How long have you worked at the university?
I have taught since 2010, and then I have been here as full-time faculty since 2011. I took a six-month hiatus where I didn’t work at the university in 2016. When I left for six months I did recovery advocacy work. I left because I got offered a lot more money and I thought money would make me happier. It was good for me because I missed teaching and realized money isn’t good if you aren’t happy. Coming back to campus refocused me on my teaching and not necessarily on the extra stuff I was doing within recovery.
What classes do you teach?
I mainly teach the intro to the Addiction Treatment Services minor (From the UNR website: The minor, available to all students, is particularly designed for those who are majoring in a health or social service field and are interested in the addiction treatment field as a supplement to their major.) It’s the intro to Substance Abuse Disorders and then every now and then I will teach another class if it pops up but nothing consistent.
What are some of the things you talk about in your classes?
Well, they are about addiction. Some of the cool things I get to do is going to fraternities and sororities and talk about alcohol and drugs. My number one goal is to teach students to question themselves. If you never question yourself then that is how you end up in places that you don’t want to end up in. For me, as someone who is in recovery and as someone who went through my active addiction on campus, I just dismissed it because I just thought it was sort of college. I dismissed it and everyone else did too because it was just part of the college experience.
I think for me it is teaching students to question why they are using and how would you know if the drugs or the use was taken more of you than you are willing to give it. It is such a gradual thing and it almost is too late once you realize and you are going to have to put in work. I see students all the tie who are struggling with stuff. I have students right now that can’t go more than a couple of days without using oxy and who are actively trying to give it up but not necessarily willing to do what it takes to get there because of the stigma. The most important thing is knowing you have a problem and then finding out what you need to do to get help. The stigma prevents a lot of people from getting the help they need.
What led you to seek a career in teaching about substance abuse?
Nothing led me, actually it just happened. I was a graduate student in my first addiction class, and a professor here asked if I ever thought about teaching, and I was like 'nope.' I don’t like talking to people in public or public speaking or any of that stuff. She told me I should try it and I did a TA position, and then I taught my own class and fell in love with it. None of what I’m doing did I ever plan or go after. It kind of just happened. My focus then narrows as I try other stuff.
What kind of campaigns do you run at the University of Nevada, Reno?
Not really campaigns. Our theme is consent-positive and to be a good bystander. We do a different presentation theme every year. This year we did Mindful AF, which is talking about being mindful and fabulous. Talking about how consent is like mindfulness and being present when drinking, being mindful about your drinking and being a mindful bystander.
What do you think about the drug culture with students at UNR?
It is interesting because I found that every college is about the same, (even though) every university thinks they are the party university. All the drugs are the same and they are mostly all experimental, so tons of alcohol use and tons of marijuana use. Even in Colorado, the issues are the same issues that are happening in other schools. I think all the trends are all the same between schools. If you look at the binge drinking average we are right in line with the national average. There are differences between community colleges and the more rural areas.
What are the new trends that you’ve noticed?
I think we are shifting more back to Adderall, coke, and Molly which are more like stimulants. I would also say hallucinogens are popping back up. Cocktail parties are also a thing that is more and more popular, especially in high school. It went away for a while because people were more cautious about taking things they weren’t sure what they were, but now these parties are back on the rise.
I think for me, I don’t think there are many new drugs, I think there are new variations of drugs, like fentanyl which is fairly new, but it is just a more potent form of an opioid. There has been a shift of uppers and downers between every decade, like in the 80’s it was coke and then in the 90s, it was crack and so on. Recently it has been Adderall and coke that are on the rise again.
The drugs nowadays are also so much potent than it used to be. The fact that weed is now legal for recreational use it is almost the same as the Adderall problem because students see no negative with it, which is what sucks about addiction because you don’t realize you have a problem until you’ve lost too much. Most students don’t even think of weed as a drug anymore even though it has the same potential as some of these other drugs to lead to negative consequences. It also has the addictive potential the only real difference is that you can’t overdose on it. I think that trend has been made ever more safe so I think that more people are going to start using it and they are going to start using it at a higher dose than what average people were doing before it was legalized. I think the trend is not to talk about the education but talk about the negative consequences, which does not work.
What are some of the other thing you can touch on relating to students and drugs and in particular students at UNR and drugs?
There are a couple of things. We always want to advise on how to fix the problem, but that depends on the individual and their support and what they need. Would treatment work? Would programming work? Would AA work? I think there are so many different options. I think the most important thing is really learning to believe to separate yourself from your addiction and that your addiction is not you and to separate from the shame that comes with it. Telling yourself, you can do it or be instilling hope that life gets better because it does. I have met, I don’t how many people who are sober and people who have given up fantastic careers to get sober. I have never met anyone who has gotten sober that says 'I wish I never got sober.' It’s a scary thing, but everyone I have met has made their lives infinitely better.
How can you tell if a student needs help?
I tell students I am always open and I am not gonna judge you when it comes to drugs and alcohol and stuff. I just tell them I am always free and they can always reach out to me. I get a lot of students who reach out who are like 'hey man I might have an issue with this' or 'I am worried about a friend.' I think its hard because the classes I teach have a ton of students so it’s hard for me to know who is there and who isn’t. I can barely know all my students names. It is hard because when you are busy with school, sports, or even Greek Life it is normal to pass out in class. I have to rely on reaching out and for my classes, you have to give up something for nine weeks and a lot of the students choose a substance so it comes out then.
Finally, do you have any tips on how to help students who might be addicted?
I think it is always just reaching out and encourage other students to use the services that are provided to them. We have an LADC (Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor) on campus that people don’t know about because she is in student conduct, but you don’t have to go through student conduct to talk to her. She is a part of the counseling services, but students don’t know she exists. She can do free assessments, which usually cost a lot of money and students usually have to have insurance for. We have really good groups between like counselors and nutritionists that you have to pay a lot of money for and students have them for free. It is (also) important to remain the compassionate friend who is like 'I am saying this because I care about you and I am here if you need me.' If students know their friends care they will eventually be able to hear it.