People in recovery abandoning anonymity

October 1

For decades, anonymity has been a bedrock principle of Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups that help people recover from substance abuse. They have long insisted that secrecy, even for those who have conquered addiction, is the only way to ensure that people can feel safe coming to meetings.

But now, with a generation in the grip of an opiate epidemic, many younger activists are publicly acknowledging their addiction and recovery, and encouraging others to do the same. Stepping forward, they say, is the only way to earn social acceptance, political clout and badly needed money for treatment.

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“So long as we keep ourselves in the shadows, we will remain in the shadows,” said Chris Poulos, 33, a third-year law student at the University of Maine who was addicted and homeless as a teenager and served nearly three years in a federal prison for dealing cocaine.

The idea of going public has been tried a number of times, with only limited success, in the eight decades since Bill Wilson and Bob Smith started working with alcoholics in Akron, Ohio. The stigma of substance abuse is deeply ingrained in America, where many still consider addiction a personal failing, not a disease.

But leaders of the latest effort hope to reach a milestone Sunday at the Washington Monument, where they expect tens of thousands of people to attend a very public event, Unite to Face Addiction, and launch a national advocacy group.

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