Texas Tech University

CFAS Creates New Structure for Addiction Recovery Research, Support

Heidi Toth

August 10, 2015

The Institute for the Study of Addiction, Recovery, & Families houses three centers, each with a different focus on community and family systems.

Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery
Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities

The Department of Community, Family and Addiction Sciences (CFAS) at Texas Tech University covers a broad spectrum of issues – marriage and family therapy, addiction recovery studies and a collegiate recovery center that provides support and mentoring for college students in recovery. To better serve a diverse group of people and research interests, the department created the Institute for the Study of Addiction, Recovery & Families and three centers to collaborate on a number of projects related to addiction, recovery and families.

Shumway & Harris
Sterling Shumway
and Kitty Harris

CFAS department chairman Sterling Shumway and professor Kitty Harris are co-directors of the institute, which is composed of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities, directed by Thomas Kimball; the Center for Addiction Recovery Research, directed by  Spencer Bradshaw; and the Center for Family Systems Research and Intervention, directed by Nicole Springer and Doug Smith. The new structure replaces the previous Center for the Study of Addiction Recovery, which previously housed all addiction recovery activities, including research, support and clinic work.

Shumway said creating the institute and centers will allow for greater collaboration not only among Texas Tech faculty but also with researchers throughout the state and nation and create a larger footprint when seeking out grants and donations.

“All of our faculty and staff are taking greater levels of responsibility to build our academic programs and the institute and centers, increasing collaboration, funding and resources,” he said. “For the most part they're all doing the same things, just in a more strategic and effective way. We've pulled them together into these places that identify what they're doing and asked them to do a little more.”

The institute remains part of the College of Human Sciences.

Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities (CRC)

Kimball said college can be an excellent experience for students who are in recovery, but it also is fraught with difficulties given the drinking and drug use that occurs among college students. That doesn't mean students in recovery can't succeed, they just need some unique help.

Kimball & Bradshaw
Thomas Kimball
and Spencer Bradshaw

The CRC's primary purpose is supporting students in recovery. Texas Tech was one of the first universities in the nation to create a support system for students in recovery for drug or alcohol addiction. Through the years the program has grown from 25 students to 120. As funding and resources increase, the CRC helps more students.

“What we found from our research is if you provide the right kind of support to people in recovery on college campuses, they do incredibly well,” Kimball said. “They do better as far as academic performance, their GPAs are higher than the general population and they graduate at a higher rate while maintaining their recovery.

“I'll put my 120 students against any group of 120 students across the world.”

The center provides scholarships, academic counseling and support and meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and eating disorder support groups. A nutritionist is available to help students improve their health and well-being.

Those 120 students also have their own physical space. The CRC built a new, donor-funded building in 2006. While it includes meeting rooms and faculty offices, the basement, accessible to center members only, has a game room, computer lab, study areas and a kitchen.

Springer & Smith
Nicole Springer
and Doug B Smith

“We know there's at least one space on campus that is completely alcohol- and drug-free,” Kimball said.

The program itself has existed at Texas Tech for three decades. The university was one of four throughout the nation to create a support system for students in recovery and has been a leader since. Kimball said the success of the community is because of donors who support the CRC through donations for scholarships and operating expenses.

Additionally, CRC students are active members in their community. The Association of Students about Service, to which all 120 students in recovery belong, plans drug- and alcohol-free community activities, educates others regarding the dangers of drug use and the promise of recovery and provides service to the Lubbock and Texas Tech communities.

“The great thing about people in recovery is they'll also do tremendous amounts of service to the Lubbock community and the Texas Tech community,” he said. “Part of recovery is serving other people.”

Any student who is seeking recovery can go to the center for help, Kimball said, and they will direct students to resources. Students who wish to be an active member and receive a scholarship must apply to the program and have at least a year of sobriety before entering.

Center for Addiction Recovery Research (CARR)

Researchers throughout the world are examining addiction. While it's important, that's not what Texas Tech has highlighted.

“We're more focused on recovery than addiction,” Bradshaw said. “That's what we want to be known for nationally and internationally.”

