Originally created 10/31/06

Study finds alcohol program flawed

ATHENS, Ga. - An alcohol education program the University of Georgia used for about 20 years has made little to no difference in students' drinking habits, prompting health educators to begin to look for something better.

Until this school year, students who were arrested or violated the student conduct code for any alcohol-related offense were required to take Prime for Life - an alcohol and drug intervention program.

The program involves an initial test, lessons, workbook exercises, media presentations, group activities, counselor meetings and an exit test students must pass with at least an 80 percent score.

Repeat offenders attend AOD Advanced, a more intensive individualized counseling program, and this year, some first-time offenders started to go to an individualized counseling program called BASICS if they showed signs they may be at a higher risk for alcohol problems.

But in a 2005 study, UGA health center staff reinterviewed students after they finished the Prime for Life program, and students reported that their drinking habits were about the same both two weeks and three months after the program as they were before.

Students reported hangovers, memory loss, missed classes and sickness or injury at about the same rate before, just after and several weeks after the program, according to the study.

Students came to the program with the attitude that if they were drinking less than their peers, then they were drinking responsibly or moderately, said former health center educator Michael Shutt, who headed the study.

Even if the students were drinking 10 drinks four nights a week, they often believed that being responsible means not having 15 or 20 drinks and not drinking and driving, Mr. Shutt said.

But, the study did show that, after participating in the program, students better understood appropriate drinking levels and the risks associated with alcohol, he said.

When UGA first required students to take Prime for Life in the 1980s, it was the only alcohol intervention program of its kind, Mr. Shutt said, and though more programs were launched in the past few years, few have a proven track record for improving students' drinking habits.

UGA staffers aren't ready to drop Prime for Life cold turkey because it has a long history and they really are invested in it, said UGA alcohol and drug educator Erin English.

But because of study results, health center staff are exploring other options before replacing it with another unproved program.

With hundreds of students caught every year for underage drinking and other alcohol-related misconduct, UGA officials have changed several polices over the past several months to try to curb irresponsible drinking.

The university also started this year to notify parents and put students on probation the first time they violate UGA's alcohol policies.

Students will be suspended for two semesters if they violate the policies a second time, but next fall they will have the option of avoiding suspension by participating in a new alcohol intervention program that includes random drug and alcohol tests.

Prime for Life

Since 2002, about 350 students per year who were caught for alcohol-related misbehavior such as DUI, fighting and underage drinking have had to take the Prime for Life program - and pay $90 for it.

Georgia and seven other states also use Prime for Life as a court-ordered sanction for DUI offenders, who can take the course at drug counseling centers and special DUI schools.

- Morris New Service


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