Combatting the Stigma of Addiction

We have understood addiction to be a disease for nearly a century, yet shame and stigma continue to keep people from seeking treatment and support. This has always been the case, but skyrocketing overdose deaths, substance abuse, and suicide rates both locally and nationwide renew a sense of urgency in our mission to combat false narratives, beliefs and assumptions around this chronic disease. This is the first in a blog series exploring the many facets of stigma that perpetuate addiction. Before we dive in, it is important to start with the basics:

Addiction is a disease.

Contrary to the belief that addiction is an individual moral failing, addiction is a complex, chronic disease that changes the chemical balance of the reward center of the brain. It is caused by a combination of biological, environmental, and developmental factors, and according to the American Psychological Association, about half the risk for addiction is genetic. Long-term substance use can also change the parts of the brain that affect learning, judgement, decision making, self-control and memory.

Addiction is treatable. Recovery is possible.

There is not a cure to addiction, but it can be treated and managed. In fact, a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 3 out of 4 people who experienced addiction went on to recover.

Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential. Recovery from substance use disorders looks different for each individual and can consist of pharmacological, social and psychological treatment. Regardless of the route taken, we want people struggling with substances to know that a life in recovery can be joyous, fulfilling and whole.

Everyone is worthy of recovery.

We believe everyone is deserving of a chance to live a life of recovery, regardless of the path that brought them to our doorstep. Anyone who comes to us for help is welcomed with the respect and compassion they need to feel safe enough to begin this vulnerable process of healing and renewal.

If you, a loved one, or a patient is struggling with substance use, contact us today to inquire about treatment options.

Growing Our Own: The Council’s Fellowship Experience

At The Council on Recovery, we know we can’t solve addiction alone. That’s why training medical and behavioral health professionals is an essential part of our work – and has been since as early as 1955! For ten years, our Mary Bell Behavioral Health Clinical Fellowship has been a pillar in our efforts to train the next generation of behavioral health professionals. We sat down with Nina Tahija, LMSW, our current Mary Bell Behavioral Health Clinical Fellow at the Center for Recovering Families to discuss her experience:

Tell me about yourself and what you do at The Council.

I graduated from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work in 2021. While I was there, I completed a clinical internship at Baylor Psychiatry Clinic, a trauma fellowship, and a specialization in health and behavioral health. I’m also a trauma-sensitive yoga facilitator. I have a strong passion for providing trauma-informed care for my clients.

I currently work as a Mary Bell Behavioral Health Clinical Fellow. In this role, I co-facilitate psychotherapy groups, lead a Dialectical Behavior therapy-informed skills group, conduct assessments and provide individual therapy.

Nina Tahija, LMSW

Why did you want to become a fellow with us?

I was looking for a supportive and collaborative environment to continue honing my clinical skills. I had heard former interns and fellows speak highly of the tremendous growth they got as part of the clinical team, so I thought it would be a natural next step for me. The fellowship program at The Council offered the opportunity to work with individuals struggling with substance abuse and/or other mental health struggles, while receiving intensive training through weekly didactics, supervision, and treatment team meetings.

What are some major takeaways from your experience as a fellow with the Center for Recovering Families?

One of the biggest takeaways for me is the power of connection in one’s recovery. As a group facilitator, I have witnessed the profound impact this space provides for clients to share openly and vulnerably, ask for what they need, and support each other. I also learned the importance to meet clients where they are, understanding that each person has unique lived experiences and are in different parts of their healing journey.

What is some advice you have for people wanting to go into social work and behavioral health?

Know your why for going into this field. Be open to continually reflect on your own experiences, positionality, and biases so you are mindful of the lens that you are working with. Also know that you don’t have to go through this process alone. One of the highlights of my time in graduate school is finding a supportive community through my peers and mentors.

Addiction & The Family: Unwritten Roles & Unspoken Rules

This blog post is the second in a series contributed by Rachel Evans, LMSW, of the Center for Recovering Families at The Council on Recovery and Ashley Taylor, MSW, LMSW, of Heights Family Counseling. Read the first post here.

When someone has a substance use disorder, the people within their close circle – whether it be family, friends or a combination of both – adapt to the associated behaviors. Many roles that these people embody contribute to the functionality of the system itself. There are a few adaptations of these roles, but the most common are the hero, the scapegoat, the addict, the mascot, the caretaker, and the lost child.

(For a breakdown of these roles and their impact on the system, read our blog post.)

While someone in the family unit might outwardly display particular character traits, there are also feelings that exist beneath the surface that are harder to recognize. Not every family system will reflect these roles, but oftentimes, these roles are displayed in some form or fashion. By taking on these roles, people within the system are able to assert some control over the outcome of their situation and maintain a sense of normalcy in a situation where one can feel a loss of control.

Addiction and family

In families that deal with substance use disorders, there are also unwritten rules that members abide by in order to prevent disruption within the system. These rules are: Don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel. People within the system follow these rules to maintain the status quo. “Everyone in the system often begins to believe that their needs no longer matter,” says Rachel Evans, Family Therapist at the Center for Recovering Families. These rules are adaptations made beyond the roles that people within the family unit follow that help protect their goal, which is to manage life with someone struggling with a substance use disorder.

Family members can come to understand it like this: We don’t talk about the addiction. Secrecy allows the addiction to thrive. We cannot trust the person with a substance use disorder. Addiction often comes with inconsistent behaviors, so family members often learn not to trust their loved one, and often suppress their emotional experiences of the addiction. Because of these learned rules, recovery often begins with talking openly about the addiction safely, rebuilding trust, and identifying emotions in every family member.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, or if you recognize any of these roles and rules in your own life, contact us today to inquire about counseling and treatment options.

