Public policy in the U.S. calls for complete alcohol abstinence by all people under age 21. That includes adults under 21. But it’s a failure. Indeed, the policy has actually been counter productive. That is, causes more problems than it prevents. We must replace failed programs with effective alcohol education.
Alcohol education programs are virtually mandated by law to present abstinence-only messages. They must pretend that few people under 21 actually drink. These programs are based on three myths.
First Myth – Alcohol use is the same as alcohol abuse. That they’re one and the same.
Second Myth – Drinking is a gateway or steppingstone leading to drug use.
Third Myth – Exaggerating the dangers of drinking will scare young people into abstinence.
Young people observe the world around them. They’re not stupid. They know that most people enjoy drinking without abusing. Or causing any harm to themselves or others. But abstinence-only programs ignore the distinction. They treat any use as abuse.
Stepping stone and gateway theories are popular. They hold that using one substance, such as alcohol or tobacco, leads to the use of drugs. But years of government research have failed to support this theory. Again, young people see that those who drink alcohol don’t usually go on to do drugs.
Hypping the dangers of drinking has long been part of alcohol education. It’s been used for over one hundred years. Scare tactics tend to be ineffective. As young people mature, they realize the myths taught to them are false. At that point, alcohol educators have lost all credibility.
Part of Western Culture
Alcohol is a part of Western culture. Most people in the US enjoy drinking. To pretend otherwise is not realistic and not responsible.
Some religious groups are strongly committed to abstinence. However, they are not very successful in maintaining it among their young people. In fact, the majority of them drink. This is true even among students attending church supported schools. Secular alcohol education can’t even reach this very low level of “success.”
Most Will Drink
The majority of young people will drink at least occasionally. This doesn’t mean that they are bad or that their parents have failed. It means that alcohol is part of youth culture. It is in the larger society. It means that their children are normal.
But the goal of our abstinence-only approach is to prevent any drinking among those under 21. Young people (including all adults age 18, 19, and 20) are told to abstain.
Nothing is provided for those who drink. There is no information on alcohol equivalency. On pacing drinks. Or on eating while drinking. There’s nothing on the use of designated drivers. Nor on anything else than can reduce the possible harm resulting from abuse.
Protecting young people and keeping them from safe from harm must be a goal of any reality-based alcohol education program. Such programs need to do the following.
- Provide accurate, truthful and unbiased facts about alcohol.
- Distinguish between the use and abuse of alcohol.
- Teach the potential legal results of underage purchase, possession and/or drinking alcohol.
- Teach ways to reduce the potential harm that can result from the abuse of alcohol.
Successful Groups – How They Do It
Many groups around the world have learned how to consume alcohol widely with almost no problems. Some of those groups familiar to most Americans include Italians, Jews, and Greeks. They have effective alcohol education. These successful groups share three things.
- They view alcohol as basically neutral. It’s neither a poison nor a magic potion. One that can transform people into what they would like to be.
- They consider drinking to be natural and normal. There is little or no social pressure to drink. But there is no tolerance for abusive drinking. By anyone of any age.
- Alcohol education starts early in the home. Young people are taught that if they drink, they must do so responsibly. They learn this through their parents’ example and under their supervision. They would say that it’s better to drink in the parents’ instead of in a frat house.
This approach has enabled people to avoid the alcohol abuse problems that are common in our society. Yet alcohol educators fail to learn from the experience of successful groups. They choose instead to portray alcohol as a “dirty drug” to be feared. To promote abstinence as the best choice for all people. And to work toward reducing all drinking.
We Should Learn from Successful Groups
Teaching about responsible use doesn’t require student to drink. Not any more than teaching them civics requires that they run for office or vote. We teach students civics to prepare them for the future. The day they can vote and assume other civic duties if they choose.
Either drinking in moderation or abstaining should both be equally acceptable for adults. So we must prepare students for either choice. To do otherwise is neither effective nor responsible.
A study was made of the effectiveness of alcohol education. First it looked those that presented an abstinence-only message. Then it compared those to ones that present moderate drinking as a choice for adults 21 or over. It found that those accepting responsible use are more successful than are no-use-only programs. By effective, the study meant that students reduced their drinking.
Good intentions and spending massive amounts of time, energy, and money go into our current abstinence-only alcohol education. Yet it’s clearly ineffective. And simply doing more of what is not working will not lead to success. We need truly effective alcohol education. Notably ineffective was DARE.
We absolutely must re-think our approach to the problem. Our youth are too important. And the stakes are too high to do otherwise.
Effective Alcohol Education
- This site gives no advice. Thus, it gives none about effective alcohol education.