Recovering addicts say society needs to better understand their situation to cut down the amount of shame and stigma they experience.

The first National Summit on Addiction Recovery wraps up Wednesday in Ottawa, organized by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Presenters such as Michael Bryant, a former Ontario attorney general and self-described recovering alcoholic, said changing the way people see addiction will reduce the number of addicts.

"The more people who are not in addiction can identify with people, understand, see they are friends and family and not to be afraid and judged, more people will get better," Bryant said Wednesday.

Ann Dowsett Johnston

Author Ann Dowsett Johnston says she wants to get rid of the stereotype of an alcoholic as someone who drinks from a bottle in a plastic bag. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

"There are more than five million Canadians living in long-term recovery, holding down jobs, raising family," said Anne Dowsett Johnston, who wrote her book Drink about her alcoholism and the experience of other women.

"We are, in many ways, the great invisible," she said.

Dowsett, one of the founding directors or Faces and Voices of Recovery Canada, said not everyone gains strength from keeping their recovery anonymous.

"We are moving out of church basements and taking it to the streets," she said.

"I am not in any way dissing [Alcoholics Anonymous] but I am saying, no matter how you got to your recovered self, let's be an example to others who are struggling."

A news release issued at the end of the summit said 4.4 per cent of Canadians had a substance abuse disorder in 2012, but that getting treatment can be difficult because of stigma, hard-to-access treatment in rural areas or for youth, and a lack of medical detox facilities.

Organizers said they signed a national agreement to improve care across Canada to the level of other chronic illnesses.