News Article Details

Professionals discuss roots of substance abuse, autism, more

Times West Virginian - 5/14/2019

May 14-- May 14--WHITE HALL -- Prevention of substance use disorders can play a vital role in the fight against the drug epidemic.

Stopping people from becoming addicted before they start using drugs can help them avoid mental health trauma and turmoil that can be harder to manage once a disorder takes shape.

This was the goal of the Harrison County Family Resource Network which hosted a Brain Science Conference Monday at the Robert H. Mollohan Center to help individuals understand not only the minds of those going through substance abuse issues, but their own minds as well.

"It's understanding 'What is it,'" said Elizabeth Shahan, executive director of the Harrison County Family Resource Network. "Part of understanding substance abuse and mental health is understanding the science about how all that happens in the brain."

According to Shahan, the nonprofit organization held this workshop in the name of information, aware that people don't know the facts about substance abuse disorders, let alone their own minds.

"Too often a lot of misinformation gets tossed around," Shahan said. "This allows a person to understand more what is the reality versus what is the information passed around."

In order to spread this information, Shahan and the FRN gathered professionals from different areas of expertise to discuss in open workshops a certain aspect of their field.

Those present at the conference could travel to different tables where professionals were prepared with props and notes to discuss different topics about the brian.

"I'll be going over a couple sample practices with them and also what's going on in the brain with a mindful practice," said Michael Kuba, a retired psychology professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. "An explanation allows some people to hold on to something that gives them some grounding and says 'This is why I experience what I do.'"

By knowing about the mind and why it functions the way it does at any given time, Kuba said an individual can better manage their own thoughts to help them gain control of a situation, including those who have with mental health issues.

"It's some knowledge that can be helpful compared to 'This is something that's part of me and is going to be there forever,'" Kuba said. "In the mindful practice we look at 'The mind is the flow of energy and information,' and so we can shift that with our attention."

Not every workshop leader was aimed at strictly prevention. Other presenters discussed such aspects as the development and interior thoughts of the brain.

"Many people would categorize someone who has autism as someone who has a disability," said Denise Campbell, a representative for the West Virginia Autism Supportive Center. "Trying to get people to understand that people with autism are very highly intelligent, and when you can get into what really makes them tick, you can get them to do amazing things."

As Shahan explained, helping people understand the brain was the purpose of several presenters at the conference, and Campbell's education on the topic of autism was an attempt to teach guests that everyone functions differently in their thoughts.

"It's a little bit different, but it's still a brain and it still functions," Campbell said. "I just wanted to share that autism is hard for people to understand because it's on a spectrum of people who can be considered high-functioning all the way to someone who is non-verbal who does not speak."

Being one of six prevention lead organizations in West Virginia, Shahan said the Harrison County FRN is working to end stigmas attached to substance abuse. She said stigma is the main aspect preventing the user from seeking help.

"There is a whole thing that happens in our head that's not just 'Well they're just crazy,'" Shahan said. "It's nothing to be ashamed of and we want to make sure people understand that."

The Brain Science Conference continues today at the Mollohan Center, with registration beginning at 8 a.m.

Email Eddie Trizzino at and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.


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