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Recovery Month Toolkit 2009: How Young Adults Can Help Themselves or Loved Ones Heal From Addiction

Substance use disorders affect almost 69 percent of people in this country, whether it is their own or someone else’s problem.1To raise awareness, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is celebrating the 20th annual National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month (Recovery Month) this September. This year’s theme is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We Learn, Together We Heal.”

To promote advances in the field over the past 20 years since Recovery Month began, this year’s campaign is focusing on young adults. They often are living away from their families for the first time and rely on their friends for support. They have a higher prevalence of alcohol or drug use than any other age group. In 2007:

  • 35.7 percent of people aged 18 to 20 and 45.9 percent of 21- to 25-year-olds had five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past 30 days (also known as binge drinking).2
  • Young adults aged 18 to 25 used drugs at a significantly higher rate than youths aged 12 to 17 (19.7 percent versus 9.5 percent).3

If you suspect that a close friend or someone you know has an alcohol or drug problem, help him or her on a path of treatment and recovery and begin your own journey to heal.

Understanding the Risks: Prescription Drug Misuse

Prescription drug misuse has been on the rise among young adults:

  • The 2006 National Drug Control Strategy issued by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy identified the illegal use of pharmaceuticals as one of the fastest-growing forms of drug abuse.4
  • In 2007, 6 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 were current nonmedical users of prescription drugs, greater than the percentage using any illicit drug except marijuana.5
  • By their sophomore year in college, about half of all students had the chance to try prescription stimulants nonmedically.6
  • People often get these medicines from a friend or relative for free.7
  • Mixing them with alcohol, other prescription drugs, and illegal drugs can be particularly dangerous.8

To be safe, store your medicines out of sight and away from predictable places, such as the bathroom, and know that sharing your prescription drugs with someone else is illegal and dangerous.9

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Knowing the Signs, Taking Action

If a friend or loved one has a substance use disorder, he or she may experience changes in appearance and mood, episodes of chronic dishonesty, have difficulty at work, or hang out with new friends.10 If you notice a potential problem, you can help. Remember that a trusted friend or relative can provide support and help you approach someone you suspect has a substance use disorder.

To speak with your friends about a problem:

  • Sit them down, individually, in a private place.
  • Start with positive reinforcement and explain that you are talking to them because you care.
  • Offer a solution and ideas on how they can get help, such as identifying treatment and recovery support resources in your area (see the resources listed at the end of this piece).
  • End with a plan of action. If they resist help, keep trying.11

For additional guidance, use the resources at the end of this page.

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Understanding the Possibilities of Treatment and Recovery

Addiction is a disease that can be recovered from; treatment and recovery support services are as effective as treatments for other diseases.12 Each person and his or her family can find their own path of recovery, which may include:

  • Receiving medical attention through detoxification in an inpatient setting
  • Focusing on improving overall health and redefining themselves
  • Exploring spirituality through faith-based communities
  • Changing social interactions and expanding social networks – particularly to include others in recovery and participate in mutual support groups
  • Empowering themselves by helping others13

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Helping Yourself Through a Friend’s Addiction

Even though a friend might be the one with a problem, you may experience some psychological or health stresses – all because someone you care about suffers from an addiction.14 The following resources can help families through this time:

  • Al-Anon or Alateen – Offers support for friends and family members who know someone with an alcohol dependence
  • Families Anonymous – Helps concerned relatives and friends whose lives have been adversely affected by a loved one’s addiction; also offers online support meetings

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Online Treatment and Recovery Support

  • SAMHSA’s “Find Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment” Web site – Lists a range of resources about mental health, substance abuse, and treatment
  • SAMHSA’s “Accessing Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Online” Webcast – Examines how technology has revamped the field of substance use disorder prevention and addiction treatment
  • Check Yourself – Designed to help young adults on issues related to addiction
  • The Sober Recovery Community – Offers support forums for people in recovery, as well as family and friends
  • eGetGoing – Helps people new to recovery through online support groups led by certified counselors
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP – A 24-hour service, available in English and Spanish, which helps people suffering from addiction and their families find available treatment support and other resources in local areas

Click here for a longer version of this guide for friends of those with a substance use disorder. Information about treatment and special services in your area can be found at, a portal that includes a database of more than 11,000 U.S. treatment options and additional treatment resources, as well as by calling 1-800-662-HELP.


1 What Does America Think About Addiction Prevention and Treatment? Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 24, March 2007, p. 1.

2 Results From the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 08-4343. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, September 2008, pp. 31, 32.

3 Ibid, p. 21.

4 “Misuse of Prescription Rx Drugs.” Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies Web site:, p. 1. Accessed February 4, 2009.

5 Results From the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, pp. 21-22.

6 Incidence and Persistence of Nonmedical Use of Prescription Analgesics Among College Students. University of Maryland Center for Drug Abuse Research, 2008, p. 21.

7 Results From the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, p. 29.

8 The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS). Partnership for a Drug-Free America Web site: Accessed September 12, 2008.

9 Boyd, C., et al. “Prescription Drug Abuse and Diversion Among Adolescents in a Southeast Michigan School District.” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 161, March 2007, p. 277.

10 “Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use.” American Council for Drug Education Web site: p. 1. Accessed August 12, 2008.

11 “Helping a friend with a drug problem.” Partnership for a Drug-Free America Web site: Accessed September 14, 2008.

12 Pathways of Addiction: Opportunities in Drug Abuse Research. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Medicine, 1996.

13 National Summit on Recovery Conference Report. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 07-4276. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, September 2007, pp. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 49.

14 Family Matters: Substance Abuse and the American Family. New York, NY: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, March 2005, p. 7.

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