SYMBOLIZING THE DISEASE OF ADDICTION | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation


July 1, 2007
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Making the case for a pin, ribbon, or wristband to represent the disease of addiction

Aquick Internet search shows that almost every disease has an awareness campaign that involves ribbons, wristbands, or pins, such as the red ribbon to draw attention to AIDS or the yellow Lance Armstrong wristband drawing attention to cancer. These symbols are identifying objects for their causes/diseases. One Web site suggests that there are 16 wristbands for different forms of cancer and cancer research. These items have raised awareness of their related diseases and funds for ongoing research.

Yet where is the ribbon, pin, or wristband representing the disease of addiction? Where are the symbols that call attention to a vastly misunderstood disease subject to extensive discrimination? Where is the ribbon, pin, or wristband that elected officials, or those seeking to be elected, could wear to show solidarity with our cause? Unfortunately, we do not have one.

There are probably many reasons why we do not have a symbol for the disease of addiction, such as:

  • we do not have an umbrella federation or society to pull together such activities;

  • we do not have a lot of history of allowing one part of the field to initiate leadership on behalf of all;

  • we tend to be idealists (e.g., spending too much time looking for the perfect symbol instead of deciding on one and moving forward); and

  • we have so many individual organizational priorities that it becomes difficult to allocate resources to a national effort such as this.

No matter how long the list might be, hardly anyone would suggest that we do not need a symbol. If the cancer community can have 16 different wristbands, surely we can have one wristband, pin, or ribbon to call attention to the blatant discrimination that people with the disease of addiction face.

Consider the success of Armstrong's yellow wristbands. As a celebrity and cancer survivor, Armstrong knew he was in a position to raise funding for cancer research, education, and support. People who wear his wristbands demonstrate their solidarity with those diagnosed with cancer. The wristbands represent an attitude of living strong and empowered.

Now is the time for us to create our rallying symbol. The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers is committed to taking the leadership role in identifying the symbol and its color to get the process rolling. NAATP hopes that through its efforts, the disease of addiction soon will have a widely recognized symbol.

But that is just the beginning. We will need everyone to not only display the symbol, but to actively invite coworkers, those you encounter on your daily commute, family members, and those in your faith community to join us in wearing this symbol.

During the next several months, we will be listening to your recommendations for the appropriate symbol and its color, and we will take your suggestions seriously. Our goal is to call attention to the discrimination against the disease of addiction and to promote research.

If we are successful, candidates running for local, state, and national offices in 2008 will display our symbol and be educated about the disease of addiction. Ambitious? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely!

Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin, is President and CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. He is also a member of Behavioral Healthcare's Editorial Board.