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Youth Offenders Program explores relationships with alcohol

When you think “fall” in Happy Valley, you can’t help but think football. And with football comes tailgating. And with tailgating, alcohol. While many people drink responsibly, many do not, and it is those who do not who cause concern. We know all too well the sometimes devastating consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.

Many of us believe that most students will graduate college and leave behind their destructive drinking patterns. However, a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that U.S. adults are engaging in high-risk and problem drinking at a far greater rate now than they were a decade ago and that among older adults, rates of alcohol abuse and dependence have more than doubled. These statistics suggest that dangerous and irresponsible patterns of drinking are not easily left behind as graduates move on in their lives and careers.

So what can we do? Where do we start? To make such a cultural shift, we need prevention programing in schools, advertising campaigns to reach adults, effective and accessible treatment options and targeted intervention programs.

There is an intervention program in State College that aims to facilitate an honest examination of personal drinking behaviors and encourages behavioral change. The Youthful Offenders Program, offered by Centre Helps in a partnership with the State College Police Department, explores students’ relationships with alcohol, consequences experienced and expected and strategies to stay safe and responsible.

Students who are cited with an alcohol-related summary offense, like underage drinking or public intoxication, can be offered participation in YOP by a local judge in order to have their charge dismissed. Participation in the program affords individuals the opportunity to see firsthand the effects alcohol abuse can have through discussion and interaction with members of the collegiate recovery community. They can also learn about the local laws and ordinances from a State College police officer. Involvement in the program equips students with the insight, skills and techniques necessary to make changes to their drinking. Upon follow up, graduates of the program consistently report that they use techniques learned to stay safe and responsible and that they have reduced alcohol intake.

YOP is only a small piece of a larger puzzle. We need a cultural realignment where reckless behaviors related to substance abuse are no longer celebrated. This is something we all can work on; we can reach out to our friends who are drinking too much and we can tell them we’re concerned. Instead of laughing along when they talk about their crazy night, we can tell them we’re thankful they weren’t hurt. Instead of accepting dangerous behavior and excessive drinking as normal, we can call it what it is.

For more information about YOP, call 234-8222

Lauren Parker is the Youthful Offenders Program administrator for Centre Helps, which is a Centre County United Way Partner Agency.