By Joel Hall
A panel consisting of local court, public safety, and wellness officials -- as well as recovering alcoholics and former drug addicts -- spoke to the public on Tuesday about the dangers associated with alcoholism and other addictive behaviors.
The event took place at the Clayton Center's Battle Creek Road location in recognition of Alcohol Awareness Month.
The audience consisted of members of the general community, as well as a large number of driving-under-the-influence (DUI) offenders, and recovering alcoholics.
Speakers stressed that a majority of crimes are tied, in some way, to alcohol or drugs, and emphasized the importance of taking control of the situation. They also discussed ways DUI offenders can get their punishments reduced by helping themselves.
Paula Crane, coordinator of the addictive diseases program at the Clayton Center, said the event brought awareness to the fact that alcoholism and drug abuse are tied to many problems in the community.
"I think that our community needs to be more aware of the impact of alcohol and alcoholism, and how it's impacting lives in the community," said Crane. "It's tied to bad choices that translate into crime and vandalism."
Adolphus Graves, coordinator of the detention alternative program at the Clayton County Juvenile Court, said alcohol and other drugs are often the starting point for juvenile offenders.
"One of the consistent factors that we see in these children is the use and abuse of drugs," said Graves. "Most of them start at the age of 10 or 11 years old. By the time they kick in that door, or get involved in that gang shooting, they have been drinking and smoking all day."
Graves said it is the responsibility of parents to provide supervision for their children, and the responsibility of the courts to find alternative methods of sentencing, which address the underlying problems of substance abuse.
"Supervision is a child's worst nightmare if they are trying to do something delinquent, or illegal," said Graves. "If we don't address that underlying issue of drug abuse, which leads to the children being numb ... which leads to them lacking empathy ... what are we doing to protect the community?"
Linda S. Cowen, presiding judge over the Clayton County Drug/DUI Court, said prison sentences often do little to change the habits of habitual alcohol and drug users. Unlike many counties without a Drug/DUI court, Cowen said Clayton County works to keep alcoholics out of jail and in programs which can address their problems.
"What used to happen for people not in the program is that when they messed up, they went to jail," said Cowen. "If you are an addict, or an alcoholic, jail is not going to cure you."
Cowen said programs which increase a DUI offender's accountability to the courts, and rewards them for their progress are more effective than lengthy jail sentences.
"We're talking about making a big difference in the lives of the people in the program and in the general safety of the Clayton County community," said Cowen.
Donald Gregg, a primary counselor at the Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences (MARR), who is also a former alcoholic with 20 years of sobriety, said alcoholics must take responsibility for their actions in order to take control of their lives.
"Substance abuse robs us of our imagination," said Gregg. "When you wake up in abstinence, that is really the time to start planting seeds."
Addictions are "a collection of bad habits," and "habits can change," Gregg said.