Overcoming NIMBY: Our Mission to Change Stigma & Foster Community Cooperation

by | Sep 7, 2023

Throughout substance abuse recovery, individuals often face hurdles that range from physical, mental, and emotional challenges, including societal stigma associated with addiction. Societal stigma sometimes reflects the negative beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes that society members hold towards individuals or groups who deviate from social norms or face unique challenges. Societal stigma related to addiction can be particularly damaging for individuals in pursuit of recovery, as it perpetuates a sense of shame, isolation, and guilt. Stigma can manifest in different ways, from exclusion from resources to something more nefarious operating under the guise of something called the NIMBY movement.

NIMBY, an acronym for “Not In My Backyard,” refers to a phenomenon where residents of a community object to the location or establishment of certain facilities, such as addiction recovery centers, in their neighborhood. The opposition is often driven by misconceptions, fears, and prejudices surrounding addiction and the individuals seeking recovery.

Since about 2016, our team at Zia Recovery Center has felt impacts of the resistance of NIMBY in the communities we work with. We understand how important community living is in the recovery process, and are committed to raising awareness and helping people overcome their stigma around addiction recovery. In this article, we seek to educate around the impacts of NIMBY and what you can do to support your community.

What is NIMBY?

The first appearances of NIMBY can be found in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to Kim Phillips-Fein, a New York University historian. The movement was born out of a benevolent resistance residents had against environmentally hazardous sites that had potential for impacting their neighborhoods, such as the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island and the toxic dumpsite called Love Canal.

Although the NIMBY movement started as a powerful community collective to stop dangerous contaminants from coming into their neighborhoods, it quickly evolved to become a movement more commonly associated with gentrification. In other words, the focus has been diverted to property values and stigmas around the construction of prisons, addiction centers, and more in residential communities.

As it relates to addiction recovery, NIMBY manifests as community resistance and opposition to the development of addiction recovery centers in local communities. The movement operates on fundamental concerns revolving around issues of safety, property values, and community aesthetics, reflecting the misconceptions and stereotypes about addiction and those seeking recovery. While it is understandable that every community wants to ensure its safety and well-being, the NIMBY movement can inadvertently perpetuate stigmas and hinder the availability of much-needed care and support for individuals that are actively pursuing a sober lifestyle.

Why Is Community Living Important for Individuals in Addiction Recovery?

Substance abuse recovery centers play a crucial role in supporting individuals to overcome challenges of addiction and work toward long term recovery. It’s no secret that addiction recovery takes a village of support, from the initial stages of withdrawal to intensive outpatient care. Having a team of experienced professionals in your corner as you navigate the stages of recovery can make the difference between relapsing and staying on the path of sobriety.

For individuals in addiction recovery, community living also aids in supporting individuals to overcome the intense challenges of substance abuse with peers who share similar obstacles and goals. Being immersed in these living environments can provide a sense of belonging, connection, and acceptance, and cultivate emotional well-being. Additionally, community living offers opportunities for accountability and the development of healthy coping strategies. All of this to say, community living drastically improves the outcome of long-term recovery.

How does NIMBY affect community living?

When communities resist the establishment of treatment facilities or recovery residences, it limits access to essential resources and support for individuals who need it. The lack of availability can create more obstacles for individuals in recovery to find suitable housing where they can effectively reintegrate into the community and have access to necessary resources. NIMBY attitudes actively contribute to the stigmatization of individuals struggling with substance abuse disorder, and can perpetuate barriers to employment, social integration, education, and living.

Zia Recovery Center’s Experience with NIMBY

At Zia Recovery Center, we understand the importance of community living and fellowship in the recovery process, from the beginning of the journey to well beyond the last iterations of our programs. For that reason, we have a variety of properties in Las Cruces neighborhoods and in Dona Ana County where housing is provided for recovering individuals in all our program levels from Withdrawal Management to Intensive Outpatient. Notably, our highly skilled staff are present 24-7 at all locations to ensure accountability measures and to provide an extra layer of support. Having around the clock support from Zia staff – many of whom have successfully gone through a recovery program and are in recovery themselves – means that services don’t stop once clients leave our main sites.

