Organizing Community Action for Prevention and Control of Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Article excerpt

In our country, substance abuse has been estimated to be responsible for 590,000 deaths and 40 million injuries and illnesses annually (McGinnis & Foege, 1999). The total economic costs of substance abuse have been estimated to be close to $428 billion (Rice, 1999). It has been estimated that approximately one fourth of Americans over the age of 15 have physiological dependence on at least one substance with the trends pointing at mixed progress in our battle against this complex menace (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Multiple channels and multiple approaches are needed to combat this problem.

Organizing community action is a fundamental approach for prevention, control, and rehabilitation from alcohol tobacco and other drugs. The term community organization was used by American social workers in late 1800s to describe their efforts toward newly arrived immigrants and poor (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2003). Since that time, the term has undergone reflections, interpretations, and modifications. Several terms are used to denote varying degrees of community involvement. These terms range on a continuum from community mobilization to community organization to community participation to community development to finally community empowerment.

Community mobilization refers to getting community members to participate in an activity planned by an agency whose mission is to improve the status of the community in health or other matters. Community organization is when community members get organized to identify needs, set objectives and develop plans for community improvement in health or other matters. Community participation entails involvement of the community members in planning with an agency whose mission is to improve the status of the community in health or other matters. Community development is the organization and stimulation of local initiative and leadership in a community to encourage change in health or other matters. Community empowerment is the social action process whereby individuals gain mastery over their lives in the context of changing their social and political environment.

In organizing community action for health, involvement of several organizations and agencies is needed. These collections of organizations or agencies are called coalitions or community-based teams. Some of the uses of coalitions are that these offer greater outreach, these are vital for grassroots organizing, these help in building social normative pressure on an issue, are essential for advocacy for change on an issue, and help in influencing policies and legislation. The participating organizations offer varying levels of involvement. Some of these may be involved as supporters, others as intermediaries, still others as members or full partners.

There are several approaches for developing programs and interventions for communities. These approaches can be broadly classified as community-based programming and community development programming. It is important to differentiate between these two. In community-based programming the problem name is given by an agency or an organization. There are time bound targets to be accomplished and changes in specific knowledge, attitudes, skills, or behaviors are the intended outcomes. …