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The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

For decades, the professional approach to addiction has been shifting away from shaming and blaming, and toward the belief that addiction is a normal and common biological response to adversity experienced in childhood. The popularization of this game-changing perspective is credited to Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, who began his crusade to change the narrative around addiction after treating Vietnam veterans with PTSD in the early 1980s.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) affect long-term health, and can include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; living with a family member who’s addicted to substances; depression and other mental illnesses; parental divorce or separation; incarceration or deportation of a family member; racism; involvement in the foster care system, and more. Clinicians like Dr. Sumrok administer an ACE assessment upon meeting a patient for the first time, and for good reason.

According to ACE studies, about 64% of people have at least one ACE, which can double to quadruple the likelihood of using drugs or alcohol, particularly at an early age. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and lung cancer and increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700%. People with a score of 5 or higher are seven to 10 times more likely to use illegal drugs and become addicted. Furthermore, these studies show that it doesn’t matter what type of trauma the patient experienced. Different combinations of ACEs produce the same statistical health consequences.

Considering potential childhood trauma is necessary for addressing one’s addiction.

This requisite has fortunately also normalized the concept of addiction as “ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking” – it’s something one adopts as a coping behavior because they weren’t provided with a healthy alternative when they were young. This approach is not only supported by psychological research, it’s also the compassionate route to treating clients with substance abuse problems. Rather than labeling someone as an addict and punishing them for their behavior, clinicians like those at The Council find it’s kinder and more productive to address ACEs with their clients, and to help them seek comfort in other behaviors. Since its inception, the staff at the Center for Recovering Families is dedicated to helping their clients by looking at their trauma when appropriate and providing the necessary skills to deal with their feelings.

For more information about ACEs, read here. To calculate your ACE score, click here.

For questions about The Council’s assessment and treatment options, or if you or a loved one needs help, call (713) 914-0556 or contact us here.

CDC Reports High Tobacco Use Among Youth in 2019

The Center for Disease Control released a report earlier this month on tobacco product use among middle and high school students in public and private schools across America, reminding The Council on Recovery that although we’ve made great strides in the past decade, we still have much work to do in the coming years in our fight to reduce substance use and abuse by minors.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) is an annual, cross-sectional, self-administered survey of U.S. middle school and high school students attending public and private schools that uses a representative sample to estimate how many youths are using tobacco, and what factors contribute to this number, such as type of tobacco product, exposure to tobacco marketing, perceptions of harm, and more. Here are its major findings:

Over half of all U.S. high school students (53.3 %, around 8 million) have used a tobacco product.

Almost a third of high school students (31.2%) reported they were currently using tobacco products. E-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high schoolers, with 27.5% reporting they had used one in the past 30 days.

A fourth of all U.S. middle school students (24.3%, around 2.9 million) reported using a tobacco product.

About 12.5% of middle school students reported they were currently using tobacco products. E-cigarettes were also the most commonly used tobacco product with middle schoolers, with 10.5% reported using them.

E-cigarettes remain a major public health concern.

The prevalence of cigarette smoking among students was the lowest ever recorded by the study since 1999. This is no cause to celebrate, however, as this is due to the emergence and popularization of e-cigarettes, which have been recorded as the most popular tobacco product among youths since 2014. In 2017-2018, the use of e-cigarettes increased by 77.8%, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to declare e-cigarette use a national epidemic last December. This 2019 report reports even higher e-cigarette usage, but takes into consideration changes to the survey itself that could have affected outcomes.

This survey acts as a reminder to The Council that there is still much work to be done in middle schools and high schools across the major Houston area. Through the CHOICES program, The Council will continue to meet schools where they are at to help students and their families resist the seductive appeals of e-cigarette and other tobacco product marketing, and learn the risks and consequences of substance use at such an early age.

“Longitudinal studies have shown that youth vapers are four times more likely to smoke combustible cigarettes than non-vapers,” says Patrick Hagler, CHOICES counselor. “CHOICES can help by educating teens and parents about the real consequences of vaping.”

The Council on Recovery and Prevention Resource Center 6 have also teamed up to host a Houston Vaping Summit on February 21, 2020, with the goal to educate local school administrations (as well as healthcare, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and parents) on vaping and to equip them with the tools they need to respond promptly and effectively.

