Jeff Bagwell to Share His Recovery Story at 2020 Spring Luncheon

The Council on Recovery is excited to announce that Jeff Bagwell will be the keynote speaker at its Spring Luncheon, Friday, April 24, 2020, at the Hilton Americas Hotel. This is the 37th Annual Spring Luncheon of the Waggoners Foundation Speakers Series, which features notable actors, authors, athletes and more discussing their experiences with addiction and recovery, and is presented by the Wayne Duddlesten Foundation. Proceeds from the Luncheon will fund The Council’s programs that help individuals and families affected by alcoholism, drug abuse, other addictions, and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Bagwell is a former professional baseball first baseman and coach who spent his entire 15-year Major League Baseball career with the Houston Astros beginning in 1990. During his tenure, he was a core part of the Astros lineup along with Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman, with fans and media dubbing them the “Killer B’s.” He was awarded the National League Rookie of the Year in 1991, the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1994, and he was a four-time MLB All-Star. In 2017, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Says Mel Taylor, The Council’s President and CEO, “For decades, The Council’s Speaker Series has given us a powerful platform to share our story of hope for recovery. Jeff Bagwell is a Houston hero, and we are especially excited to have his support in carrying a message of hope to our neighbors who need to hear it. Most importantly of all, funds raised through the luncheon allow us to delivery urgently needed addiction treatment services to hard-working individuals and families who might not be able to afford it otherwise.”

The Waggoners Foundation Speaker Series was created in memory of June and Virgil Waggoner’s son Jay, who died of alcoholism at the young age of 36. Since its inception, the Speaker Series has raised over $16 million to help individuals and families overcome addiction.

The Council is now accepting corporate and organizational sponsorships and donations for the Spring Luncheon, as well as sales of individual tables at the event.  For more information or to purchase a table, contact us at specialevents@councilonrecovery.org or call 281.200.9336.

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.

Grateful Client Gives Back

This guest post is written and graciously shared by Janel, a grateful client who found recovery through The Council

Seven years ago I was trapped living a nightmare with no way out. My addiction took me to the darkest place imaginable. I was literally battling for my soul. I could not stop using. I eventually gave up and tried to take my own life. It was the only way I thought I could find peace. Waking up in Ben Taub’s ICU after my liver shut down, I realized that God had another plan for me. I had been given a second chance at life.

Forced to seek help, The Council on Recovery started me on my new journey. They found me a bed at a treatment center where I spent almost 3 months coming out of my fog of addiction. While there I met one of The Council’s recovery coaches who told me about a longer term treatment program, where I spent fifteen additional months. During that time, I learned so much about myself and how to overcome my addiction. I learned how to be a lady and live life with a purpose. I would not be where I am today if it hadn’t been for The Council guiding me in the right direction. Their resources are what saved my life. The work they do in the recovery community is vital. Most addicts don’t know how to stop. They do not know how to get help. That’s what The Council is for.

Last year I found a way to give back and help The Council. I used my story and my first-ever marathon to help raise more than $3,000 for this powerful organization. The marathon was about pushing myself to do something I once saw as impossible. It was meant to inspire others and – of course – bring as much attention to The Council as possible.

People need to know there is a solution. They need to know where to reach out when they are ready. I am living proof that recovery is possible. Today, I am 7 years clean and sober and I am a productive member of society. I have put myself through school, received my Bachelors degree in Human Services, and now manage a successful staffing agency. I have run a marathon and am now training for my first Ironman. Seven years ago my addiction almost killed me, but today I live free with no limits to be and do whatever I want to. And it all began at The Council. They showed me how to break the chains that bound me. They gave me hope. 

Janel ran the Chevron Houston Marathon as her first-ever marathon and used the opportunity to help raise more than $3,000 for The Council on Recovery

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Require Warning Labels on Addictive Prescription Opioids & Mandate Education for Opioid Prescribers

In a rare bipartisan effort, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) introduced two bills last week aimed at combating the opioid epidemic. The first first piece of legislation is called Lessening Addiction By Enhancing Labeling (LABEL) Opioids Act. The bill calls for labeling prescription opioid bottles with a consistent, clear, and concise warnings that opioids may cause dependence, addiction, or overdose.

