Undergraduates Blog about From Research to Recovery Town Hall

During the From Research to Recovery Town Hall hosted by the COBE and the Department of Behavioral Health and Human Services undergraduate students in Dr. Amy Adkins’ class blogged about the presentations they found most interesting.

Attached below are two blog posts from her students as well as videos of the lectures they recapped.

Alcohol Use Disorder Research at VCU by Kathryn Wardrup

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) on its own is currently affecting about 7.2% of adults 18 and over in the United States according to the National Institute of Health, however that statistic does not include the wide spectrum of the disorder or the high instances of other psychological diseases that often occur comorbidly with AUD.

At the COBE symposium Dr. Christina Sheerin addressed the high instances of comorbidity between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), AUD, and trauma-related drinking. Due to the anxiolytic effects of alcohol, it is often used/abused as means to cope with traumatic events, which can lead to the observed high levels of comorbidity between AUD and PTSD.

Drinking to cope is a common phenomenon, but as with any disorder, there is a spectrum: Dr. Sheerin reported that nearly half of patients seeking treatment for AUD meet the criteria for PTSD and the co-occurrence of this two disorders is often tied to more severe symptoms. The relationship between PTSD and AUD is also bidirectional: PTSD can cause those affected to turn to self-medication via substance abuse as means to cope with their trauma, but high levels of alcohol use also predisposes individuals to being placed in more dangerous situations which could cause accidents leading to PTSD.

The implications of Dr. Sheerins work are that when examining patients with AUD, the care provider should be thorough in screening for other psychiatric ailments, care providers and the general public should be mindful of past traumatic events because trauma is psychologically difficult to recover from, especially in conjunction with a substance abuse disorder.

Following Dr. Sheerins talk on trauma and AUD, was a talk by PhD candidate Megan Cooke which focused in on the neurobiological consequences of alcohol abuse: alcohol use is often used for its rewarding feelings it provides the consumer as well as its anxiolytic effects which can be used as a method of stress relief. These seemingly positive effects can be attributed to activation of pathways in the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, however Megan showed brain scans with a fMRI that demonstrated decreased response to potentially dangerous situations. This has implications for the health of those who use alcohol such as finding themselves in dangerous situations involving alcohol, such as driving while intoxicated, you are more at risk for not recognizing a dangerous situation behind the wheel.

All of the talks at COBE had important health implications, and the intersection of research, the student body, staff, and the involvement of Rams in Recovery is something very unique to VCU which I think is crucial to helping facilitate healthy attitudes towards alcohol use on campus and shedding stigmas surrounding recovery.

Opioid Addiction in Youth by Jason McLeod

On April 18th, Dr. Marc Fishman spoke at the COBE symposium about his research in opioid addiction in youths. Dr. Fishman presented us with a case scenario of an opioid-addicted youth and asked us to brainstorm the best course of treatment. It was much more difficult because the youth had already been treated for opioid addiction, but didnt complete their program. They also didnt follow their treatment guideline and sold some of their medication to help with withdrawals. I feel that this was an important scenario to talk about as we normally think getting a person help for their addiction is the biggest hurdle, however as Dr. Fishman explained, its only the beginning.

Besides the standard protocols, Fishman brought up an interesting form of treatment: family support. Fishman explains that by the time the youth is in treatment, most family members feel like theyve done all they can or they feel like theyve already done so much to try and get the individual help that they need to start healing themselves. Especially when a lot of treatment programs out there dont readily involve the family in the plan of care. Dr. Fishman explains that teaching the family ways to empower themselves and the recovery addict will lead to greater success in long-term recovery.