In positive news, the federal government has raised the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21, effective in the summer of 2020.

For more information on the National Youth Tobacco Survey, click here.

If your teen or child needs our help, call (713) 914-4100. For information on how to create a CHOICES program at your school, please contact (281) 200-9272.

The Gift of Recovery

This guest post is written by David Sunday, outreach coordinator and veteran liaison for The Council on Recovery.

What is the gift of recovery? I think we can all agree that recovery is not just about learning to live a life free from drugs, alcohol or other compulsive behaviors. Sobriety is a byproduct of the gift. Recovery is about choosing a better way of life in which we no longer need to use these behaviors to cope. The gift that recovery gives us is that today we choose to feel everything. That’s where growth happens. We no longer choose the same coping mechanisms that the world has deemed useful. After a bad day, we no longer choose to go home to a glass of wine or a cold beer. Today we choose to learn and to grow from the adversity and pain, from the smiles and the tears.

Our greatest treasures lie on the other side of fear.

People in the recovery community choose to go there and they choose to do it together in fellowship. Recovery is absolutely about joy but it’s also about struggle and trust- trusting that our lives will be a blessing to someone else if we are brave enough to share it with them. “We can’t keep it if we don’t give it away” is our mantra. This is the gift of our recovery and what we have to teach the world. To somewhat quote recovery advocate, Bill White, in the process of burning ourselves to ashes we have emerged as people who love and appreciate life. We recognize it as our greatest treasure and view it in a new way- as survivors of a disease that almost defeated us!

Because we have been to the darkness and we are now warriors of the light. The gift of recovery is our presence in the world, in our families and in the lives of each other. We have become the change! Is there any gift more powerful or more redeeming? What each and every one of us boast about in our new lives is that we want to give what we have to you so that we may live!

The Lifelong Quest for Sobriety… The Ultimate Hero’s Journey – Part 64

Guest blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 64 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In the 1999 movie, The Matrix, a group of rebels are fighting a desperate war against a machine that has enslaved humanity in a sophisticated virtual reality system.  Laurence Fishburne is Morpheus, the leader of the rebels, and he has recruited Neo, played by Keanu Reeves and Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss as his archetypal warriors.  The operatives of The Matrix have been unbeatable, led by Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, such that most rebel warriors have little chance in head-to-head battles with the machine.

But Neo and Trinity have developed and honed their skills. A series of confrontations toward the end of the movie have Neo and Trinity performing incredible athletic feats to avoiding being hit by a barrage of bullets and simultaneously firing back in explosive bursts.  In one scene, Neo contorts his body to impossible extremes as the bullets fly by in slow motion.

A friend of mine, in a meeting one day, commented on this scene as reminiscent, to him, of how, in our continuing growth in recovery, we learn such adroitness, we develop evasive moves to avoid letting the pitfalls of life destroy us as they once had.  What a spectacular vision it created for me.  How often in our diseased states and even in early sobriety did we let everyday mishaps and normal challenges penetrate our fragile exterior and drive us to difficult ends.

Some of us, like me, may have reacted to minor mishaps with near explosive rage.  Maybe family members pushed long-set psychic buttons with idle remarks; maybe a friend or acquaintance made a snide comment that stirred some long forgotten pain; or maybe some external unrelated event had a similar effect. 

Our recovery demands that we learn to deal with these events.  As we work the program with sponsors and with fellow recovering heroes we learn to let these events, these triggers, to slide off or around us much as Neo dodged the Matrix’s bullets.  The image is powerful…we just need to learn the intricate evasive moves for ourselves, using the tools we hear over and over again from all our Fellows.

Why is The Council Addressing Vaping?

This post is a contribution by Mel Taylor, President and CEO of The Council on Recovery.

If you follow The Council’s work, you’ve probably seen us discuss vaping quite a bit lately. But aside from the alarming news headlines, you may be wondering, “Why does The Council care about vaping?” Vaping is legal in Texas, after all, for people over the age of 21. And advocates of e-cigarettes argue that in comparison to traditional cigarettes, vaping is the better option. But as alcohol has proven, when used to excess, many things can be harmful even if they are legal. Vaping is no different. The Council believes unequivocally that vaping is dangerous and deserves our community’s attention.

