Prevent repeat behaviors by treating alcohol addiction

May 17, 2010 

Alcohol abuse is a public health epidemic that causes countless problems. This epidemic has many faces. Teenagers often drink to get drunk and have fun while adults may drink to relax or celebrate.

Unfortunately, sometimes drinking goes bad and causes devastating tragedies. There have been a number of these tragedies right here in Centre County. Many people only notice alcohol problems when they become shocking, as in a close friend dying from an alcohol-related crash or disease.

The number of people who are cited for DUI in our community troubles me. Our local police departments spend a lot of time and energy targeting these drivers to make our community safe.

We need more programs for prevention, early detection, counseling and treatment to address the range of alcohol-related problems in our community.

It’s better to treat people for the problem than to put them in jail for minor offenses, because many of these offenders head for trouble again because they still suffer from alcohol addiction.

Has our society ever resolved a public health epidemic by locking up the individuals suffering from the epidemic? Alcohol abuse is not just a behavior. Alcoholism is a disabling addictive disorder that is characterized by compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol despite its negative effects on the drinker’s health and social standing.

Alcoholism is medically defined as a treatable disease, and as long as we allow the epidemic to rage on, alcohol abuse will continue to cause problems and tragedies in our community.

One way to address the alcohol issues in Centre County may be to implement research-based prevention programs to youth in schools and in the community.

Several programs exist that show promising results in curbing underage use of alcohol and focus on delaying the onset of first use of alcohol. Studies show that youth who begin drinking at a younger age are more likely to have alcohol-related issues in adulthood. Young people who wait until the legal drinking age to consume alcohol are less likely to have alcohol-related issues, both with addiction and legal issues.

The cost to implement prevention programs can be minimal compared with the cost to treat alcohol additions in out patient counseling or in residential treatment facilities. Along with treatment costs, legal costs and long-term legal ramifications for offenders can be very detrimental. Young people who have alcohol-related charges on their criminal history may limit themselves in their future careers.

The decisions young people make in their teens can haunt them for the rest of their lives. By educating youth and focusing on preventing the behavior, we can address the long-term issues surrounding alcohol use and abuse for the individual and for the community.

Becky Rock is president of the Bellefonte Area school board.

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