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What Educators Can Learn—and Teach—About Underage Drinking Prevention

Your Communities Talk: Town Hall Meeting to Prevent Underage Drinking event is a significant educational event for those who participate. It can jump-start the change you want to bring about in reducing and preventing underage drinking. The education that takes place at your Town Hall Meeting needs to spread to the parents and youth who do not attend. That is no easy task. But you can harness the rich resource of educators in your community to carry on the spark you ignite at your Town Hall Meeting.

Educators, including teachers, administrators, and other school personnel at the middle school, high school, and college levels, have unique opportunities to reach students. They can open a dialogue with students, educate them about the risks and consequences of alcohol use, and equip them with the skills to respond to peer pressure and to cope with problems without turning to alcohol.

Educators have a major interest in reducing and preventing underage drinking. They are charged with the education of our youth, but student use of alcohol can hamper student learning. Emerging research indicates that adolescents’ use of alcohol negatively affects their brain structure and ability to concentrate. One study indicated that once teens began to drink, their performance on cognitive tests declined.

According to the Surgeon General, Teachers Should …

The significance of an educator’s role in preventing underage drinking cannot be overstated. According to The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A Guide to Action for Educators (PDF 1.05 MB), educators, administrators, and other school personnel can employ strategies and specific actions to help change attitudes and create an environment that discourages underage drinking.

To encourage these professionals who are uniquely positioned to reach and impact our youth, you can order copies of A Guide to Action for Educators to disseminate locally. Or, share these points from it with educators to help them create an environment that can protect youth from underage drinking:

  • Encourage student involvement in school, a proven factor in reducing underage drinking. Provide students with opportunities for validation and belonging.
  • Create an environment that helps students explore their talents and follow their passions—academics, music, sports, or social causes.
  • Be a valued teacher, a caring adult, and a mentor to students.
  • Pay attention to children who are maturing earlier or later than their peers … they may be at greater risk.
  • Relay information to parents about the dangers of underage drinking, school policies, and local sources for more information.
  • Pay attention to those transitions in the lives of students—graduations from elementary, middle, and high schools. Reiterate messages about the negative consequences of underage drinking when students get their driver’s permit and license.

Inform educators and administrators in your community’s schools about ways they can help decrease the risk of negative consequences of underage drinking:

  • Establish and enforce strict policies against alcohol use on school property and at school events.
  • Equip students with developmentally appropriate knowledge, skills, and motivation to resist peer and other pressures to drink.
  • Make sure teachers and school nurses are trained to recognize alcohol-related problems.
  • Work with the community to ensure that a mechanism is in place to refer students in need of services or treatment to the appropriate health care providers or other personnel.

After High School Graduation

Underage drinking among college students is a particularly difficult issue, since college students include those over 21 who can legally drink. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse Alcoholism (NIAAA) Task Force on College Drinking turned a national spotlight on the harmful drinking among college students in a 2002 report, as well as the follow-up reports, statistics, research, and recommendations available at NIAAA’s College Drinking—Changing the Culture Website.

Research shows that drinking is deeply entrenched in the culture of many campuses. Despite efforts to curtail the behavior, the majority of students—both underage and of age—drink, many of them heavily. The negative consequences of alcohol consumption by college students include academic problems, date rapes and assaults, and deaths from unintentional injuries and alcohol poisonings. Compared with all other age groups, the prevalence of periodic heavy or high-risk drinking is greatest among young adults aged 18–24, whether they are in college, the military, or the workforce.

More Resources for Educators and Their Students

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and NIAAA offer valuable resources to educators and administrators for addressing underage drinking at different levels. NIAAA offers two tools to help college administrators prevent and reduce college drinking:

  • The 3-in-1 Framework explains the importance of addressing multiple audiences in programs.
  • The 4 Tiers organize some of the most commonly used prevention and according to the level of research that supports them.

The Cool Spot is run by NIAAA and features games, quizzes, and activities for young teens. It gives them the facts about underage drinking, takes them through an animated “bag of tricks” to recognize when they are being pressured, and advises them how to handle peer pressure.