Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention in Wisconsin Public Schools

Article excerpt

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention in Wisconsin Public Schools

ABSTRACT: This survey assessed the status of Wisconsin public school district programs designed to

prevent alcohol and other drug related problems among students. The assessment involved surveying

prevention program directors of 102 school districts that received grants ffor prevention

initiatives since 1981. Most districts (70%) implemented programs at the elementary, middle, and

senior high school levels. Typical program strategies involved combining information dissemination

with refusal skill and self-concept development. School programs predominatly were school-based

and did not systematically involve community members or agencies. The greatest obstacles to

providing effective prevention services include high rates of alcohol and other drug use in homes

and communities, denial of alcohol and other drug related problems among students, parents, and

community members, and lack of staff time for prevention activities. Project directors indicated a

need for schools to initiate greater involvement of parents, nonschool alcohol and drug abuse

prevention agencies, and other community organizations in school efforts. (J Sch Health

1989;59(1):21-24)

A growing body of research indicates certain prevention techniques can be successful in reducing substance use. However, the degree to which new research findings have translated into practice is unclear. During the past three decades, schools have attempted several approaches to ameliorate this social problem. Health teachers, counselors, and other school staff undertaking this responsibility during the 1960s largely provided information about alcohol and other drugs and used scare tactics to deter students from substance use.[1] Strategies of the 1970s focused more on teaching students personal skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and developing positive health self-concepts. Despite well-intended efforts, levels of alcohol and other drug use among young people have shown no substantial reductions over time.[2]

Recently, new alcohol and other drug prevention programs have emerged. This third wave of strategies to curbing substance use is, in part, a combination of information giving and personal skills development approaches. Disseminating accurate information, teaching peer refusal skills, and promoting positive health-related attitudes and self-concepts, represent essential components that must be integrated into a successful program.[3] Such programs targeted at preventing tobacco use produced a 50% to 75% reduction in onset of smoking. Important features of successful smoking prevention programs include a focus on 1) short-term, primarily social consequences important to the target audience, 2) audience awareness of overt and covert pressures to smoke, 3) attitudinal inoculation to those pressures, 4) high levels of audience participation, and 5) role playing and other classroom activities to practice behaviors.[4] Further, the skills students learn from such programs help them avoid the use of other gateway drugs such as alcohol and marijuana.[5]

Research also suggests that providing information about alcohol and other drugs and teaching resistance skills should be part of a comprehensive K-12 health education program integrating alcohol and other drugs with related topics such as teen pregnancy, suicide, and dropping out.[6] When possible, schools need to involve families, community groups, and the media in prevention efforts. Despite new breakthroughs in prevention research, elementary, middle, and senior high schools face limits to developing alcohol and other drug prevention programs. Scarce financial resources, lack of staff interest and expertise, and community resistance impede school efforts to address substance use. This survey assessed the status of school alcohol and other drug prevention programs in Wisconsin and offered recommendations for improvements within the context of new and promising research. …