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Opioids in Alaska


Recovery Stories

Here's the recovery story for Dr. Gary Zientek, Chief Medical Examiner at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

 Living with addiction

Learn more at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recovery page.

Recovery is Possible in Alaska

Recovery is possible for anyone living with an addiction to opioids. Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a treatable medical disease. Recovery is a continuously developing and self-defined process that looks different for each person. Recovery from substance use disorders, including OUD, typically includes improvement in the following areas of life:

  • Mental and physical health
  • Access to basic needs such as housing, safety, food and water
  • Safe and supportive relationships
  • Resiliency, or improvements in the ability to respond to challenges and overcome difficulties
  • Living life with meaning and purpose

Recovery is a Process

In recovery, especially in the early stages, it can be difficult. Recovery is highly personal and different for everyone. Improvements are not always immediate and not always observable by others. Recovery can be challenging and about choosing to handle longstanding issues and symptoms in a way that doesn't include unsafe substances. Recovery is not one size fits all and looks different for everyone.

Relapse and the Recovery Journey

Like any medical condition, relapse and recovery can often occur together as part of the ongoing journey of health and wellness. Safely managing symptoms by engaging in treatment and recovery support can increase quality of life and reduce risk of relapse.

Recovery can include a variety of treatment and support options. What recovery means is determined by each person and for many, it’s a life-long process. Full remission from any medical condition is not always a guarantee and it is important to understand relapse, while not inevitable, it can be part of the recovery process and is not a sign of failure.

What is Stigma

Stigma is when individuals are discriminated against, rejected or left out because of a negative stereotype. Negative stereotypes related to addiction keeps people from reaching out for help and isolates families who fear judgment in their community. Learn more about stigma

Everyone Plays a Role in Recovery and Understanding Stigma is the First Step

When supporting a loved one’s recovery from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), it’s important to avoid negative labeling and/or blaming the person when relapse occurs. OUD does not restrict itself to one population. Today, almost every Alaskan knows at least one person – a family member, loved one, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or community leader - who have struggled with addiction, including OUD. Typically, when someone is sick and facing serious illness, it’s not helpful to shame or blame them. Instead, offer support and encouragement. Every Alaskan struggling with OUD and other substance use disorders needs to know they are valued, loved, and deserving of support and ongoing encouragement on their road of recovery.

How Every Alaskan can Reduce Stigma in their Community

  • Treat people with OUD with respect.
  • Educate yourself on the devastating effects of addiction as a medical disease targeting the brain.
  • Understand relapse can be a part of recovery and is not a sign of failure.
  • Understand there are a variety of current treatment practices and interventions that show effectiveness – no one treatment fits all.
  • Understand prescribed medications such as methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine have been proven effective to help people recover from OUD and improve their quality of life. Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) are not simply replacing one substance with another.
  • Avoid using harmful and judgmental language.
  • Have open, honest, and kind conversations with people when sharing what you have learned about OUD and substance use stigma.

Don't Forget About Self-Care

Caring about someone with OUD can be isolating and frustrating. It is important to safeguard your own emotional and physical well-being. Compassion and support can still exist when boundaries need to be set. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you are struggling in a relationship with somebody who is misusing opioids or other substances, please consider building your own recovery support network both inside and outside of your family. Examples for a recovery support network may include, meaningful activities, relationships, counseling, and support groups like Alanon/Naranon or through your local NAMI organization.

Date revised/updated: 06/23/2022