Friday, February 22, 2008

Alcoholics Anonymous holding meetings on campus

After a three-year hiatus, Alcoholics Anonymous is once again holding open support group meetings on campus, a convenient location for students and community members to help each other achieve sobriety.

The new chapter joined an ever-growing roster of over 100,000 groups in 180 countries, according to the AA Web site. An estimated 1.5 million people worldwide have achieved sobriety through AA.

In 2007, 21 percent of college students between the ages of 18 and 22 met the American Psychiatric Association criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, according to a study by the organization. Yet, only 4 percent of these students sought treatment.

"Across the nation, this is an issue for students," said Alisa Guglielmo, director of student life for Santa Clara's law school. "Because it is an issue in society, having it available to those in this community is a great idea."

During a campus wellness fair earlier this year, Guglielmo was approached by a graduate student who was interested in starting regular AA meetings on campus. Guglielmo arranged for a room in Benson, but that is where the university's connection to the program ended. AA is unaffiliated with any and all outside organizations.

The student, a member of AA himself, requested anonymity for press purposes in keeping with AA's firm commitment to maintaining the privacy of its members.

Essential to AA's mission is the principle that the only thing required for membership is a desire to stop drinking. In fact, the only thing standing between an alcoholic and attending their first meeting is their ability to admit that they need help.

"It's tough to define an alcoholic," the student said. "The simplest definition is someone who is physically and mentally incapable of just having one drink, or physically and mentally incapable of stopping."

AA's Web site describes alcoholism as an illness, "a physical compulsion combined with a mental obsession to drink," and not a matter of moral weakness or lack of willpower.

Warning signs can include brushes with the law for alcohol-related issues, engaging in physical or sexual behavior that is later regretted, driving while under the influence and frequent "blackouts" or vomiting after drinking to excess, said the student.

Since classes began in early January, there have been 13 incidents of illness due to excessive alcohol consumption in which students were involved, according to Campus Safety reports. In nine of these cases, the night ended with a trip to a local hospital.

Several campus organizations provide professional support services for students who are concerned about their alcohol or drug use, including Cowell Health Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Wellness Center. The staff within these departments can also refer students to outside agencies, including AA.

People who speak at AA meetings are members who engage in discussion about their personal struggles with alcohol addiction and the tools that helped them recover. A good meeting, said the student, is not in the quantity of participants, but in the quality of the experiences they share.

"It happens when two or more alcoholics are sharing their stories and helping each other to stay sober," he said.

The only structured content the organization provides is the 12-step program, which is based on the experiences of six decades' worth of members, rather than theory and scientific findings.

The steps are used as a suggestion, not a mandate. Individual approaches to healing vary, but the end goal is abstinence.

"Nobody in AA will tell you that you are an alcoholic. At the end of the day, you have to make that decision yourself," said the student.

source: Santa Clara

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