Finding Recovery at The Council’s Luncheons

The Council’s beloved Annual Speaker Series is more than a luncheon: time and time again, it has served as the starting point in a person’s recovery journey.

It’s a big claim – and to the outside observer, may seem far-fetched. How could a luncheon be the doorstep to recovery? The answer lies in community. As one attendee explained, “My view on recovery was very narrow. I felt like a complete low-life alcoholic doomed to a life of despair, but when I walked into my first Council luncheon and saw the massive crowd of happy and seemingly normal and successful people, my vision changed.”

This centuries-old misconception of addiction as a moral failing has long contributed to the feelings of shame that work to keep people trapped in their disease. The Council’s luncheon is a bold declaration that it is okay to have this disease; it sends a message that recovery is possible and worth our best efforts for every individual. The Council’s luncheon delivers a radical shift in perspective and opens the doorway to possibility. Said one individual, “The Council’s luncheon broke the stigma for me of what an alcoholic was and what a glorious life in recovery could look like.”

The Council's luncheons
Every spring and fall, up to 1,000 members of Houston’s recovery and behavioral healthcare communities attend The Council’s luncheons.

The sheer size of The Council’s luncheons further strengthens this powerful message. One attendee remarked, “I sat in this room with 1,000 people who were there to support recovery. I had never seen anything like it. For the first time in my life, I felt the stigma of addiction lift. Here was a place free from shame and judgment. A place to share the stories of addiction, but more importantly to share the promises of recovery and the resources available to every person in Houston through The Council.”

Because if addiction thrives in isolation, community is the antidote.

Through community we can nourish recovery. A community of recovery can change despair to possibility; it can give us permission to replace shame with self-compassion; it can provide a lifeline of hope.

Since its inception nearly 40 years ago, The Council’s Annual Speaker Series has raised millions of dollars to support local families impacted by addiction; it has shared a message of hope for recovery; and perhaps most importantly of all it has created a community of individuals who can find strength in recovery, together.

If you know someone who needs to hear lived experiences of the power of recovery, invite them to our upcoming luncheon. They might just walk away changed.

Announcing Danny Trejo as Keynote Speaker for our 37th Annual Spring Luncheon

The actor, activist, author and restauranteur Danny Trejo will tell his story of recovery and redemption on Thursday, April 21, 2022 at the Hilton Americas – Houston hotel.

The Council on Recovery is excited to welcome Danny Trejo as the keynote speaker for our 37th Annual Spring Luncheon on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Danny Trejo is an actor, activist, author and restauranteur, best known for his starring roles in the Spy Kids, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Machete film series, as well as recurring roles in the television series Breaking Bad, King of the Hill, and Sons of Anarchy. He most recently appeared in the popular Star Wars series, The Book of Boba Fett.

Danny Trejo headshot

Trejo struggled with addiction at as early as 12 years old, found sobriety through attending 12-step meetings while in prison, and has been sober for more than five decades. He chronicled his harrowing and inspiring story in his critically acclaimed 2021 memoir Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, & Hollywood.

Since its inception 40 years ago, The Council’s speaker series has promoted a message of hope and healing, and helped to reduce the shame and stigma of substance use and related disorders in the Houston community and beyond. The Council provides treatment and recovery support to individuals affected by substance use and other co-occurring mental health conditions, regardless of their ability to pay. Funds raised through our annual luncheons ensure that no family in need is ever turned away.

To reserve your table today, visit our speaker series website. Individual tickets will be sold at a later date.

The Impact of Addiction on The Family System

This blog post is contributed by Ashley Taylor, MSW, LMSW, of Heights Family Counseling and Rachel Evans, LMSW, of the Center for Recovering Families

When someone we love deals with addiction, wishful thinking tends to surround their recovery. We think to ourselves, “If this person just gets better, then everything else will fall into place.” No matter how desirable that outcome, substance use disorder is a systems disease that requires a systems solution. Substance use disorders not only affect the person suffering, but also the people closest to them.

“By the time people get treatment, the family system has often regulated around the addiction to maintain the status quo,” says Rachel Evans, family therapist at the Center for Recovering Families. “The addiction has become the locus of control.”

Everyone who is involved in the system has adapted in ways they might not even recognize in order to maintain a sense of normalcy and peace, while watching someone they love battle a difficult disease. Because of this, many families are exhausted by the time their loved one enters treatment. Regardless of the ways in which the support system has regulated itself around the addiction, the relationship between the person dealing with substance use disorder and their families can be an important one.

impact of addiction on family system

“The collaborative effort of treatment is very beneficial,” says Rachel. When appropriate, having family members present for treatment improves success rates, and treatment benefits both the person struggling with substance use disorder, as well as the family members. When it comes to recovery, it is crucial that everyone is willing to do things differently in order to set family recovery at the core of the system. Through family recovery, everyone is able to gather and understand different strategies for coping with the new way of life for this person, as well as unlearning potentially harmful practices that had been in use prior to the recovery process.

This help can take the form of family treatment, support groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, and even individual therapy. When an entire system is affected, addressing the entire system is the most effective treatment. This takes the responsibility off one individual and makes the process a collaborative one. In this way, the person going through recovery can feel more supported in their journey, and feel the love and encouragement from those closest to them.

The process of addiction recovery is rarely linear, nor does it only impact the person working to overcome substance use disorder. When addiction is viewed as a systems disease, it can be addressed throughout the whole system. By viewing this process in a more collaborative light, we are able to better support and understand the journey of our loved ones.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, call us today at 713.914.0556, or contact us through our website.