Students Work to Educate Peers about Dangers of Drinking

Reducing Underage Drinking Through Coalitions

    • November 12, 2009

The University of Puerto Rico at Cayey in central Puerto Rico has a beautiful campus with palm trees, colorful flowers and manicured lawns bordering the walkways. It is also a campus, like many others, with many alcohol outlets nearby and many students who drink to excess.

Two students, however, have been working to stop the culture of drinking among young people. Helga Cotto, 18, and Maria Rodriquez, 17, became involved with the Puerto Rico Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking when they were in ninth grade.

Through the coalition, they completed training as peer counselors. From there, they went to schools to talk to other youth and parents about the dangers of drinking. They also went to bars and gave them information about the importance of not serving minors.

"It is a major problem on the island," Maria said. "I saw… that maybe we could make a difference with the coalition. A lot of young people are drinking and that leads them to other things like drugs. Some of our friends were out of control in their drinking and it really affected them."

Both Helga and Maria said that no one in their family drinks alcohol and that they have no desire to drink. But they conceded that they are sometimes in the minority among their peers. They both said that the experience with the coalition changed them.

"It really helped me grow as a person," Helga said. "When you're a kid you don't know these kinds of things and when you learn them you realize that these are big problems and that you need to help. I got the chance to meet new people who think the same as me. On this island it's very difficult to meet other kids who don't drink. When you get the chance, it's weird. But good."

Added Maria, "I really feel like I'm doing something to help society. I never talked with people before. I was very shy. This helped me open up."

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