May 13, 2016Vol. 46, Issue 6

Tackling Addiction

Evan Thibeau leads efforts to curb alcohol and drug abuse with education

When Evan Thibeau arrived at Chico State in 2011 as a freshman, he was already familiar with the world of youth drug and alcohol education.

“I learned from a pretty young age that I had a family history of drug and alcohol addiction,” said Thibeau, who was only 14 years old when he participated in a close family member’s intervention.

It would prove to be one of his life’s defining moments.

Experiencing firsthand the pain endured by families and addicts in the throes of addiction, Thibeau told himself, “Stopping this is something I’m really going to push for, something I’m really going to work toward.”

After the intervention, the Pacific Grove native turned to his friends in Youth to Youth International (Y2Y), an organization that uses peer education to teach youth across the world about the harmful effects of alcohol and substance abuse.

“I became really dedicated,” said Thibeau, who participated in Y2Y’s national conferences as a group leader. He also started a club at his high school and “really started being an advocate” for other students.

When it came time to choose a college, a couple of friends he’d made through Y2Y suggested that Thibeau make the trip to visit them at their school, Chico State.

“My first visit to the campus, I just fell in love with it,” he said. “Just the total atmosphere of the campus and the fact that I was walking around with this friend of mine who seemed to know everybody. … I saw this as a place where I could really blossom and come into my own.”

After the psychology major and health promotion minor learned that the University had a dedicated Campus Alcohol and Drug Education Center (CADEC), Thibeau began volunteering his freshman year. By year three, he decided to take his involvement to the next level, joining CADEC’s team of peer educators.

Now more than a dozen members strong, this group of student staff delivers CADEC’s Wildcat Reach Out and Respond (ROAR) training to individual students and groups such as athletics, Greek, and Associated Students organizations. Formerly the Red Watch Band program, the two-hour Wildcat ROAR training educates participants about the biological effects of drugs and alcohol, promotes low-risk behaviors, and teaches bystander intervention. 

“We do this job because we care,” said Thibeau, who stresses the life-saving potential of having trained students who can intervene at parties and bars if someone is dangerously intoxicated.

Before graduating in December 2015, Thibeau helped adapt the training to create an hour-long presentation for that semester’s New Student Orientation (NSO)—marking the University’s first mandatory session on the topic of alcohol and drugs.

As a senior peer educator, Thibeau and 15 other peer educators ran multiple sessions at NSO to teach new students how to stay safe on the social scene, how to recognize when someone’s in trouble with drugs or alcohol, and how to get help. Students who go on to take the full two-hour bystander intervention training receive a red watch that signals to other students that the wearer can help if they (or a friend) run into trouble with drugs or drinking.

“The focus is on looking out for each other,” he said. “It’s really showing that we have a closer community than I think we did before and coming out that this is something that we care about.”

The specialized mental health, first aid, and bystander intervention training that Thibeau received at CADEC is a valuable shift from Y2Y’s abstinence model, he said.

“It’s really expanded my view of what this kind of education can be,” said Thibeau, who models low-risk drinking while he’s out at the bars—an important component of Wildcat ROAR’s intended takeaways.

Combined with his training in abstinence curriculum, Thibeau says the harm-reduction approach he learned to employ at Chico State gave him a uniquely comprehensive insight into the leading theories and models of alcohol and substance abuse prevention. It also gave him an impressive and well-rounded resume not typical of those graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

“If we did not have CADEC, I would not be in as good of a place as I am right now,” said Thibeau who, shortly after completing his degree last fall, began work at Deschutes County Health Services in Bend, Oregon, as the Drug-Free Communities Program Coordinator.

His work there incorporates the skills he gained as peer educator—running trainings, coordinating with community partners, and providing one-on-one support to people in need. And his goal, to reduce abuse and save lives, remains the same.

“There’s this face that people make, where it just clicks for them,” he said. “That’s what I’m always really proud of—knowing that I’ve made that connection for someone out there.”

Nicole Williams is the advancement writer for Public Affairs and Publications.

Photo of Chico State grads

126th Commencement

Four days of commencement ceremonies begin Wednesday, May 18. Search #Chico2016 on social media for a live chronicle of events.  See schedule.

Senior Sendoff

A Super Sendoff

The Alumni Association honored the Class of 2016 with a BBQ and fun activities to wish them a fond farewell. Watch Video.

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