The second bill, entitled the Safe Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act, requires any prescriber of opioid medication to undergo mandatory education on safe prescribing practices. Specifically, it mandates that all prescribers, who are applying for a federal license to prescribe controlled substances, must complete mandatory education to help encourage responsible prescribing practices.

Nearly 50 percent of opioid dependence originates with prescribed opioid painkillers. The two pieces of legislation seek to make sure patients and prescribers understand the dangers and full impact those prescriptions may have on the life of a patient.

Specifically, the LABEL Opioids Act would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue regulations providing for a warning label to be affixed directly to the opioid prescription bottle handed to the patient by the pharmacist. Utah, Arizona, and Hawaii have passed state laws requiring labeling of prescription opioids, and legislation has been introduced in several other states. Last year, Canada issued regulations to require opioid labeling nationally. Congressman Greg Stanton (D-AZ-09) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

The Safe Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act mandates education for prescribers that focuses on best practices for pain management and alternative non-opioid therapies for pain. Such education includes methods for diagnosing and treating a substance use disorder, linking patients to evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders, and tools to manage adherence and diversion of controlled substances. The legislation also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to monitor and evaluate the impact this new education requirement has on prescribing patterns.

The Council on Recovery supports these bipartisan efforts by the U.S. Congress to address the opioid epidemic.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction or any substance use disorder, call The Council on Recovery at 713-942-4100 or contact us online.

How Does Spirituality Change the Brain?

The following article by Dr. Mark Gold, recently published on the Addiction Policy Forum Blog, explores the growing body of research about what regions of the brain are changed during a person’s spiritual practice. It presents compelling ideas for how fellowship and treatment programs can empower individuals in recovery to use spirituality as a proven tool to improve their mental health.

Spirituality can be an important component of recovery from addiction, as it can be a key way for a person seeking recovery to connect to something outside themselves – spiritual practices have long been cornerstones of mutual aid groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Recently, researchers and those looking at trends have concluded that Americans are becoming less religious but at the same time identify as more spiritual. Spiritual engagement can be a way to find, as the authors in the study write, a “sense of union with something larger than oneself.” In a recent study of the brain done at Yale directed by Dr. Mark Potenza, Neural Correlates of Spiritual Experiences, scientists used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine exactly how spirituality activated or deactivated, certain regions of the brain, changing how people perceive and interact with the world around them.

Dr. Christina Puchalski, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, defines spirituality as “the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” Importantly, the authors of the study encouraged diverse, personally-motivated definitions of spiritual experience, examples of which included participation in a religious service at a house of worship, connection with nature, mindfulness meditation, and contemplative prayer.

How do we Measure the Effect of Spirituality?

Spirituality and religious practices are a key part of many people’s lives – 81% of U.S. adults describe themselves as spiritual, religious, or both. Despite the majority of American adults engaging in some form of spiritual practice, little is known about what happens in certain parts of the brain during these spiritual experiences. Although studies have linked specific brain measures to aspects of spirituality, none have sought to directly examine spiritual experiences, particularly when using a broader, modern definition of spirituality that may be independent of religiousness. This study used a special kind of brain imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to examine neural structures and systems that are activated when we engage in spiritual practice. By detecting changes in blood flow to certain regions of the brain, the fMRI is able to detect activity in the brain when participants were asked to recall spiritual experiences.

Methodology

A potential challenge in this study is the wide variety of spiritual experiences that individuals can find personally meaningful. The authors of the study sought to address this by using a personalized guided-imagery fMRI procedure in which participants were asked to describe a situation in which they felt “a strong connection with a higher power or a spiritual presence.” Their accounts were turned into a script, which was recorded and played back to the participant during fMRI. The brain activation measured during the participant’s recall of a spiritual moment was compared to measurements taken while participants listened to narrations of their neutral and stressful experiences.

