Other stories filed under PROFILES
Alcohol misuse awareness rises
January 7, 2019
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Decatur residents passed a referendum dubbed the ‘Brunch Bill’ which allowed restaurants to start serving alcohol at 11 a.m. instead of 12:30 p.m. on Sundays, according to the Champion newspaper. On Tuesday, Dec. 4, the Decatur City Council agreed to lower the required food to alcohol ratio for restaurants from 60 percent food and 40 percent alcohol to 50 percent food and 50 percent alcohol, according to DecaturDaily.com. Both of these changes decrease the limitations on alcohol regulations in Decatur to help stimulate revenue in local businesses. However, three individuals – Susan Morley, Terrie Moore and Mikayla Cordell – are working to reduce the prominence of alcohol misuse in Decatur.
Terrie Moore, a substance abuse prevention specialist, tries to help Decatur’s problem with alcohol abuse.
Tears come to Terrie Moore’s eyes as she remembers those who have died from the consequences of their substance misuse. Yet she has persisted in her work for over 35 years, because many people do get better and she believes there is always hope.
Moore has internalized a message her college professor once told her, “‘If you ever get to a point where you don’t lose sleep at night over somebody, then it’s time to find a new job.’” As a Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist, Moore is constantly seeing children impacted by alcohol abuse and their stories never fail to leave a mark on her.
“I always have known I wanted to be a mental health professional of some sort, and this was the area that really touched me,” she said.
Moore has experienced firsthand the impacts of substance abuse, coming from a family where both of her parents had issues with alcohol or other drugs. When her children were born, she decided to practice what she preached and is now a person with over 24 years of sobriety.
“I chose [sobriety] when my children were born, because I didn’t want them to be around it at home because I knew it was out there in the rest of the world,” Moore said.
She has worked to control substance abuse with the Decatur Prevention Initiative (DPI) for over 26 years. The DPI was created to help promote a healthy Decatur, free of the negative effects of substance misuse for youth and families. The organization plans and creates evidence-based prevention programs for people in the area. Moore actively works with this program because she believes that in order to see a difference, the community as a whole must change their perspective on alcohol.
“It’s commonly accepted that when you go out tomorrow night and go up to the ice cream parlor, you will definitely see people drinking on your way. Even though it’s no one underage drinking, it’s very much a community norm. So I think there’s that; that plays a part in [the problem],” she said.
One aspect in the community that the program has been working on recently are the parents’ roles. They have seen a direct relationship between an increase in perceived parental disapproval and a decrease in drug and alcohol rates. Moore, with the DPI, is also teaching parents that in order for kids to learn healthy habits, the parents need to set a good example by showing them how to cope with issues without substances and how to withstand social pressures.
“Parents, when your kids hear you say ‘I need a drink,’ what message are you sending them?,” she said.
Moore has found through her job that working with parents on how to talk to their children about substance abuse has been proven to be an effective method to deter usage.
Moore started to see a decrease in the underage drinking numbers from the Georgia Student Health Surveys once DPI began working with parents. A trend she hopes will continue in the future.
“I can remember my son when he was in high school,” she said. “I asked him, ‘I know some of your friends are doing this stuff; why aren’t you?’ My son looked at me and he said, ‘Well, you don’t and I remember what it did to [your mom].’ But that doesn’t mean my kids are immune. I’ve had my own challenges; we all do. The question becomes, are we willing to talk about them, acknowledge them and learn from them.”
Moore believes that these programs will work to help decrease the prevalence of alcohol in our community climate in the long run and is grateful for the many unique forces working in Decatur’s favor. This includes the Decatur Parent Network (DPN) which is a group of parents who have come together and pledged to try to keep their children substance-free. The good relationship that the DPI has with the school system, which allows them to implement these programs within the school day. The police department that is committed to working with the community to solve the substance abuse problem.
“We’re trying to build a little family in Decatur,” she said. “A healthier community. One of Decatur’s strengths is the can-do attitude. We see that so many [people] are working together to address this serious health concern. Parents and youth are being encouraged to talk openly about about underage drinking.”
Susan Morley uses her perspective as a woman in recovery to contribute to the effort to end underage drinking in Decatur.
Early in 1994, Susan Morley to the outside observer was an ordinary 25 year old woman. She often went out with her friends and sometimes “partied hard.”
“I was having a good time,” Morley said.
“It’s like when you’re gossiping with friends and you think it’s so much fun, but there is some part of you that [knows something’s] wrong. There was something inside of me saying, “‘Something’s not right.’”
Morley didn’t know she was experiencing the effects of alcoholism, a disease which, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, impacts close to 15.1 million adults across the United States.
“Everyday when I woke up, there was a black cloud over my head and I couldn’t quite shake it. I couldn’t quite feel happy,” she said.
Deep inside, she knew that her relationship with alcohol was unhealthy, but it wasn’t until one night where she realized it was time to change her lifestyle.
On April 29th, 1994, the movie “When a Man Loves a Woman” came out in theaters, and Morley went with her friend to see it. The film is a love story about a teacher who suffers from alcoholism and the drama associated with it. Morley, an aspiring teacher, was surprised and even terrified by how much she related to the protagonist.
“After the movie, at first I thought, ‘Well, she doesn’t drink that much’, which was the first clue that I drank too much. Then I realized that I didn’t want that [life] and I could see that [was] where I was headed.”
