Substance Use Disorder Counselor Rebecca Jones: ‘When it comes to substance abuse … the disease does not discriminate.’
Rebecca Jones knows the devastating pain and far-reaching effect of addiction.
She lost her job, her home, her family.
“I lost just about everything,” says Jones, who was addicted to alcohol for almost two decades before getting sober. “But I got it all back.”
It’s a life-changing experience that she shares with some – but not all – of her patients at Western Sierra Medical Clinic.
“Every obstacle, every consequence thrown my way, made me stronger,” says Jones, who joined Western Sierra as a Substance Use Disorder Counselor in late 2021.
Her alcohol abuse and the battle to overcome it encouraged the former reporter-writer-research editor for magazines to change careers and take the courses necessary to become certified to help others fighting substance use.
“When you work through it yourself, it puts you in good stead to build a rapport (with patients),” says Jones. “It can help you make a deep and profound connection.”
But every patient – and situation – is unique, she says. Some are ready to address their addiction and embrace the fight, while others will continue to struggle with the disease. And while inspiring to many, some patients don’t want to hear success stories of others overcoming addiction.
“Everybody’s path is different,” she says.
And Jones helps patients find their right path, regardless of their addiction and situation.
About 80% of her patients are battling drug addiction, with opioids often the problem. Western Sierra’s Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program combines medication with behavioral health treatment to provide a “whole patient” approach to treating patients addicted to opioids. About one of every five of her patients are dealing with alcohol abuse.
“When it comes to substance abuse disorder, the disease does not discriminate,” Jones says. “But you can access change. There is support out there.”
At Western Sierra, it often starts with Jones, who works at the Grass Valley and Auburn clinics. She meets and assesses new patients, and is the first point of contact for the MAT program. She also works closely with other health care professionals – from the behavioral health team to primary-care providers – to determine the best treatment for patients.
Of course, a big part of treatment is learning about patients, from their challenges to their needs.
“I draw a lot from my magazine experience, where I learned how to listen when I was reporting and researching,” says Jones, who has worked for numerous publications, including Wirecutter.com, Food Network Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal and Glamour. “You have to listen to (patients’) stories, how they got to where they are and help change their behaviors. We can’t do it for them, but we can give them the tools.”
The tools needed – and the time required – for treatment depends on the patient. Every patient is unique. For some, treatment could be a few months. Others may need a few years or longer.
“We just want to help people,” she says. “We’re all in this together.”
Sometimes a change of scenery helps those fighting substance use. For Jones, moving back “home” to Nevada County from New York City helped.
She was born and raised in the Bay Area, but attended a boarding school for high school on a farm in Nevada County. In her early-20s, Jones studied meditation and yoga, and she taught both in India and upstate New York. She later moved back to the United States, and the aspiring poet and writer lived in New York City for almost two decades, working for well-known magazines.
But she became addicted to alcohol and her life unraveled. She lost her career, home and family. Addressing her addiction has helped Jones put the pieces together, including rebuilding the relationship with her family.
“I hope nobody going forward has to do that,” she says of what she lost to substance use. “If I can help even one person … that means the world to me.”
Away from work, Jones enjoys nature and being outdoors. She likes to hike and is always looking for a body of water – the beach, a lake or Yuba River – for a swim, and spending time with her two cats.
But free time is hard to find. She attends classes every Saturday to become a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor through the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals in Sacramento.
“I love learning.”