Young adulthood is a period in which we attempt to discover who we are. A time for making choices, it involves experimentation – not simply setting long-term goals but deciding on a sometimes hour-by-hour basis how we wish to lead our lives. It’s a period in which we may make choices different to our elders, sometimes for good, and sometimes less successfully. Taken to an extreme, it can be a period of rebellion.
Yet, it’s also a period of conformity. The young, it’s sometimes forgotten, regularly experience great pressure from their peers to conform, to think, dress and behave like one another. The freedom to choose can seem restricted when your friends all act one way – and expect you to follow suit. This is very often manifested when young people are introduced to alcohol and drugs, which if handled without adequate understanding can lead to addiction and long-term physical and mental health issues.
This Wednesday, Inverclyde’s Young Persons’ Alcohol Team (YPAT) and Moving Through held an event and workshops at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre. The day provided information regarding local year-round initiatives to educate and prevent the misuse of alcohol, drugs and legal highs. It also showcased the achievements, testimony and artwork of participants from a number of courses and projects organised within Inverclyde Integrated Alcohol Services (IAS).
YPAT, whose remit extends to tackling alcohol issues amongst people up to the age of 26, began their day with Jenni Mason’s extraordinary film Choices. Produced by Choices for Life, I hope don’t belittle the film by describing it as a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ version of Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen. Both films follows a young male’s journey through the physical and psychological geographies of Greenock. Mason’s work, however, is interactive. Every time the protagonist, Ben, has to choose his next course of action, the audience decides by selecting one of three options, and the plot continues with a scene reflecting that choice.
Our audience chose for Ben to accept drugs from a friend. At each subsequent point, we witnessed Ben’s evening becoming progressively worse as youthful hedonism spiralled into a nightmarish world of hallucinations, culminating in a scene set just outside the Beacon. These powerful images returned to haunt us, when we later left the theatre via the very same pavements.
However, as Chris from the team explained, the point of the film was not to instruct the young to never get drunk or take drugs, but to illustrate the variety of choices open to everyone and to depict some of the potential consequences of our actions.
The YPAT team are an extremely friendly and knowledgeable bunch, and, following the film, Maureen explained to me how they offer preventative alcohol education.
Through use of GEAPP’s ‘Young Booze Busters’ programme, every child in Scotland leaves primary school having taken a course in alcohol awareness. The YPAT team are also responsible for promoting peer education. At Port High School, sixth year students now give awareness presentations to first years in PSA classes. Training is also offered by YPAT to school staff and other community groups.
As part of the Healthier Inverclyde Project, Drink Safe promotes responsible consumption. This service attends community events, offering information to employers for their staff, and the Tier 1 and Tier 2 Alcohol and Drug Awareness programme across Inverclyde ADP partners.
Choices was followed by an alcohol-related art workshop with a local street and graffiti artist. I, however, stopped to look at the Promoting Recovery Showcase and spoke to Irene and Gina from Integrated Drugs Services. This exhibition showcased work undertaken by the Family Response Service with families of those suffering drug dependency.
Photos and testimony of participants decorated the walls, accompanied by poetry inspired by their experiences, emotions and reactions to the addictive problems of loved ones. The group have also collaborated on a tapestry, showing the path to recovery, from despair to hope.
Fabulous, locally-inspired artwork was also on display, hosted by Moving Through, an abstinence-based project within the IAS that provides social, emotional and educational opportunities during recovery, for those who have completed one or more of the services’ programmes. Linking with other agencies and community facilities, Moving On offers opportunities to engage in a wide variety of social and artistic groups, as well as supplying life coaching and financial-management advice.
At other times of the day, workshops in holistic therapy, yoga, healthy eating and fitness were given; and members of Street League, a charity committed to changing the lives of young people through football, were also present.
The exhibitions and topics covered throughout the day gave a truly impressive account of the work done by the various strands of Inverclyde’s alcohol and drugs services, amply demonstrating the opportunities offered to everyone affected by the issues raised by misuse and addiction. With an impressive supply of leaflets, keyrings and other informative material, nobody could leave without feeling empowered by the range of choices open to us. All of us, of any age, have the right to choose how we lead our lives.
Written by Mark Jones