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DUI court graduate finds hope

CONYERS -- Alcoholism is a social disease, according to one local recovering alcoholic, and the whole community should be part of the effort to provide treatment.

"Alcohol is a social disease. It affects society. It affects personal, business. It affects every relationship in a person's life," said the recovering alcoholic who requested to only be identified as Ricky T.

With five offenses for driving under the influence on his record, Ricky T. admitted that his drinking was excessive.

"Every time I got behind the wheel I was a danger to the community," Ricky T. said.

But two years ago, Ricky T. sought help from the Rockdale DUI Court Supervised Treatment Program. He graduated from the program last month.

Ricky T.'s graduation was the second graduation of the DUI court since the program was established in 2007. State Court Judge Nancy Bills described it has an accountability court.

Bills said it does not help if repeat DUI offenders are put in jail as an alcoholic and do not get treatment.

"The main reason I started (the court) was for public safety," Bills said.

Data shows that a graduate of DUI court is four times less likely to have a DUI two years following their graduation, according to Bills.

In fact, Bills said none of the participants in the Rockdale DUI Court have come back with subsequent DUIs.

"Everybody that's graduated has talked about how their lives have changed. If we can change one person's life and prevent them from reoffending, we've succeeded," Bills said.

Besides other requirements, the 18- to 24-month program includes mandatory drug and alcohol testing and group therapy sessions with clinicians. Ricky T. called the group sessions with a counselor the most important part of the treatment.

"You learn how to come to realize the how and why you got to where you were and to be part of the program," Ricky T. said.

Ricky T. said the counselors cannot tell a person why they drink, but the counselors can teach the person how to figure it out for themselves.

Some of the reasons Ricky T. drank were things he already knew, but he said "as I was learning more about myself in the program, I actually figured out there were other reasons."

"My education about my abuse is what's helping me today," Ricky T. said. "With the help of the program, I don't drink any more. I have more self awareness. I think a whole lot more clearly and I think before I do now."

"The most impressive thing in the people who have come through the program is their testimony. That's what keeps us going," Bills said. "It's a good thing for our community because it's public. But it's a good thing for these people, personally. It transforms their lives with their jobs, their family. I mean, it's amazing the change that they see."

Rockdale County DUI Court started from a grant from the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety and continues to run off the state grant.

"There's not enough that I can say on the positive side for the DUI courts," Ricky T. said, adding that there is a DUI court alumni group that gets together.

Ricky T. even suggested first offenders go through the program.

"Because you got a lot of alcoholics who've never been caught for years and years," Ricky said.