For decades, anonymity has been the principle of Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups that help people recover from addiction. Alcoholic Anonymous has long insisted that secrecy, even for those who have conquered addiction is the only way to be sure that the people who are choosing to seek help are comfortable with continuing treatment.

But now, many young activists are publicly acknowledging their addiction and their everyday battle on their road to recovery, and hoping to encourage others to do the same. Stepping forward, they say, is the only way to earn social acceptance, political clout and the best way of increasing awareness for funding of treatment, is for many to open up and have a voice.

Leading national advocate for substance abuse recovery reform, Chris Poulos, a law student at the University of Maine who was addicted to drugs and alcohol as a teenager and served time in a federal prison for dealing cocaine says, “So long as we keep ourselves in the shadows, we will remain in the shadows.” This is why Poulos is speaking out. Rather than allowing his troubles to hurt his future, he turned his life around and is now the leading national advocate for drug and alcohol policy reform.

The idea of going public has had a very limited success rate over the years. The stigma of substance abuse is deeply ingrained in America, where many still consider addiction a personal failing, not a disease. Hoping to change that stigma is UNITE to face addiction. UNITE held a rally on October 4, 2015 where tens of thousands showed up to speak up for the 23 million people in recovery and the more than 350 lives lost each day due to addiction. , and urgently act to save the 350 lives lost each day.

Millions, of course, still aren’t interested in shedding their anonymity.

Neil Capretto, medical director of Pittsburg’s Gateway Rehabilitation Center said “There are many people, people in the 12-step communities who do not feel comfortable speaking publicly about their own recovery but are okay with others doing it.”  When researchers tested attitudes toward two of society’s most disliked populations, the mentally ill and substance abusers the opinion strongly favored the first group. Gateway’s 2014 survey found a significantly more negative view toward a person with a drug addiction.

“We tend to still think of addiction as a personal failing to be overcome, rather than as a medical condition that can be overcome,” said Colleen L. Barry, the lead author of the study.“ That has real implications for who society blames. If you think addiction is only about a person making bad decisions, there’s no role for public policy, no role for structural changes.”

Jason Snyder, who also battled with a hidden addiction to heroin and who also lost two of his brothers from it, says he doesn’t know why he found recovery before the disease killed him. “Treatment works and recovery is possible,” he said. “I was afraid to tell anyone. I was afraid to look for help because it had the potential to dismantle me.

“At least that’s what I thought.”

For more on this story from The Washington Post, click here. (Photo Credit: The Washington Post)

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