Hope, Help & Healing: Using Media to Connect People with Help for Addiction - Part 2 of 2

[Steve Pasierb is President and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. This is Part 2 of a 2-part post; find Part 1 of Using Media to Connect People with Help for Addiction here. -Ed.]

Lesson 6: A comprehensive intervention Web site is an essential tool.
Treatment messages must include a "call to action" to a phone line and, importantly, a web resource to learn more about options for help. It was found that a dedicated Web site was an essential resource for the public on addiction issues, and that media can effectively promote this resource, generating strong traffic and lengthening visit time.

Lesson 7: Stories engage the news media and motivate the public to seek help.
News and feature press carrying first-person stories is the best way to engage the media as "gatekeepers" to help disseminate key campaign messages and humanize the face of addiction in the community. Feature stories and editorials in the press and interviews on radio and television talk shows helps counteract both denial about the problem as well as stereotypes of users by illustrating that substance use and abuse occurs across all population groups. It also helps diminish the sense of isolation often found in families with addiction and lets them know they are not alone.
Lesson 8: Appealing to emotion helps the public see addiction as the illness it is.
Emotions play a key role in consumer engagement on this topic. The public is willing to be persuaded that addiction is an illness, when presented in interpersonal terms that engage the emotions. Across all media channels, it is effective to use both rational and emotional appeals in communications, bringing medical science to life with shared interpersonal experience that opens hearts as well as minds. An emotional component to the communication is critical to reducing both stigma and denial for those addicted and their loved ones, so that people can be empowered and supported.
How the message is conveyed is critical. The tone that tested well was emotionally encouraging, morale-building to empower action, nonjudgmental and professionally neutral and informative to inspire trust and confidence. Language and terminology used were deliberately that of health and healing to reinforce the message that addiction is an illness, rather than a moral failing.
Lesson 9: The public doesn't view the problem the way the addiction field does.
People exposed to our effort regarded the intervention/treatment messages as carrying import for prevention as well. This suggests that substance use and disorders are not categorized with the distinctions made by those in the field or policymakers, or by prevention versus treatment. Public understanding of this aspect of the problem may be more sophisticated. Also, the concepts and terms of "intervention" and "intervening" are well understood in the context of addiction problems.
Lesson 10: Communication about treatment can engage the community on the drug issue.
In our test cities, community leaders observed that a positive side effect of the communications efforts was that it pulled together the prevention and treatment leadership in a direct collaboration for the first time and brought new players into the fold. Engaging as spokespeople local treatment leaders, as well as well-known physicians in the community, worked well to underscore that addiction is a chronic but treatable illness that runs in families.

Updated: July 13 2009