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.

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.

A Message to Those Affected by the Opioid Crisis

This blog post is authored by Mary H. Beck, LMSW, CAI, President & CEO of The Council on Recovery

Most of us are well aware of the opioid crisis facing our communities. We read the grave statistics about addiction and overdose deaths experienced by so many. Impassioned advocates call us to action, treatment specialists inform us on the most cutting-edge practices, legislators pass laws and allocate financial resources to combat this public health emergency. All of this is vitally important.

Yet we are facing a parallel crisis, which is tearing apart families and leaving people in severe distress – a crisis to which our communities are often blind: the trauma and grief experienced by family and friends of those struggling with addiction or who are trying to live in the wake of an overdose death.

Our loved ones die – it is a sad, painful truth. For years, many of us live in fear of this truth – knowing that when someone we love so deeply is suffering from a chronic illness, death may be the outcome. We cherish the moments of reprieve and hope for recovery. At other times, we are doing everything in our power to save them – we suffer in silence once they are gone.

This is true whether your loved one dies from cancer, heart failure, brain disease, and yes, addiction too. If you are feeling the pain of a loved one’s substance abuse or their death, you are not alone. Over 100,000 people have died of a drug overdose in the past year alone – leaving spouses, parents, siblings, and friends behind.

How did we get here?

Americans take 80 percent of all prescription painkillers in the world. New reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area confirm that drug overdoses have surged since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in Houston and nationwide. The sharpest increases were deaths involving opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl. In the last year, fentanyl related deaths in Houston increased by 40%.

opioid crisis image

The extremity of this surge is a cause for grave concern for our team, but it only strengthens our resolve to partner with local leaders and community partners to tackle this issue comprehensively and systemically. This takes a multi-pronged approach – focused on education and awareness, providing intervention and treatment, opening doors to recovery, and when necessary supporting family and friends in their grief.

If you are one of the millions watching a loved one’s addiction spiral out of control, or if you have already lost a loved one due to an overdose, you deserve the same compassion and support others receive when they are grieving.  You need a place to turn, where your strength and courage are honored, while your grief and emotions are nurtured. The Council on Recovery is that place – a place to start when you don’t know where to turn and a place to heal.

If you, a loved one, or a client/patient is struggling with opioid use, contact us today, and we can get them the help they need. For more information on our opioid use services, download our flyer.

Houston Sports Legends in Recovery

The word is out – our speaker series will return in-person with Houston Astro and Baseball Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell as the keynote speaker at our 2021 Fall Luncheon on October 15, 2021. Along with Craig Biggio, Derek Bell and Lance Berkman, Bagwell was part of the “Killer B’s”, the core lineup for the Astros in the late 90s and early 2000s. During his run, the Astros qualified for the playoffs six times, culminating in a World Series appearance in 2005! Despite his success, Bagwell struggled with addiction, reminding us that this disease can affect anyone – even our hometown heroes. Here are three more inspiring Houston sports legends who have dedicated themselves to a life of recovery.

Houston sports legend Jeff Bagwell's induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame

John Lucas

John Lucas played on and off from 1976 to 1990 as point guard for the Houston Rockets as he struggled with substance use disorders behind the scenes. The team repeatedly suspended Lucas before he started treatment for his substance use in order to stay in the NBA. Lucas has been in recovery for more than 30 years now, and has started his own recovery program for athletes while also serving as an assistant coach for the Rockets.

Bill Worrell

A native Houstonian, Bill Worrell was one of the most prominent voices in Houston sports for four decades. Worrell served as a television broadcaster for the Houston Astros for 20 consecutive seasons, as well as the television play-by-play announcer for the Houston Rockets from the early 1980s until his retirement earlier this year. At the height of his career, he committed to a life in recovery after struggling with alcohol use, and credited his long-standing career to his sobriety.

Earl Campbell

Earl Campbell, nicknamed “The Tyler Rose,” was the Houston Oilers’ legendary running back from 1978-1984. The local-boy-turned-pro-football-star never shirked from any challenge—a quality that made him one of the great football legends of all time, but led to significant physical injuries. Campbell found relief through prescription painkillers, which eventually took over his life. In 2009, he undertook the challenge of living drug and alcohol free after his sons initiated an intervention. Campbell shared his story at our 2012 Fall Luncheon, helping The Council to raise more than $400,000 to make recovery possible for his fellow Houstonians.

To help local individuals and families get the education and treatment they need to recover from the effects of addiction, join us on October 15th at our annual fall luncheon with Jeff Bagwell. Purchase a ticket here.