Speaker: Alcohol is not the answer

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Someone lying on the floor bleeding with a bone sticking out of his leg will ask for help. No one makes fun of him for crying or denies that he needs to go to the hospital.

It's dramatic, but that's the image speaker Ross Szabo gave to Southeast Missouri State University students Monday night when he gave his presentation, "Mixed Drinks, Mixed Emotions."

Szabo emphasized that a lot of times, mental pain or problems go unnoticed, untreated or simply ignored for fear of the social tag that can come with therapy or a mental illness diagnosis.

"When your brain has a problem, you're not going to lay here and bleed," he said. "You can see physical pain."

Szabo's talk is one of a few activities presented by Southeast as part of Alcohol Awareness Week. His first time to get drunk was at age 11. After several battles with alcoholism and mental illness, Szabo graduated with a psychology degree and now works as director of Youth Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign. He also penned a novel called "Behind Happy Faces" that addresses often-ignored problems.

"This presentation is on mental health," he told the crowd of more than 300 students.

You have to address the issue of why someone drinks excessively, Szabo said before the program, then you can address the drinking. "Just focusing on the alcohol isn't enough."

Anxiety and depression are two of the leading contributors to alcohol abuse and too often people don't address those problems or gloss over them so they can feel normal, he said. One of their coping mechanisms is alcohol.

Southeast is setting up tables and bringing in speakers as part of Alcohol Awareness Week. National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week is Oct. 21 to 27, but those dates conflict with Southeast Homecoming activities, so they are recognizing the dates early, said Kevin Stewart, with SEMO Substance Abuse Prevention and Education.

He said they wanted students to show up to the events and having it early gave them the opportunity.

They have set up awareness tables around the campus for students to sign pledge cards to not drink and drive. Marcus Engel, who lost his sight in a drunk-driving accident, will be on campus Wednesday to speak at 7 p.m. in the University Center ballroom.

"Kids just start drinking younger and younger," Stewart said. His main message is responsibility.

"I just don't want them to end up get into a wreck, getting a DWI, getting date raped," he said. "All the things your parents warned you against."

"Try to realize that yeah you can have a good time," while not drinking or at least being responsible about it, he said.

Federal and state laws prohibit drinking before age 21 and Southeast is a dry campus, Stewart said. His message promotes accountability.

"After all of that, after not breaking any laws, if you chose to drink," he said, "be responsible about it."

It's a self-destructive youth culture that uses alcohol as entertainment or a form of release, Szabo said.

"If you're drinking for a release, obviously there are healthier options," he said.

"If you are drinking or doing drugs for a reason," he said, "you can work on that issue and not abuse drugs or alcohol to hide that."

charris@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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