Between 2016 and 2017, our addiction recovery center purchased two properties in a neighborhood in Las Cruces, and we had our first head on experience with NIMBY resistance. After multiple failed attempts to block Zia Recovery Center from housing residents in these homes, our Zia Recovery team took quick initiative and joined the neighborhood association in the area as a way to get to know the community, educate them about Zia’s services and impact, and communicate the high levels of safety within our homes. We emphasized that individuals in our program are closely supported by our team, pass various background checks, and are there on their own accord. Through community involvement and sharing information, circumstances and attitudes have shifted, and we have watched our community work through stigmas around addiction recovery.

Overall, our recovery center learned that community cooperation and building relationships are the most effective ways to overcome the stigma associated with NIMBY.

As a part of an operating addiction recovery center, we are committed to educating our communities on addiction recovery and ensuring everyone’s safety and well-being. Zia Recovery Center’s work in Las Cruces is living proof of the power of education and community involvement.

NIMBY and Doña Ana County

Our recovery center continues to work with communities in Doña Ana County, where we have a few properties that function as group homes. As we continue to cultivate trust and understanding with the Doña Ana County communities, our residential property which houses clients in the early stages of their recovery is restricted to six people despite its capacity to comfortably house up to ten people without any change to the environment, health, and well-being of the nearby neighborhoods. While we understand that the resistance to more folks living in these homes is likely based in NIMBY, fear, and stigma, we practice patience and optimism that we can collaborate and raise awareness in the Doña Ana County communities as we’ve done in Las Cruces.

Many individuals who identify with NIMBY, as it relates to substance abuse disorder, hold misconceptions and stereotypes about addiction and those seeking recovery. They may perceive addiction as a moral failing rather than a treatable disorder. This misguided belief can lead to harmful attitudes that can manifest as resistance to supporting recovery centers in residential neighborhoods based on the assumption that crime rates will increase or property value will decline. Stigma thrives in environments where there is minimal exposure to the realities of addiction and recovery, which is why Zia Recovery Center is motivated to educate our communities and support individuals in recognizing that addiction is a complex health issue that affects individuals from all walks of life.

Nationally, NIMBY affects access to care and support that is crucial for the success of recovery, especially for marginalized groups. Locally, Zia Recovery continues to work to support people through education and cooperation with the community to change the stigma on what recovery looks like.

“Stigma is toxic. It creates more problems for society. To lessen the economic burden of addiction on society we must be solution oriented and help people struggling with these issues, who want the help, become productive members of society. Sweeping the problem under the rug and ostracizing individuals has created huge barriers. It will take education, understanding, and action from a great community to get this ball rolling. It is already happening.” (Ryan B. ZRC)

How Community Members Can Help

Undoubtedly, community members play a vital role in supporting individuals recovering from substance abuse and combating the negative impacts of NIMBY. There are a number of action-oriented steps you can take to help:

  1. Continue to educate yourself on the realities of substance abuse disorder and share what you are learning with those in your community. By sharing accurate information and dismantling misconceptions, stigma can slowly dissolve and be replaced with a deeper compassion and understanding.
  2. Build relationships with individuals in your community who are struggling with addiction. This can help contribute to the overall well-being and successful reintegration of individuals in recovery.
  3. Advocate for the establishment of recovery residences and treatment facilities in your neighborhoods. You can attend local government meetings or even write emails or letters to elected officials.

Supportive Living

Community living is more than meets the eye; it’s a powerful tool in the journey to addiction recovery. It offers a sense of unity and support that can make all the difference in an individual’s healing process. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, consider the power of community living and take the step towards finding a supportive environment that can provide strength, understanding, and encouragement necessary for lasting recovery. Contact our compassionate and experienced team at Zia Recovery Center today to learn more.

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