Guest Post by Alissa Cannon, Substance Misuse Prevention Coordinator -
I'm an advocate for recovery.
I wholeheartedly support recovery and its purpose. But, it's not MY purpose. My purpose lies in the prevention of substance misuse. My purpose is collaborating with people who work with, live with and/or care about children, youth, and young adults. I work with and for those who have experienced traumatic life events and/or are challenged every day with mental health issues. I work to prevent or reduce the misuse of substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription medication and other drugs.
What does that mean, exactly?
- I engage partners to set up systems of support that wrap children, youth and young adults with love and compassion so they know just how resilient and strong they are and can be.
- I educate youth, parents and caregivers about the dangers of using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. I tell them how it affects the developing brain, how kids are more likely to become addicted to these substances the earlier they use them, and how decision-making abilities are not at their peak performance while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.
- I strive for effective policy changes with local law enforcement, schools, and government officials that support and promote non-use of these dangerous substances for children and youth.
- I brainstorm with committees that focus on a critical shortage in the mental health support workforce to develop retention so they can continue offering these services.
- I strategize with business owners and managers to offer comprehensive workplace policy resources for safer and healthier work environments.
- I collaborate with local community coalitions and educators to research and support evidence-based programming in schools and community-based settings.
I spend most of my time creating lasting relationships and simply connecting the dots for people who need resources. I pull people together, because I know things would have been different for me if I had these types of resources as I was growing up.
Both my own and my family's histories are spotted with substance misuse, mental health disorders, and numerous traumatic events. I never named myself a person with an addiction, so I don't consider myself to be in recovery. I did, however, spend many years self-medicating with alcohol, and occasionally prescription medication.
Looking back, there was nothing anyone could have done to stop any of the traumatic events I experienced in my life – events like death, divorce, violence, suicide and substance misuse. My own substance use started early as a way to cope, and I have spent the many years since fighting an uphill battle.
I know that my family, had they known the effects of trauma and were comfortable talking about the issues, could have given me the support that I needed. I don't blame them in the least, though. They worked with what they had and what they knew. Stigma, lack of resources, and lack of education were all key factors that hindered our healthy living as individuals and as a family. It's important as individuals to learn how to recognize the effects of traumatic events have on those you care about – especially young children.
It is also important to understand that self-medication using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs is common when people try to cope with experienced trauma. Substance use also runs in my family and it was crucial for me to recognize what that could mean for me as I got older. By educating myself over the years, and by learning from others, I'm also now aware that I was/am genetically pre-disposed to develop a substance use disorder. Coupled with my early use, the biological tendency to become addicted to substances was overwhelming.
For me, there has been a very strong correlation between mental health and substance misuse. In my life, they seem to go hand in hand. However, not everyone with mental health issues uses substances and not everyone that uses substances has mental health issues. I have to remain vigilant in order to keep myself healthy. I have to continue learning from what I experienced as a child, teen and young adult.
New Hampshire is in a very unique and beneficial position with having created 13 Regional Public Health Networks who focus solely on health promotion, substance misuse prevention, treatment and recovery, mental health, emergency preparedness and other facets of public health (heart disease, stroke, obesity, nutrition, etc.). We're here for the whole health of our communities and our homes. We study, we talk, we collaborate, we engage, we want to help – and we all have to move forward together.
Every day, I get to work to create change.
I get to work for the possibility that someone somewhere will have a happier and more fulfilling future because of something I've done.
I love every minute of it.
Substance Misuse Prevention Coordinator
ONE Voice for Strafford County
Strafford County Public Health Network
Goodwin Community Health
About the Author
Alissa has been working in the community outreach and prevention fields for the last 13 years, in both Louisiana and New Hampshire. Having worked in and closely with almost all of the sectors represented, she has knowledge and insight to successful ways of engaging businesses, educators, law enforcement, and community organizations. She has a passion for people, and she loves getting to know how she can help mobilize and empower them to create positive changes in their homes, communities, and workplaces.
Having been born and raised in south Louisiana, Alissa brings a bit of experience with culture differences to New Hampshire and has used that experience to understand that there are more ways than one to reach someone. She feels that we just have to find out what they fight for. Once we do that, we can tailor our efforts to reach them and engage them.
She decided that New Hampshire was where she officially wanted to plant her roots and lives in Barrington with her wife and their two rescue dogs – Conrad and Gronk.