Most alcohol abuse education is ineffective and occasionally even counter-productive. Often young people begin drinking to defy authority. It’s important that we effectively teach young people about the dangers of alcohol abuse. We must also prepare them to drink safely, if they choose to drink, when they’re of legal drinking age.
Harm reduction approaches don’t dictate to students. They prepare them to make careful choices about abstaining or drinking. Of course, some students will continue to drink. Therefore, they teach ways to avoid abusing alcohol.
Harm reduction is non-authoritarian. It also treats students with respect. Therefore, students are less likely to begin drinking to defy adult authority.
Ineffective Alcohol Education
We have proof about what doesn’t work. Although they continue to be used, “scare” tactics are very ineffective. Teaching that alcohol is a poison. That parents who enjoy an alcoholic drink are drug users. That drinking is a gateway leading to hard drug use. And showing pictures of cirrhotic livers. These things have never been effective. They weren’t when temperance activists used them and they aren’t when we use them today.
Very young students tend to believe scare messages. However, they later realize that such teachings are false. Of course, this destroys the credibility of subsequent alcohol education and those who provide it.
Effective Alcohol Education
It’s clear that simply teaching abstinence is ineffective. Most young people drink. However, we can continue to teach them abstinence. At the same time we can teach them how legal drinkers can avoid alcohol abuse. This prepares them for adulthood. At the same time it gives potentially life-saving knowledge for those who choose to drink before age 21.
Among many other things, we can teach them these things.
Standard drinks of beer, wine, and spirits all have equivalent amounts of alcohol. (0.6 oz.)
- Women, even of the same weight as men, are intoxicated at lower levels of drinking.
- Eating before and/or while drinking reduces the rate at which BAC rises.
- Wise drinkers pace their drinks and how to do so effectively.
- To recognize common but often dangerous alcohol myths.
- Avoid punches and other drinks of uncertain alcohol levels.
- To recognize medical emergenices from excessive drinking and know how to give help.
Young people resent prohibitions. Of course, adults age 18-20 especially resent being treated as second-class citizen. They also resent the discrimination they suffer. By drinking alcohol, especially in excess, they can rebel against their demeaned status.
Alcohol educators need to establish their credibility in order to be effective. Dr. Rodney Skager of UCLA is an expert. He says “education on the subject is more likely to be effective under a harm minimization rather than abstinence-only philosophy. The former inevitably includes more credible information.”
Learn more about the harm reduction approach here.
Cheung, Y. et al. Harm Reduction A New Direction for Drug Policies and Programs. Toronto: U Toronto, Press, 2016.
Marlatt, G. et al. Harm Reduction. NY: Guilford, 2012.
Skager, R. Having Fun and Defying Adults. Addict, 2009, 104(4), 576-577.