Unfortunately, a lack of reliable information on the matter combined with sensational nightly news stories can tempt us into dismissing this phenomenon as just another overhyped story. Here at The Council, our goal is not to scare you – rather, we want to empower you with information you can trust to make your own choice.

So, why does The Council care about vaping?

The nicotine and other chemicals in vape liquid produce a pleasure response that changes the brain and can lead to addiction.

Nicotine produces a dopamine response in the brain, which then primes the brain’s sensitivity to rewarding stimuli. Anytime a substance alters the way the brain functions, there is potential for abuse and addiction. This is particularly true for young people whose brains are not yet fully developed, and are highly susceptible to changes in the way their brains respond to pleasure. Research consistently demonstrates that adolescents who vape are 3 times more likely to subsequently smoke traditional cigarettes.

But vaping isn’t safe for adults, either.

Many adults have seen first-hand the destruction wreaked by a lifetime of smoking cigarettes, so vaping may seem safe in comparison. Indeed, the e-cigarette industry originally marketed their products as a quit-aid, which has helped to perpetuate this myth. Vaping does not burn tobacco – the source of carcinogenic tar in traditional cigarette smoke – however, it does expose the respiratory system to nicotine and a cocktail of other harmful chemicals, and there is mounting evidence that it causes similar long-term lung damage as traditional cigarettes. What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device. So, what does it all mean?

The long-term impact of vaping remains to be fully seen, but we know enough to say vaping is an urgent problem and immediate action is needed. As this problem develops, our learning will continue to grow. Just last week the Centers for Disease Control announced a breakthrough finding, naming vitamin E acetate as the potential culprit behind recent vaping related lung injuries and deaths, and helping to advance our understanding of this challenge. For now, The Council is busy doing what we have done for the last 75 years: supporting our community. The Council has weathered many such epidemics in our lifetime – from crack cocaine, to methamphetamine, to opioids, and now vaping. As ever, we remain committed to serving families who are impacted by addiction with information they can trust and best-in-class treatment.

Click here for more information on how The Council is tackling the vaping epidemic, and save the date for our Vaping Summit on February 21, 2020.

Where to start?

A road map to recovery options for those struggling with addiction

By Lori Fiester, Clinical Director for the Center for Recovering Families at The Council on Recovery

While the Council on Recovery is a known place to start when looking for help with alcohol or drug abuse, the average person who struggles with substance use issues does not know what is involved in treatment, much less recovery. It does not simply begin with the desire to do things differently…

Many people begin with decreasing their use of the identified substance, or stop completely.  While some can be successful with either measure, most who have abused substances for a long period of time have withdrawal symptoms. Those who have heavily used or have a genetic predisposition need more assistance. Millions of people have a crossed the doorway to 12-step meetings, have a sponsor and have worked the steps and been successful. And then there are those who need more support. 

When thinking about treatment, it’s important that the client be served in the least restrictive environment, but safety has to be the priority. The least restrictive measure involves individual therapy/counseling.  This modality can work but it needs to be supplemented with regular 12-step group attendance, utilizing sponsorship and working the steps.

Fiester (left) is the head of The Council’s Center for Recovering Families, Houston’s premier outpatient provider of treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, and mental health disorders.

The next level of care is Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). This type of program offers approximately 10 hours of treatment to the individual that includes individual and group therapy, psychoeducation, and skills group, spread out between three to four days a week. This allows the person to work and sleep at home, but a good portion of their time is dedicated to therapy. Most IOP’s last six to eight weeks.

Partial Hospitalization (PHP) is the next level in care.  This option consists of being treated for up to five hours a day for five days, and then going home early evening. This service includes much of what IOP does, but is even more intense, adding five to ten hours per week, and can last several weeks.

Residential care is when the person enters a hospital-type setting in which they have about 20 hours of dedicated treatment services. They can stay there anywhere from 28 to 90 days. Many people who enter this type of care often need detoxification, which includes medical stabilization and a doctor to oversee the person’s withdrawal from the substance.

There are many avenues to consider when thinking about getting sober.  The Council can help with an assessment that can diagnose and give recommendations of what to do next. The continuum of care has many opportunities for someone to stay sober. Research indicates that the longer a person is in treatment services, the less risk they have for relapse.  If you or anyone you know is in need to start their journey to recovery today, start here – (713) 914-0556.