[Noozhawk’s note: This article is part of Day 11 in Noozhawk’s 12-day, six-week special investigative series, Prescription for Abuse. Related links are below.]
Name: Lacey Johnson
Role: Drug and alcohol counselor
For UCSB students seeking information and help with drugs, alcohol and addiction, Lacey Johnson is the go-to woman on campus. With a master’s degree specializing in family therapy, Johnson has served as a counselor with UCSB’s Alcohol & Drug Program for almost five years.
As drug and alcohol abuse has become an increasingly critical issue for students at UCSB, Johnson has played a vital role in maintaining the health and well-being of the student community.
“I’ve seen a rise in anxiety and stress levels are at an all time high,” Johnson told Noozhawk. “Students have a sense of expectation when they come to UCSB. They want to work hard and play hard, but they can’t do it all.”
And with this increase in anxiety and stress, Johnson said she has seen a rise in the use and mixture of powerful and dangerous substances among some students.
“I’ve heard some students say that it’s easier for them to get heroin or OxyContin out in Isla Vista than it is other substances,” said Johnson. “Acid has become popular again, too. It’s like the 1970s all over again. Students are very curious about it.”
With the prevalence of drug use in Isla Vista, Johnson and her colleagues provide necessary individual and group counseling for students in need. Along with campus-wide campaigns aimed at educating students about the warning signs of alcohol poisoning and drug overdose, the Alcohol & Drug Program offers counseling to students whose roommates, friends or family members may be suffering from substance abuse.
“Our approach philosophically is not an abstinence-only idea,” said Johnson. “We certainly don’t condone underage drinking or drug use, but we recognize that students will do that. We want to educate them. Students leave here appreciating the way the information is delivered, and many come back on their own.”
During her tenure with the UCSB program, Johnson has worked with students suffering from a wide range of addictions and dependencies.
“We have seen more and more students with different kinds of addictions outside of drugs and alcohol, like gambling, video games and Internet porn,” Johnson said. “Many times there are psychological issues that are driving their behavior. We help these students and refer them to other resources.”
Johnson cites her own college experience as the reason why she has chosen a career helping students with drugs, alcohol and addiction. As a member of the Greek community in college, Johnson witnessed alcohol and drug abuse firsthand, and had friends die from drug overdoses.
“For me it’s been a way for me to give back to those people,” she said.
But while a career helping students struggling with addiction has been incredibly rewarding, Johnson explained that it can bring an immense level of frustration, too.
“It’s taken years of practice to have appropriate boundaries and to realize I’m here to help students, but I can’t change things,” she said. “It’s a blessing and a curse to care so much. I have more success stories than the latter, but it can be very disappointing at times, and discouraging.
“But that’s the nature of working in the field of addiction. When someone is addicted to something, it’s a lifelong struggle.”