Key to this study was that the accounts were completely self-directed by the participants — which enabled the researchers to identify commonalities in brain activity among diverse spiritual experiences.

How Does Spirituality Change the Brain?

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The area highlighted in blue is the Inferior Parietal Lobe, which is associated with perceptual processing

Spiritual experiences were associated with lower levels of activity in certain parts of the brain:

  • The inferior parietal lobe (IPL), the part of the brain associated with perceptual processing, relating to the concept of self in time and space
  • The thalamus and striatum, the parts of the brain associated with emotional and sensory processing

This study furthers a growing body of research about spirituality and its connection to brain processing. These findings tell us that spiritual experiences shift perception, and can moderate the effects of stress on mental health. This study saw decreased activation in the parts of the brain responsible for stress and increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for connection with others. A sense of union with someone or something outside of oneself and community engagement have been found to support a robust recovery from substance use disorders as well as other behavioral health issues. 

Looking to the Future

Marc Potenza, MD, PhD is an expert in Psychiatry, Behavioral Addictions, and his work at Yale in this important area is a welcome addition to the investigators working in this field. Neural Correlates of Spiritual Experiences has positive implications for instituting spiritual engagement in prevention, treatment, and recovery for substance use disorders. Importantly, participants were scanned while they recalled their own, individualized spiritual experience, but the results were consistent between participants. This means that a person does not have to participate in a certain type of spiritual practice to see the benefits, but can engage in whatever version of engagement is most compatible with their personal beliefs. This encourages treatment and recovery programs to encourage patients to pursue diverse means of spiritual engagement.

This study found a way to measure and visualize what many recovery and treatment communities have understood for years—that spirituality can reduce stress and create feelings of connectedness. By understanding what regions of the brain are changed during a person’s spiritual practice, fellowship and treatment programs can empower individuals in recovery to use spirituality as a proven tool to improve their mental health.

References:

  1. Smith, G., Van Capellen, P., (2018, March 7) Rising Spirituality in America [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/rising-spirituality-in-america.
  2. Lipka, M., Gecewicz, C., (2017, September 6). More Americans now say they’re spiritual but not religious. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/06/more-americans-now-say-theyre-spiritual-but-not-religious/

Pediatricians Can Do More to Prevent & Reduce Adolescent Substance Use

Adolescent substance use has begun to boil over in many parts of the country. Concerned parents, spurred-on by tragic stories from the opioid epidemic, are desperate to turn down the heat and protect adolescents from harm.

Among the adults searching for answers is one important group who can do more to prevent and reduce adolescent substance use: Primary care physicians and, more specifically, pediatricians.

Pediatricians routinely see patients for annual checkups, often treating the same children from birth to high school graduation. During these regular visits, they have both the opportunity to talk with adolescents and an existing relationship with them that can make conversations about substance use seem natural and easy. As such, adolescents can feel comfortable talking to pediatricians about drinking and drug use because anything they say is just between them and their doctor (unless the patient is in imminent danger).

During such confidential discussions, pediatricians have an invaluable opportunity to give their young patients information about drinking and drug use, and how it can affect their health. A quick chat about the effect of alcohol and drugs on the developing adolescent brain can greatly influence teenage decisions to either abstain or seek help if substance use is an emerging problem. In those cases, pediatricians can immediately refer them any help they need, such as putting them in touch with a mental health professional or treatment provider.

Research shows that these types of conversations between pediatricians and young people are an effective means of reducing substance-use rates. The Council on Recovery strongly supports making it standard practice for pediatricians to discuss substance use with their adolescent patients.

The Council on Recovery provides a wide range prevention and education resources aimed reducing substance use, especially among adolescents and young adults. For more information about The Council’s Prevention & Education Programs , please call 713-942-4100, email education@councilonrecovery.org  or contact us online.