey, and other areas, have really made an impact while helping people who experience barriers to traditional care.

Finding Your Community

Recovery Community

I know recovery can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Remember, there’s a whole community out there cheering you on. If you have a loved one experiencing SUD, you can be a vital part of their community.

Don’t wait to take charge of your recovery. Find a support group, therapist, or treatment center. Volunteer somewhere and connect with others on their journey. Continue educating yourself and learning how to build good habits. Every step, big or small, is a victory.


Stay Strong,




  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Stigma and Discrimination. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/stigma-discrimination
  2. Verywell Mind. (n.d.). Self-Medication in PTSD. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/self-medication-in-ptsd-2797539
  3. Herald Journal News. (n.d.). Prevention Works, Treatment is Effective, and People Do Recover: USU Extension Hosts Summit Addressing Opioid Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.hjnews.com/news/prevention-works-treatment-is-effective-and-people-do-recover-usu-extension-hosts-summit-addressing-opioid/article_1e3bb630-92fb-11ee-9e49-532f8082b047.html
  4. SAMHSA.(n.d.). Low Barrier Models of Care for Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/advisory-low-barrier-models-of-care-pep23-02-00-005.pdf
James Haggerty

A Time to Heal: Family Interventions offers personalized SUD Interventions, Addiction Recovery Planning, Case Management, Sober Companionship and Family Support. Call 310-450-6627 to connect with us.

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