1. Addiction doesn’t only pose a social cost to society, but also a monetary one. The “public wreckage of addiction” costs the U.S. $260 billion in lost workplace productivity, $37 billion in increased healthcare costs and $52 billion in criminal justice expenses each year. Of these annual costs, only 2 percent of this money goes toward actual prevention and treatment of addiction.
2. The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program is the predecessor of many long-term recovery programs. AA was formed in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, and today there are more than 2 million members worldwide. There are also now 258 groups that use “12 steps” or “anonymous” in the title.
3. Historically there has been controversy within the recovery community regarding anonymity. People connect the practice to AA, which has been a transformative force within the recovery movement. It has also been viewed in a spiritual light. Yet some people have a negative view of anonymity, claiming it creates a sense of secrecy — and in turn this adds to stigma and inhibits others struggling with addiction from learning about recovery groups.
4. Marty Mann was one of the early leaders in the recovery community who advocated for alcoholism to be treated as a health issue and not a moral failing. She said people struggling with addiction should be “in hospitals and clinics, not in jails.” She was an early participant in Alcoholics Anonymous and became the founder of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism in the 1940s. She educated people on alcoholism and advocated for community action.
5. Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa created the Senate committee on alcoholism in 1969. Hughes was another large voice in the recovery community and worked to fulfill many of the goals of addiction and recovery activists from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. In the 1990s, he continued his advocacy work by pushing against the rhetoric and actions of the U.S. drug war.
6. Oscar winning actress Mercedes McCambride became the first celebrity to give personal testimony at the Senate committee on alcoholism in 1969. In her testimony, she said, “too many of us die from our disease, not our sin, not our weakness.” Sen. Hughes asked 25 other actors and actresses besides McCambride to give personal testimony, and all refused his offer. Following McCambride’s testimony, 13 new laws were passed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, calling for partnerships between national, state and local governments to craft public health responses to addiction.
7. The U.S. drug war of the 1980s pushed back on the progress made by recovery advocates in previous decades who called for addiction to be treated as a public health issue. Under President Ronald Reagan, there was “zero tolerance for illegal drug use,” and incarceration became the foremost response to addiction. Drug offenders have composed 80 percent of the overall increase in the prison population since 1985.
8. Recovery advocates of the 1990s responded to the drug war by using organizing strategies learned from the gay community’s AIDS advocacy work. Small organizing groups and grassroots work became the focus of recovery advocacy by the late ’90s. By 2001, the national campaign Faces and Voices of Recovery was formed, helping connect the efforts, values and strategies of smaller organizing groups. The campaign focused on message training to promote positive language in turn combatting stigma.
9. The 2008 Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act ended health insurance discrimination for people with addiction. Advocate Carol McDaid, who is a founding board member of Faces and Voices of Recovery, helped lobby to get this act passed. She said 10,000 calls were made to then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asking that the bill go to the House floor. In prior legislative battles, politicians didn’t want to focus on recovery advocacy because they believed it wouldn’t help get them re-elected — the general public didn’t care about the issue, they said, and those who were struggling with addiction didn’t vote.
10. Many young people are struggling with addiction, but educational institutions are wary of addressing this issue head on. In the U.S., one in three teenagers meets the medical criteria for addiction, and one out of every 70 will go to rehab. However, when “The Anonymous People,” was released in 2014, there were only about 16 states with recovery high schools and 20 states with collegiate recovery programs.