Monday, May 19, 2014

National Prevention Week: Preventing underage drinking

This week is National Prevention Week and today’s focus is on underage drinking. 

While a lot of local underage drinking prevention activities focus on youth and parents, to be most effective underage drinking prevention activities should be conducted by individuals and organizations throughout the community.  The United States Surgeon General’s report about preventing underage drinking provides examples of what can be done on the community level.

For communities: Adolescents generally obtain alcohol from adults who sell it to them, purchase it on their behalf, or allow them to attend or give parties where it is served. Therefore, it is critical that adults refuse to provide alcohol to adolescents and that communities value, encourage, and reward an adolescent's commitment not to drink. A number of strategies can contribute to a culture that discourages adults from providing alcohol to minors and that supports an adolescent's decision not to drink. Communities can:

Invest in alcohol-free youth-friendly programs and environments.

Widely publicize all policies and laws that prohibit underage alcohol use.

Ensure that community events do not promote a culture in which underage drinking is acceptable.

Increase awareness of the latest research on adolescent alcohol use and, in particular, the adverse consequences of alcohol use on underage drinkers, and other members of the community who suffer from its secondhand effects. An informed public is an essential part of an overall plan to prevent underage drinking and to change the culture that supports it.

For the criminal and juvenile justice systems and law enforcement: 

Enforce uniformly and consistently all policies and laws against underage alcohol use and widely publicize these efforts.

Gain public support for enforcing underage drinking laws by working with other stakeholders to ensure that the public understands that underage drinking affects both the public health and safety.

For governments and policymakers: 

Focus as much attention on underage drinking as on tobacco and other drugs, making it clear that underage alcohol use is an important public health problem.

Increase the cost of underage drinking: The “cost” of underage drinking refers not just to the price of alcohol but to the total sacrifice in time, effort, and resources required to obtain it as well as to penalties associated with its use. Research indicates that increasing the cost of drinking can positively affect adolescent decisions about alcohol use.  In addition to price, the cost of underage drinking can be affected by a variety of measures:

Enforcement of minimum drinking age laws and other measures that directly reduce alcohol availability.

Enforcement should target underage drinkers, merchants who sell alcohol to youth, and people who provide alcohol to youth.

Holding adults accountable for underage drinking at house parties, even when those adults are not at home.

Any measure that decreases the availability of alcohol to youth and so raises the cost of getting it.

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