August 2013 Liver Lowdown
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FEATURE: 2013 NATIONAL RECOVERY MONTH
September is National Recovery Month, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
It is a time set aside to educate Americans on the fact that alcohol and drug addiction treatment, as well as mental health services, can empower those with substance abuse disorders or mental illness to live a healthy and rewarding life.
The theme of 2013 National Recovery Month, now in its 24th year, is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together on Pathways to Wellness.”
In a news release, SAMHSA states that this year’s theme “represents the many ways that people can prevent behavioral health issues, seek treatment, and sustain recovery as part of a commitment to living a mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy life.”
SAMHSA says the “togetherness” theme underscores the fact that those seeking recovery, or who are presently in recovery, should never feel they have to achieve their goals on their own.
“Family, friends, and community members can support individuals throughout the entire recovery process,” SAMHSA explains. “The theme also emphasizes that there are many paths to wellness, including professional treatment, medical care, self-help, and group support, and each person embarks on his or her own unique path.”
In a proclamation issued August 30, President Barack Obama states: “This year's theme, ‘Together on Pathways to Wellness’ encourages all Americans to walk alongside family, friends, and neighbors who are fighting to overcome addiction. My Administration is proud to advance evidence-based approaches to recovery—approaches that view addiction as a preventable, treatable disease of the brain.
“The 2013 National Drug Control Strategy builds on our work over the past four years, increasing access to treatment and recovery services, and supporting early intervention to address substance abuse in schools, on college campuses, and in the workplace.”
Mr. Obama also cautions in the proclamation that “alcohol and drug addiction remains a serious challenge in our country, but with support from loved ones and allies, Americans seeking help make steady progress each day.”
And he makes this request: “I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”
According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study in 2011, a total of 20.6 million people in the United States, ages 12 and older, were classified with alcohol or illicit drug dependence or abuse.¹
While the American Liver Foundation believes that its overall mission is to eliminate liver disease through education about prevention, and via research, we believe it is equally important to support and promote the national observance of Recovery Month.
Tom Nealon, national board chair of the American Liver Foundation, said, “The American Liver Foundation embraces and supports September as National Recovery Month. The stigma of substance abuse, especially alcohol, unfortunately may prevent patients from accessing quality medical care.”
“Most laypeople associate cirrhosis and alcohol as if they are one and the same,” Mr. Nealon said. “This, of course, is a fallacy. Alcohol cannot only exist as its own liver disease but it can also be an accelerant for other forms of liver disease.”
“Cirrhosis is part of the process in most liver diseases and it can progress to the point of transplantation or complete liver failure and death,” Mr. Nealon said. “However, substance abuse recovery is looked at very differently today. If an individual can maintain sobriety for a prolonged period of time, liver failure and death may be averted as the liver may regenerate. Most transplant programs are willing to proceed with listing such a patient for transplantation and working with them to help find a solution for their liver disease.”
“Therefore,” Mr. Nealon added, “the American Liver Foundation believes that recovery can mean life. Help the American Liver Foundation celebrate National Recovery Month by reducing the stigma of alcohol as it relates to liver disease, and join us in supporting and giving all patients the opportunity to receive the necessary and, most importantly, life-saving treatment that every human being should be afforded.”
There are three main types of alcohol-related liver disease: fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.
People who use drugs or who share needles are at risk for hepatitis A.
Those who have ever injected or inhaled drugs (even once) are at risk for hepatitis B.
People who share needles to inject drugs or straws to inhale them (who did so one time or even a long time ago) are at risk for hepatitis C.
An essential aspect of recovery, SAMHSA stresses to coincide with 2013 National Recovery Month, is to recognize the gains made by former alcoholics and those who once depended on illegal drugs.
The underlying aim, therefore, is “to laud the gains made by those in recovery from these conditions, just as we would those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.”
SAMHSA adds: “Recovery Month spreads the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover.”
For further information about National Recovery Month, visit www.recoverymonth.gov.
¹ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-44, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4713. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012, p.6.