“We need to start talking about addiction.” This is the mantra coming from Tara O’Brien, VP for Welfare for DIT’s Student Union as she kicked off her ‘Addiction Awareness’ campaign last week.
The campaign was designed to by O’Brien to help tackle the issue of addiction amongst third level students and to change the way in which it is portrayed in modern society.
‘Addiction Awareness’ is a joint collaboration between DITSU and The Rutland Centre, one of Ireland’s biggest addiction rehabilitation centres, and saw members of both organisations hosting information stands in DIT Bolton Street, DIT Kevin Street and DIT Grangegorman.
The event rounded up on the Thursday evening with a panel discussion with Niall McNamee (Offaly senior inter-county gaelic footballer), Austin Prior (The Rutland Centre) and Barry Grant (Founder of Problem Gambling Ireland).
Speaking to O’Brien, her attitude towards addiction is not one that echoes the traditional “Say No” approach, but one that takes a broader view of the situation and also notes the ineffectiveness of the former ways in which addiction is dealt with in Ireland.
“The way I see it, the ‘just say no’ approach doesn’t work; you can’t tell people what to do. It’s not to tell people to do or don’t do drugs, do or don’t have a pint, don’t be buying scratch cards, etc. Do what you want but just know your boundaries”, said O’Brien.
Following on from previous welfare campaigns which mainly focused on the issue of drug addiction, O’Brien is adamant to educate students on the various forms addiction can take and to highlight that not all addictions have to be associated with illegal substances.
“If we take tobacco for example, it’s not good for you at all but many still use it as a vice, whether it be taking a ten minute break from their job or to de-stress. However, tobacco is legal. There is no difference between the legal and illegal”, explained O’Brien.
Aside from being a professional campaign as part of her welfare duties, it was clear from the get-go that there was an element of personal experience which drove O’Brien to reach out to students and get them talking about addiction.
“There have been people in my life that have had dealings with drugs and stuff and they were treated as criminals purely because it (addiction) wasn’t an illness that was regarded as credible. I think that’s where my fuel for the campaign came from because at an age where we’re talking about mental health so openly, why aren’t we talking about addiction?”, said O’Brien.
When asked about her aim for the event, O’Brien explained that she won’t be expecting the masses, but will be happy if her message can reach even one person.
“I just have this funny idea in my head of people not coming to the stand because it has something to do with addiction. So, my plan is to dot leaflets across the three campuses, like the stage area in Bolton Street or the cafe upstairs, so people might see them when they sit down or walking around and think, ‘that’s very interesting, that made me think of somebody I really care about’, even if it’s just one person. You can’t start a bonfire without lighting a match first”, explained O’Brien.