On Thursday 5th May a workshop entitled ‘Understanding Addiction, Mental Health and Concurrent Disorders’ took place at the Bull Pen Restaurant in Tyrone. It was sponsored by the Northern Blair Roundtable of Operation Our Town in conjunction with PeerStar LLC and Blair County Drug and Alcohol.
The event focused on the correlation between substance abuse and mental illness. Aleisha Albertson, deputy director of Blair County Drug and Alcohol, and Christine Butterbaugh, regional manager of PeerStar LLC, were there to provide information on the subject.
Albertson spoke first, explaining how drugs can affect the brain and sharing his experience as a certified recovery specialist.
“Addiction is similar to other illnesses in that it disrupts healthy functioning, it’s progressive and produces harmful effects, and it’s treatable,” Albertson explained. “If left untreated, it will last a person’s lifetime.”
Albertson went on to say that addictive substances such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin target the pleasure center of the brain, which causes excessive amounts of dopamine to be released throughout the body.
“The power of the reward circuitry in human beings is starting to change because ingested drugs are masquerading as natural chemicals,” Albertson said.
She then insisted on the importance of staging an intervention with a person suffering from addiction.
“Holding interventions can help raise awareness and address the level of denial about the consequences of addiction,” Albertson said. “Educating more people about how addiction works will help break down the stigma, which will hopefully encourage more people to seek help.”
After a short break, Butterbaugh rose to begin her lecture, which covered many of the most common mental health issues and the effect drugs and alcohol can have on them. She explained that a person is considered to have a concurrent disorder when they have both a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health disorder (MH DO).
“Substance use has a strong correlation with anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder,” Butterbaugh said.
She explained that a mental health disorder plays a role in how a person uses and reacts to substances, which then affects their mental health. Likewise, she added, a substance use disorder affects a person’s mental health, which in turn affects how they use a substance.
“Although mental health and addiction disorders can develop independently and separately,” Butterbaugh warned, “they become intertwined over time.”
Butterbaugh stressed the importance of understanding the link between MHDOs and SUDs, saying the two are often a dangerous combination because they tend to worsen the symptoms they both cause.
“Having two disorders that can be difficult to treat independently of each other can affect a person’s ability to function,” Butterbaugh said. “It has detrimental effects on their self-esteem, their relationships and their quality of life.”