Houston, we have a problem — with chemical addictions


If Houston rarely appears on “ten best places to live” lists, the Bayou City nonetheless has much to offer: mild winters; good spring and fall weather; regular intercultural exposure; an active parks and recreation system; and opportunities in every industry from energy to hospitality to higher education to medicine.

When it comes to Luna’s medical specialty, according to ReferenceUSA there are nearly 240 behavioral-health centers in greater Houston. Unfortunately, a large recovery community also indicates a large number of people in need of recovery—many of whom have yet to make it into the actual recovery community, or even to admit they need help.

Certainly, some of Houston’s behavioral patients come from other cities and states. Definitely, drug addiction is a worldwide problem. Still, Houston residents have our own special concerns.

Location, Location, Location

On the banks of a major shipping port and less than an eight-hour drive from the Mexican border, Houston is a hubbub of international commerce—which is not limited to legal and beneficial commerce. Where transition is ongoing and few people stand out, human trafficking and, yes, drug trafficking come with the territory. Perhaps a certain disregard for “the rules” goes with the territory as well, given the reputation of proud Texans for “nobody tells me what to do” attitudes. (Any driver can testify, after a day of watching out for motorists tearing through barely-red lights and pedestrians darting across between signals, that a discernible level of “maverick” attitude prevails around here.)

My Brain Doesn’t Work Right

At least one in five problem drug users have co-occurring disorders—that is, in addition to the drug problem they have diagnosable mental illnesses, usually depressive or mood disorders. It’s a chicken-and-egg question as to what might cause what, but obviously proper treatment for mental illness can reduce addiction risk.

Unfortunately, in Houston—indeed, throughout Texas—proper treatment for mental illness is relatively hard to come by. Despite the dozens of psychiatric and behavioral-health options available to Houstonians, access to those options remains largely a luxury of the well-off. Many local psychiatrists are not included among major insurance companies’ recognized health providers, which also creates a patient-backlog problem for psychiatrists who do take insurance. In allocation of public funds for mental-health issues, Texas consistently ranks at or near the bottom among U. S. states. And state government’s decision to reject Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act cost Texans an opportunity to have affordable mental-health care more widely available.

It’s become an oft-quoted sentiment in Houston’s mental-health community: The Harris County correctional system is the largest mental hospital in Texas. If you get jailed—for any offense—mental health treatment is among the basic needs automatically provided for. In the free world, you’re pretty much on your own.

Stress City

While high stress levels are practically a badge of honor throughout the modern U. S. A., Houston has the dubious pleasure of being on an official honor roll: a 2014 CNN survey ranked us the fifth most stressed out city in the country. One of the top factors by which CNN measured stress was “commute times,” and in that category Houston fares even worse: The Business Journals rated us #2 in the nation (behind Atlanta) for long, miserable daily commutes. Greater Houston covers over 1,600 square miles, much of that area unserved or under-served by public transportation—which means that sitting behind the wheel and watching the crawling rush-hour traffic is a responsibility imposed upon an inordinate number of individual commuters. It doesn’t help that some of the city’s major employers (including Johnson Space Center and several medical centers) are in the far outskirts, accessible only by miles of crowded freeway.

(And while I don’t know if any actual research has been conducted on it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Houston’s long, sultry summers were also a factor in high stress.)

Doctor, I Want a Pill!

Surprisingly, Houston’s enormous yet still overloaded medical system may bear part of the responsibility for creating local addiction issues. The last thing I want is to scapegoat hardworking and dedicated doctors who already have more than their share of worries about impulsive malpractice suits. And certainly no individual doctor or medical center can be blamed for the legal red tape that makes providing treatment such a complicated issue, or for overall shortage of providers, or the tendency of patients to demand “quick fixes.”

Yet the fact remains: many, many addictions start as legitimate prescriptions, especially of opioid painkillers. The American Society of Addiction Medicine estimates that around 19,000 people die annually from prescription-painkiller overdoses, and that nearly two million people are diagnosably addicted to their prescriptions. (Side note: cancer patients are among the top consumers of painkillers, and Houston is home quarters for prominent cancer center MD Anderson, which means that a high percentage of our resident and transient population are under treatment for cancer.)

We’re Here to Help
Any way you look at it, Houston’s substance-abuse problem is real. Fortunately, the potential for treatment and recovery is also real. If you or someone close to you is struggling with addiction to alcohol, prescription opioids, or any other chemical substance—or even if you only suspect there might be a problem—Luna Recovery may be just what you need. We take insurance; we provide individual care and attention for patients and their families; and, perhaps best of all, we’re completely local, easy to reach from virtually anywhere in Houston proper.

Contact us with your questions today!

For further research on local substance abuse: