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Breaking Bread, Changing Lives

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This video captures one of the first events in a movement to help combat addiction. Drugs Over Dinner is an online tool for planning community dinners that focuses on speaking openly about drugs and addiction. For us, Drugs Over Dinner is about honesty, compassion, connection and most importantly, fighting addiction.

The goal of Drugs Over Dinner is to move us toward a new paradigm in which communication is the centerpiece at the table. When families and friends are able to speak in direct, authentic ways about substance use and addiction, it sets off a ripple effect that, ultimately, can change the way we think about and relate around this issue.

Psychologist Carrie Wilkens, Ph.D., co-founder and clinical director of the Center for Motivation and Change and co-author of the book Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change, has experience with conscious communication and group psychology. Wilkens notes that inter-group events -- events that blend people from various demographics and encourage self-disclosure -- have a positive impact on social awareness.

"The Drugs Over Dinner platform does an amazing job of setting the stage for just such an event," says Wilkens. "First, it brings people with current and past issues with substance use -- policy makers, family members, researchers, treatment providers, advocates and the media -- together to promote the cause. It then addresses the inter-group issue by encouraging these folks to reach out to family, friends, co-workers, strangers and people of all ages and invite them to a dinner and lively conversation. Right out of the gates, it's intimate enough for disclosure and interaction, but diverse enough to possibly instigate change within those attending."

This fall, Drugs Over Dinner will partner with Facing Addiction, Inc., for UNITE to Face Addiction, a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on October 4. World-famous musicians, policy makers, athletes, professionals in the addiction field, families, community leaders, and many more will stand in unity to raise awareness and bring solutions to the addiction crisis. Leading up to the historic rally, individuals all over the country will be hosting Drugs Over Dinner parties in their community, to discuss with their family and friends why they are choosing to face addiction in a public and assertive way, and to ask them to join the movement in Washington.

One shift we hope for is that Drugs Over Dinner will help lessen the stigma around addiction, so that more people will choose to get help -- those who are afraid to seek the support because revealing themselves would change the way others see them. Only 11 percent of the 23 million Americans suffering from substance addiction receive treatment. As Drugs Over Dinner Founder, Michael Hebb, points out, "Imagine if those were the stats for diabetes or HIV? People would mobilize immediately to change them. With addiction, we perceive that the addict is at fault. This perception needs to change and, when it does, those dehumanizing statistics will change as well, and those who struggle with addiction will get the treatment they need."

But there's another reason why the Drugs Over Dinner project is so close to our hearts: Because it sets the stage for a real exchange of information and experience with our young people. We know that avoiding the issue doesn't work. Counseling abstinence without a commitment to honest discussion doesn't work. Currently, our society is producing substance users at an increasingly rapid rate, and kids are using drugs earlier and earlier. To slow that trend, we need to look at the underlying causes of substance use disorder among adolescents -- isolation and loneliness, trauma, confusion around identity and sexuality, genetics, low self-esteem, and academic and parental pressure. Communication breaks the cycle of silence and shame that leads to self-medication and addiction.

That's why it's so important that Drugs Over Dinner "gives everyone access to open, self-reflective, compassionate conversation about addiction and drugs," Hebb says. "We want parents and kids to have access to the best information and the most thoughtful conversational prompts and guidance."

Sustainable healing -- for our society, for our young people and for those of all ages who suffer from addiction -- starts with small steps. It starts with four, or six, or eight people around a table. It starts with making connections, face to face. It starts with speaking our truth, and knowing that truth has been received with open minds and open hearts. Who knows where it could end?

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Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.