Addiction & Recovery: Allison Esber

Allison Esber is the Systems Initiative Manager at Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery.

Allison Esber is the Systems Initiative Manager at Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery. In her role, she runs the Stark County Suicide Prevention Coalition, is the coordinator of the Stark County Opiate Task Force, assists the Drug-Free Stark County coalition and is the adult advisor for the Stark County Youth-Led Prevention.

Esber earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Walsh University, and in 2015 earned a master’s of science in social administration from Case Western Reserve University. She started her career at the Stark County Crisis Center and helped create the Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone) pilot program in Stark County. The program helps distribute naloxone, also called Narcan, which can reverse an opiate overdose.

Esber has been at StarkMHAR for about two years. “It’s very impactful, and it’s great to see all of the work that we’re doing” with our community partners, she said.

The current opiate crisis isn’t something “we can treat our way out of,” Esber said. “We need everyone to come on-board. We have great partnerships from all sectors of the community.”

Here’s what you need to know about addiction and recovery.

Understanding addiction

1.  Addiction is a disease. More specifically, it’s a brain disease “that can attack anyone from any age and any demographic,” she said. “Addiction knows no bounds.”

Addiction changes the makeup and chemistry of someone’s brain. It changes how someone experiences pleasure and can prevent them from feeling joy the way they used to, she said.

“That process is not something that turns off right away. It takes a lot of time and recovery to overcome.”

People often view addiction as a choice. Though it may start off that way, “what people don’t understand is how quickly that addiction can take hold and change someone,” Esber said.

Someone prescribed medication for a legitimate medical condition can become addicted to that substance, even if they take it as prescribed, she said.

Addiction doesn’t always involve a substance; sometimes it’s a behavior addiction such as sex, gambling or shopping.

Research shows that the majority of people know someone struggling with addiction, Esber said.

“It’s not a moral failing,” she said, adding that she’s seen folks from all incomes, backgrounds, races, genders and religions struggle with addiction.

2. Have a conversation. It’s important for parents and guardians to know how to talk to their kids about drugs and addiction.

The old “just say no” advice isn’t necessarily the best approach now, Esber said.

Parents should talk to their kids about decision-making and why it’s important to stay drug-free. At the same time, they should take steps to lock up medication and other substances and know the signs and symptoms of addiction.

Don’t avoid having the conversation. And don’t assume that a kid is too young to talk about those issues.

Parents should talk early and often about those topics, even if the conversation is broad, she said. Of course, you’ll want to scale the talk based on the child’s age.

Instead of having one big talk, try to communicate with kids regularly.

“That 5- to 10-minute conversation once a week on the way to practice is just as impactful as having that one hourlong talk,” she said.

3. Help is out there. Recovery is possible, and help is available.

If you’re struggling and want to reach out, Esber suggests calling the crisis center hotline (330-452-6000). It’s available 24/7 and can put you in touch with other resources, she said.

“It’s a good catch-all in case they’re not sure what to do,” she said.

You also can visit StarkMHAR.org for local resources on treatment and recovery. The organization works with numerous local agencies on tackling addiction.

Recovery looks different for everyone. Some people need a formal treatment program or to use a 12-step program, while others take a nontraditional route, she said. “There’s a lot of different avenues for people to enter recovery.”

If you’re concerned about someone else and you’re not sure if they are ready to seek help, you can contact the Crisis Intervention & Recovery Center (circstark.org) about counseling services. A counselor can work with you on having that conversation, she said.

It can be scary and difficult to confront someone about an addiction, she said.

It’s not as simple as just telling someone to stop, Esber added. “Their brain has physically changed… How they would have responded prior to having this addiction is not who they are now. It can be challenging if that person hasn’t decided to seek help.”