Underage drinking is an ever-present threat to public health in the United States. The most common recreational substance abused by teens is alcohol. A wide array of programs and strategies to combat this has been developed by various organizations, non-profits, and government agencies.
A number of these efforts are based in and around the nation’s school systems. Dedicated curricula have been created to address the underlying causes of underage drinking. Other initiatives are designed as extracurricular programs to help foster healthy activities outside school hours.
The Consequences of Underage Drinking
Statistically, underage drinking spikes between the ages of 10 and 13. After this period, there is a drop in the tendency to drink underage. Almost a quarter of eighth-graders report using alcohol, with just under 10 percent saying they have been drunk within the past month.
Over half of eighth-graders have consumed alcohol at some point, with a quarter reporting they have been drunk. These numbers are alarming because they are much higher than the rates of tobacco use. No illegal drug comes close to the ubiquity of underage drinking.
Research suggests that there are strong relationships between alcohol use during adolescence and serious conditions in later life. Teen alcohol use seems to be strongly connected to emotional, psychological, social, and behavioral issues down the road. Teens who use alcohol are much more likely to experience depression, attempt self-harm or suicide, use illegal drugs, get into fights, steal, and drive under the influence.
Teen alcohol use is also correlated with problems related to alcohol even years later. Teen alcohol consumption increases the risk of later alcohol abuse, alcohol-related violence, drunk driving, missing school or work, using illegal drugs, and injuring themselves or others. Some research indicates that those who begin drinking before their 15th birthday are as much as four times more likely to become alcohol dependent.
What Strategies Are Schools Using to Stop Underaged Drinking?
There is no one solution to the problem of underage drinking. This has led schools to adopt a wide variety of programs, strategies, and curricula to combat teen alcohol use. These strategies have the same aim but accomplish it through different means and with distinct goals.
Many programs try to decrease teen alcohol consumption by reinforcing the social and personal qualities that help prevent it. The approach can include talking with parents and guardians, educators, faculty and staff, and students themselves about the dangers of underage drinking. Programs often seek to provide alternative paths for those entrapped in cycles of alcohol abuse or who may not have reliable family relationships at home.
Schools are making increased efforts to fight drunk driving, collisions are one of the most common causes of death among America’s youth. Drinking-and-driving prevention programs seek to teach students about the dangers of driving while inebriated. Many teens are simply unaware of just how much alcohol impacts decision-making and response time. Cultivating the right attitudes toward alcohol and driving is vital to preventing underage DUIs. Teaching these behaviors and giving students the resources to make safe, informed decisions is key.
Other programs help students develop the personal and social skills to resist both internal and external pressures to use alcohol. These can include things like stress and anxiety on the one hand, and advertisements or peer pressure on the other. Helping teens navigate the complex world of drugs and interpersonal relationships teaches them how to make independent decisions.
Many programs and strategies share overarching themes. They take various routes to educate students and empower rational decision-making. A particularly important part of this education is emphasizing that the majority of teens never use alcohol. Reinforcing that leaving alcohol consumption for adulthood is the social norm can help students see through temporary pressure to imbibe.