Danny Waddle, EdS, LMHC, LCAC, ACHE has been at St. Vincent Stress Center for 16 years, working his way from a student intern through undergraduate and graduate programs to become a full-time counselor at the Stress Center’s adolescent intensive outpatient and partial-hospitalization, dual-diagnosis program.

Waddle also started and spent years at the Stress Center as a counselor for the young adult program, which treats both behavioral health and dual-diagnosed patients with opioid addiction.

Currently he manages all the Stress Center’s outpatient programs and the counselors for the inpatient programs.

Danny Waddle first met his patient Ashly M. when she was 12 years old struggling with depression and substance abuse. By 17, she was using heroin multiple times a day. She spent several years in the Indiana Correctional Facility. Released from there six months ago, Ashly is now 25, employed, and sober – clean from heroin use for almost three years. Ashly said she wanted to tell her story, to help educate others.

“Like Ashly, I think for young people, it’s a progression of the disease of addiction. Most young people start with alcohol and marijuana. But generally, addiction is a chronic, progressive, fatal disease which always gets worse, and for a lot of young people, they progress to opiates,” Waddle said.

Often, it’s hard to define which comes first in patients with a dual diagnosis. “I think it’s pretty evenly split between patients who have a mental illness first, like depression or anxiety, who then gravitate towards substance use, use-disorders and then, addiction” added Waddle. Then there are patients with a dual diagnosis who may not have had a mental illness, but just over time the toll that substance abuse takes on your body and brain can lead to depression and other mental health issues.

“The younger a person is when first introduced to substances and starts using them, the greater the risk is for developing an addiction. An adult who uses drugs, alcohol and mood-altering substances has about a one in 10 chance of developing addiction. For a 12-year-old, there is a 50 percent chance of developing addiction,” Waddle explained.

“Especially with adolescents or young adults, opioids flood the brain, impacting the levels of neurotransmitters in their brains. Their brains adjust, creating new neuropathways, pruning synapses and adjusting the levels of neurotransmitters, which can lead to developing new levels of drug tolerance, or mental disorders such as depression and/or anxiety.”

After many attempts, Ashly now is sober, in a 12-step program with others her age and has surrounded herself with sober friends.

“You know, addiction is an indiscriminate disease. Anyone can develop this disease,” Ashly said.