In 2015, students from John F. Kennedy Middle School, Enfield High School, and Enrico Fermi High School in Connecticut took an anonymous survey that addressed alcohol and other substances. It covered topics such as binge drinking and driving under the influence, marijuana, heroin, prescription drugs, cigarettes, and e-cigarettes.
The Enfield 2015 Alcohol and Drug Use Student Survey revealed that alcohol use among students had decreased by approximately 14 percent since 2009. The survey also uncovered some troubling new findings, including the fact that nearly 20 percent of 12th graders had been in a moving vehicle with someone under 21 who recently had been drinking alcohol.
To discuss underage substance misuse in the community, the Enfield Together Coalition’s Youth Advisory Council hosted a Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking at the John F. Kennedy Middle School library.
How They Did It
Colleen Sullivan, MSW, Enfield Together Coalition Prevention Coordinator, attributes the following elements to the success of the event, which was structured as a speaker forum:
- Incorporating the youth perspective.
The Coalition’s Youth Advisory Council—which organized and facilitated the Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking—held a presentation on SAMHSA’s "Talk. They Hear You." underage drinking prevention campaign and offered their perspective on why parents should talk to their children early about the dangers of alcohol.
- Focusing on both prevention and recovery messages.
Members of the local Teen Challenge Connecticut recovery program participated as forum presenters, spoke about recovery supports, and engaged in a Q&A session. Their presence helped shed light on the consequences of underage drinking.
- Engaging trusted community leaders.
Francis J. Carino, Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney, Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, was another presenter at the forum. As a trusted face among the audience of parents and youth, Carino explained the underage drinking legislation and current enforcement techniques.
Given the recent drop in alcohol use among Enfield students, it can be easy for a community to become complacent about underage drinking.
"It’s very challenging to combat the impressions in our community that drinking is normative," attests Jean Haughey, the Town of Enfield’s director of youth services. "We’re constantly talking to parents about the risks and dangers of underage drinking, and trying to increase their perception of harm."
The Communities Talk meeting tackled some of these misperceptions through a personal storytelling approach. Having members of Teen Challenge Connecticut share their own stories of addiction shed new light on the real impact of underage drinking and reinforced that there was still much prevention work to be done. After hearing these personal stories, attendees and speakers engaged in an enriching conversation about how to talk to children about underage drinking.
According to the Coalition, the conversation did not end with the May 2016 event; the community continues to discuss the issue of underage drinking more than ever before, as demonstrated below.
A Community in Action
The Enfield Together Coalition plans to pursue the following underage drinking prevention strategies:
- Making their presentations more mobile to bring prevention information directly to audiences, instead of relying on audiences to come to them.
- Promoting SAMHSA’s prevention materials in schools, local malls, libraries, doctors’ offices, and pharmacies to raise awareness about underage drinking.
- Utilizing major events—such as the Super Bowl—to promote alternatives to drinking at parties.
Creating partnerships with businesses and civic groups to establish a broad prevention network focused on keeping the community healthy and safe.