Thursday, February 23, 2012

Who Says Alcohol Education Doesn't Work?

Whenever the issue of lowering the drinking age comes up, proponents often feel compelled to fill the "void" by offering other policy solutions.   Aside from getting tougher on drunk driving (and drunk violence), the most common alternative touted is increased alcohol education.  Predictably, the opponents respond with claims that "education doesn't work" to actually change behavior or reduce alcohol-related harm.  And because it is nearly impossible to prove a negative, when pressed repeatedly they offer the caveat that there is simply "not enough evidence" either way to draw a firm conclusion about their effectiveness. 

Fortunately, nothing can be further from the truth.  The main reason why many alcohol "education" programs (especially school-based ones such as DARE) have tended to show little to no success is that they tend to be little more than a temperance lecture.   They typically fail to distinguish between use and abuse, and are often based on faulty assumptions.  In fact, many such programs are just plain disingenuous and often resort to exaggerated scare tactics.  Also, nearly every study of alcohol education programs looks only at short-term effects, and the absence of short-term effects does not imply the absence of longer-term benefits.  Some programs just need to be given more time to have their desired effects.

On the contrary, there ARE effective programs out there, ones that have been proven repeatedly to reduce dangerous drinking behaviors in both high school and college.  Some of them have even won awards for their effectiveness.  Examples of which include:

1)  The Hobart and William Smith Colleges' Alcohol Education Project, whose foundation is social norms marketing.  Devised by H. Wesley Perkins, it has been proven to reduce risky drinking behavior among college students in general, especially high-risk groups such as student athletes.   Immediate and persistent reductions in heavy drinking and its consequences were noted following implementation of this program.

2)  Web-based programs such as AlcoholEdu by Outside the Classroom.   Both the high school and college versions of the program have shown measurable benefits in reducing risky drinking behavior as well as changing students' attitudes about alcohol.  The user-friendly programs only take at most a few hours (typically two hours) to complete, and show immediate and often persistent effects despite the very short length of the programs. 

So why doesn't every high school and college utilize programs such as these?  One reason could be that some neoprohibitionists continue to denounce them as ineffective, though such claims are dubious at best.  Another reason is resistance to change, which can be observed in several other aspects of life as well.  But whatever the reason, it is simply false to claim that "education doesn't work".  Because it does--as long as it is conducted properly.  And our children--that is, our future--deserve nothing less.

On the other side of the pond, British social anthropologist Kate Fox has an even more controversial view of why many traditional alcohol education programs have had such meager success.  That is, exaggerating the "disinhibitory" effects of alcohol may actually promote alcohol-related misbehavior, and make alcohol seem more exciting and interesting to young people than it actually is.  Perhaps she is right.

1 comment:

  1. DARE does a disservice by using scare tactics in their attempt in trying to teach alcohol responsibility. Alcohol education does work and programs such as AlcoholEdu are proof of this. Universities and colleges should have a program promoting alcohol responsibility. Forget the neoprohibitionists, those oppressors, in order to make sure that young women and young men handle alcohol the right way.