Right then and there, Morley swore off alcohol and started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The decision set her on a career path that began with becoming a teacher. From there, she started her current business as a certified parent coach.
Morley remembers that as a school teacher, one has to sign a morality pledge promising to be a person of good moral character. Although she was already in recovery when she became a teacher, she was worried about the stigma that followed those who identify as such.
“I didn’t want my students’ parents to know I was an alcoholic because when you think of an alcoholic you think of an old man drinking out of a bag under a bridge,” she said.
This fear drove her to protect her anonymity for a long time. But, after 20 years of helping other women in recovery, she realized that she no longer wanted to hide that part of herself from the public.
“I was tired of hiding it,” Morley said. “I [was] tired of hiding why I don’t drink. I [was] not ashamed of my recovery, I [was] actually really proud of it.”
Since publicly acknowledging her past with alcoholism, Morley felt it was important to discuss safe drinking practices with her children.
“When I moved here, one of the things I loved about Decatur was the Jazz Nights because it [was] kind of small and some people would be drinking wine. I wanted my children to see that even though their mother didn’t drink at all and I cannot drink safely, some people can. I wanted them to see people drinking responsibly,” she said.
Morley frequently has conversations with her now-teenage daughters about the dangers of underage drinking and the importance of waiting until the legal age of 21 to start experimenting with it. In her small business practice, Parent Coaching, she urges her clients to take a similar perspective with their children.
“Before they’re teenagers, talk about it. Talk about your drinking, talk about your current drinking, be open about it. Not just one conversation, but over time have these conversations so they’re informed and they can make good, healthy decisions,” she said.
Morley is also an avid member of the Decatur Parent Network (DPN) which she hopes will unite parents on the front of facing the underlying problem of underaged drinking. The DPN is an organization with the goal to unite parents on the front of helping their teenagers grow up in an environment in which they are encouraged to make smarter decisions. In these meetings the parents talk about their perspectives on underage drinking, learn different parents’ viewpoints on these issues, and build a tighter-knit community of parental support.
“The Decatur Parent Network is where my heart is,” she said. “We get together and have coffees and it’s nice to see that the community is building and to talk to other parents.”
Decatur student fights teen drinking epidemic by joining club centered around fighting substance abuse.
“I only drink occasionally, mostly on special occasions when the rest of my friends are. I drink because it makes me have more fun and it’s awkward to be sober when everyone else is being crazy and having fun,” one Decatur sophomore said.
“I drink because it’s more of a social thing than it is a good thing. I enjoy it because it allows you to be more relaxed and carefree,” one Decatur junior said.
In today’s day and age, statistics suggest that it is a somewhat rare occurrence to ask a high school senior why they engage in underage drinking and for them to honestly answer that they were fully able to hold out. However, Mikayla Cordell, a Decatur High School senior, has decided to practice abstinence from alcoholic substances. A cheerleader and scholar, Cordell has been in situations where people around her have been intoxicated, but she believes that the influence of the Decatur Youth Action Team (YAT) has helped her stay clean.
In the summer after Cordell’s sophomore year her mom, an avid member of the Decatur Parent Network, told her about the YAT and it immediately piqued Cordell’s interests.
“I gained interest in the club because I liked how many different activities you do, and not only that, but I learned a lot from it. I didn’t know how prevalent of a problem alcohol was in Decatur High School until I joined the club,” she said.
The YAT is a club made up of a group of supervised youth that plan and hold community-focused substance abuse prevention events. Her role in the club is to look at the drug and alcohol usage statistics collected from the community and plan events accordingly. Cordell self-identifies as a “numbers” person, so she enjoys studying and manipulating the the data she receives.
“I feel like Decatur is a very adult based community with the beer and wine festivals and how most of the restaurants we go to serve alcohol, so we try to target kids more,” she said.
Cordell now sees that Decatur does have a problem with underage drinking and believes that young people don’t fully understand what they’re doing when they drink. Her club has allowed her to see the dangers that alcohol users are subjected to and has provided her with reasons to stand up to the peer pressure associated with underaged drinking. She now believes that the risk of drinking outweighs the psychological, short-term positive effect it has.
The YAT regularly held an “open gym night” last year which is an event for Decatur students hosted at a Decatur gym. They have games that utilize the gym as well as snacks and many different video games set up so that students can experience substance-free fun.
“Everyone is getting excited for [college] and they think [drinking] is one of the biggest ways to socialize with older people, but that’s not the only way,” she said. “You can do tons of different things.”
Cordell was also a part of another event the YAT set up during Red Ribbon Week, which is a national alcohol, drugs, and tobacco prevention awareness campaign that takes place in October of every year. In honor of this, they set up a table in front of the school where students would sign a pledge in which they promised they wouldn’t try alcohol or drugs, and as an incentive, they received a Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit.
“I really look at [alcohol] as being an illegal drug that you really shouldn’t try at all instead of something being legal that you can try when you’re older,” she said.
Cordell wishes that her club was more well known because she thinks that if it was publicized better then more people would join and have the opportunity to gain the same perspective she has on alcohol.
“I don’t want to say that [before I joined this club] and when I turned 21 I was ready to try [alcohol] or whatever, but I do think that I’m probably not going to ever drink in my life and if I do, it will not be as much as people say,” she said.