That includes using neuroimaging technology to compare addicted and recovering brains and track the brain through recovery. In the same way researchers can see the brain change as it becomes addicted, they can see it change as recovery takes hold.

To better understand the physiological aspects of recovery, researchers measure heart rate, eye muscle movement, blood flow in the frontal cortex and electrical charges of the skin when exposed to various stimuli, such as a picture of a glass of wine. Their purpose is to better understand addiction and recovery, Bradshaw said, allowing for more effective treatments. 

“I think the general consensus here is we all really value people and the personal struggle people have with recovery, and that's going to be our end goal after we filter down through all of our other processes and research,” he said. “It's to really help people.”

Current research includes a study on how the frontal cortex, the brain's center for decision-making, changes in a recovering alcoholic over time and how effective coping can change brain activity and help an addict recover more quickly. Center faculty members also do clinical research with recovering addicts and their families to learn more about addiction recovery and contribute to long-term recovery.

Another interesting study, which has produced only preliminary data, appears to show family members of an addict can become addicted to their loved one in the same way the addict is addicted to a drug. If a family member allows his or her well-being and identity to become so wrapped up in the addict's life and recovery, that person's brain may change in ways similar to the brain of a person with a chemical dependency.

“When we show family members a picture of whoever is the addict or alcoholic, the way their brain responds is similar to the way the alcoholic's brain responds when they see alcohol,” Bradshaw said.

CFAS faculty members also are looking at behavioral addictions, including food addiction and pornography, and Bradshaw is hoping more researchers will use the resources the centers offers. He's already seen an uptick in interest among other CFAS faculty about the center's research and possible collaborations following the creation of the Center for Addiction Recovery Research.

Center for Family Systems Research and Intervention

The Center for Family Systems Research and Intervention is the only completely new center under the institute's umbrella, though its Family Therapy Clinic, in conjunction with the marriage and family therapy (MFT) graduate program, has been in place since 1981. Springer and Smith direct the center, with Springer's primary focus being the clinical work.

The clinic provides graduate students the opportunity for real-world experience as well as filling a need for affordable family therapy. Services are offered on a sliding pay scale, with session fees ranging from $10 to $70. Student therapists see between 7,000 and 8,000 people a year. In the last five years, students have spent 34,000 hours providing therapy.

“We fill a gap for people who don't have mental health coverage via health insurance plans,” Springer said.

Because of research on intimate partner violence Smith is doing, the clinic has implanted a screening protocol for violence in couples or families. Not every patient will divulge that information, but it's critical to know before approaching relationship issues.

“Every couple who comes into the clinic is screened for violence, and if there is violence then we have a brief intervention protocol that we go through to make sure it's safe to work with them,” Smith said. “Couples therapy can bring up emotional issues. In a couple where there's violence and you don't know about it, the risk is that you bring up sensitive topics and they go home and violence occurs.”

He has a research interest in intimate partner violence as well. Smith is doing neuroimaging research comparing women who have experienced domestic violence to those who haven't. Although it's only a pilot study at this point, he's hoping to enlarge it.

“The basic difference we're finding is women who have never been in violent relationships, when they see people in conflict they engage parts of their brain that have to do with emotional reasoning and conflict and things like this,” he said. “Women who have been in violent relationships don't seem to engage the same parts of the brain. They may have more of a limbic response, meaning they engage the parts of the brain associated with fight or flight, with survival, which is not all that surprising.”

Springer's work outside of the clinic focuses on medical family therapy, a subspecialty that helps to create integrative care between a patient receiving medical care, the family and the medical staff and physicians. Often a medical crisis brings out emotions that are difficult to deal with, and the therapist can be the liaison between all the parties. She has created partnerships with Covenant Women's and Children's Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Southwest to provide support during a medical crisis, injury or chronic childhood illness.

Ultimately, the professors say the education, training and research conducted by faculty affiliated with the Center for Family Systems Research and Intervention will have life-changing benefits for individuals, families and communities. The same is true of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities and the Center for Addiction Recovery Research. Shumway said the Institute for Addiction, Recovery and Families serves as an excellent example of improving and enhancing the human condition, which is the mission of the College of Human Sciences.