Class exposes students to reality of alcohol addiction

Kaitlyn Coppolo

A number of University students are spending time in meetings such as those of Alcoholics Anonymous- but it’s not because of an addiction.

They are students in the Drugs and Society class taught by Joseph Curran. They attend meetings and then make a presentation or write a paper reflecting on the experience.

Curran, a certified addiction counselor, has 30 years of experience in the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse. He was the director of drugs and alcohol at Guiffre Medical Center. At the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, he helped employees deal with personal problems so they could better do their jobs.

“Attendance at an AA meeting is a powerful educational experience because it puts students in a position of experiencing what it feels like to walk into a meeting,” Curran said.

In his course, Curran teaches about the history of drug and alcohol problems in society, the development of treatments to deal with those problems and the tie between criminal justice and addiction. He lays a foundation for those majoring in criminal justice to understand the role of drugs and alcohol in crime.

Curran says 80 to 90 percent of people who end up in the justice system have problems with alcohol, or alcohol was involved in some way in their crimes.

More than half of all adults either have problems with drinking themselves or have a family history of alcoholism.

Going to an AA meeting can be beneficial to students in case they need to help a friend or loved one in the future, Curran said. If they see a friend who needs help, they can say, “I went to a meeting once and this is what it’s like.”

Organizations like AA play an important role in drug and alcohol treatment because of the difficulty of maintaining sobriety, Curran said. They offer long-term support.

He said it took 37 tries for one person to stay sober, while another has been going to five AA meetings a week for the past 20 years.

Junior April Gonzalez, a student in Curran’s Drugs and Society course, recently attended an AA meeting.

Opening the door and looking into the room, she said she saw about 25 people seated in rows, with a leader at the head. The members were males and females ranging from their mid-20s to mid-50s.

“I felt sick to my stomach, like I was about to give a presentation,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t want to walk in.”

Once the meeting began, she said she began to feel comfortable. Someone read a selection from the AA “Big Book,” a set of guidelines for the group.

“What you see here, hear here, stays here,” it said, to protect the anonymity of the members.

The only requirement for admission for AA members is the desire for sobriety. A basket gets passed around at each meeting to cover expenses, normally a dollar each, but the program itself is free.

When Gonzalez attended, the reading focused on tolerance and the role of God and religion in recovery. The leader shared his experiences and then opened the floor to others.

“Everyone, everywhere, can have an addiction,” one of the members said.

By attending the meeting, Gonzalez said she learned the importance of honesty for an alcoholic in identifying his or her problem. After that, the alcoholic can attend meetings and start the AA 12-Step Program. An important philosophy of AA is that recovery is possible for everyone through support, prayers, meetings, and the 12 Steps.

“I went in feeling apprehensive, but as soon as I sat down I felt comfortable,” said Gonzalez. “It was truly an enlightening experience.”

Margo Matt, assistant dean of students for Alcohol and Drug Intervention, said AA is a fantastic place to gain support. AA helps people reflect on their lives, their goals and how much better their lives would be without alcohol, she said. They offer constant support for an alcoholic.

Matt refers students to meetings, but many do not go because they do not believe they have a problem. They envision alcoholics in the late stages – drinking out of brown paper bags. However, she believes AA offers a good way for college-age problem drinkers to gain knowledge about the disease.

“Attending AA meetings is fabulous,” Matt said. “They are inspiring and help break down the myths.”

She agrees that honesty is a key component to achieving sobriety. Only after people admit they have a problem can treatment begin.

Matt noted that fights, injuries and trips to the hospital have increased this year at Villanova. The number is already over 60.

Students can make an appointment with Matt to talk about their problems. She helps them see where they currently are, what other routes they can take and how to improve their lives.