AU taking stride to combat addictions epidemic

Gracie Wilson, Collegian Managing Editor

Dwight Schar College of Education building where many psychology and addictions classes are held. (THE COLLEGIAN)

Everybody on campus looks similar these days. Listening to music with headphones in as they rush to the next class. They give a masked smile or nod to each person that passes by them, but the interaction stops there. 

Students and faculty breeze past one another every day, probably failing to realize that 1 in 8 adults struggled with alcohol and drug usage as of 2017 according to American Addiction Centers. 

A whole other world lives within adults who struggle with these issues, and in today’s world where it is needed most, higher education is coming along to help these people in need. Ashland University is making strides toward educating on the nature of addiction and combating addictive tendencies in campuses, homes, neighborhoods and futures by implementing a minor in addictions that students can add to their degree plan. 

The addictions, counseling, prevention and human services department started in 2019 and is now in the hands of assistant professors Emma Kulbis and Alisha Dennis-Brinson, who began teaching at AU in 2020.

“Our aim is just to educate our students about addictions,” Dennis-Brinson said. As students progress in their courses, they get experience practicing their skills.

“It’s a great course for anyone that’s in education or…communications, criminal justice, because we think it’s the foundation of working with people at those early stages and kind of educating people on addiction,” Dennis-Brinson continued.

This minor can be especially useful in specific professions where addictions are encountered on a regular basis. 

“If they’re in criminal justice and they want to be in law enforcement, they are going to have to deal with addiction; that is incredibly common,” Kulbis said. “So, we might as well prepare them for what kinds of things they may see or hear, signs and symptoms, [and] how to talk to these clients that come to them. It can be any profession that addiction has a hand in.”

Looking out for the signs and symptoms of people who may be facing an addiction is one of the ways that students can learn to help people in their own communities. Outward signs students can look out for, according to the Mayo Clinic website, are missing normally attended events, weight changes, redness in the eyes, secrecy about actions and decreased levels of energy. 

“A lot of college students do use or drink,” Kulbis said. “Oftentimes, binge drinking is common on and around college campuses and sometimes college students are sort of experimenting and the problem with addiction is that you can’t always tell when it’s gone too far.”

These habits in college students may be more common than meets the eye. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 55 percent of college students drink at least once a month and in that same time, 37 percent participate in binge drinking. 

“Growing up, I have always felt as if addictions and mental health was a taboo subject that was not supposed to be talked about,” Emily Troyer, a junior majoring in psychology said. “I want to help change that and normalize asking for help.” 

Most of the time people want to get the help they know they need but are not sure of where to go, Dennis-Brinson said. “Having those resources available to them is really important too, like knowing where to turn.” 

Awareness of the problem and the drive to provide resources for those in need is just a part of the addictions program at AU. Kulbis and Dennis-Brinson want to make sure all areas of the addictions field are discussed. Addiction is not limited to what happens after the patient is diagnosed, in fact, it begins well before that with making people aware from a younger age that substance abuse and addiction are serious issues.

“I know everybody used to have a D.A.R.E program in school and they have kind of gotten rid of that, but I know there are lots of programs out there that provide prevention for schools,” Dennis-Brinson said. 

According to the D.A.R.E website, their program of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) “envisions a world in which students everywhere are empowered to respect others and choose to live lives free from violence, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors.”

“Many of our students came in and said, ‘I didn’t realize [addiction] was a brain disease,’” Dennis-Brinson said. “I think getting that out there and letting people know is so important. Knowledge is power, right?” 

In implementing this program at AU, faculty and students are taking that next step to spread awareness, spark prevention and help people struggling with addictions find help. 

“With Ashland cutting back on a lot of programs, it can be difficult to see it as the caring place it used to be. ‘Accent on the Individual’ needs to not only highlight our strengths, but also our flaws,” Troyer concluded. “I believe having our addictions program can help show that we are not always perfect, but we are always able to grow and better ourselves.”