By Sloane M. Perron, Manager of Marketing Communications  

Addiction has many faces and can come in the form of substance abuse, alcoholism, gambling, eating disorders, sex addiction, or any other repeated behavior that has a negative toll on the mind and the body. Occurring every September since 1989, National Recovery Month shines a spotlight on mental health issues and addiction recovery.  

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 21 million Americans suffer from addiction with only 3,000 physicians in the country able to specifically treat addiction. 

Through Anna Maria’s new Addiction Studies major and minor, the institution is educating the next generation of counselors to help combat the addiction epidemic and save lives. An additional track in the course prepares students to become a Level 1 Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor Level in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dr. Stefanie Howe, the Undergraduate Director of Psychology, Human Services, and Addiction Studies at Anna Maria College, spoke about the changing world of addiction recovery.  

Howe’s curiosity and passion for helping others is what initially drew her into the world of addiction studies. “I have always been interested in the behavior of other individuals. What makes them tick and how they act. So, addiction studies fits that bill entirely. I think that’s important to highlight, especially during National Recovery Month, because what is making them act in a certain way? Is it a substance abuse problem? Is it changes in the brain? Is it really a choice? Is it a disease? Is it a habit? There are so many different names for it [addiction],” Howe explained.  

After a 12-month research period ending in April 2021, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States resulting in an increase of 28.5 percent from the previous year.  

While the toll addiction takes is rising, there are many positive changes taking place in the addiction recovery field to help combat the epidemic. One major change that Howe has noticed is the reduction of stigma associated with addiction which creates transparent conversations not just in the field, but right in her own classroom.   

“I think students are interested in addiction studies, because addiction is such a topic of conversation in the media today. They’re college age students so they’re very familiar with individuals that might use substances around them. It’s the world we live in with an opioid epidemic that’s going on,” Howe also makes sure that students understand that addiction is not always easy to identify, “In the first class I talk to them about how the media portrays individuals with addiction versus the actual reality. Addiction is not always presented as a junkie living on the streets. There are individuals with addictions who have stable jobs and take care of themselves. It can happen to a white-collar individual as much as a blue-collar individual.” 

Through a strong foundational knowledge along with sharing her own personal experiences as a practitioner in the field, Howe’s goal is to prepare Addiction Study students for the real world.  

As National Recovery Month focuses on raising awareness for those suffering from addiction, Howe explained that addiction and mental health go hand-in-hand. Recovery also looks different for everyone. Those in the field recognize that 100 percent abstinence is not always the answer, and sometimes the goal is harm reduction in the form of clean needles being available, methadone use, Narcan training, and other treatments.  

“I am preparing students as much as I possibly can. It’s a very challenging field to work in because addiction is unrelenting. It’s a fight every day for somebody to get sober. Working with this population can be very challenging, but students are having a direct impact on somebody’s life.,” Howe said, “If students are showing up and supporting an individual in their recovery, then that’s the most that we can ask from them. They are going out into the world with their Anna Maria College education and making a difference.” 

More information on Anna Maria College’s Addiction Studies program can be found here

More information about National Recovery Month can be found here