Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Community Prevention of Young Adult Drinking and Associated Problems

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Community Prevention of Young Adult Drinking and Associated Problems

Article excerpt

This article briefly summarizes three evidence-based community intervention trials sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Designed to reduce alcohol use among youth and young adults, these trials demonstrate the potency of community interventions that can influence the price, availability, drinking context, and perceived risks of heavy drinking among young people. The effectiveness of comprehensive, research-based local prevention efforts is confirmed by research examining other programs to reduce alcohol sales to youth as well as the harm caused by alcohol use among youth and young adults, including alcohol-related traffic accidents and assaults. By restructuring the total alcohol environment in a way that can be self-sustaining, these interventions are more likely to be effective than one-time interventions. KEY WORDS: young adults; underage drinking; heavy drinking; prevention of problematic AOD (alcohol and other drug) use; community-based prevention; environmental-level prevention; social policy prevention approach; regulatory prevention approach; alcoholic beverage distribution laws; minimum drinking age laws; drinking and driving; law enforcement; The Saving Lives Project; The Community Trials Project; Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol (CMCA); Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Fighting Back program


Community action is essential to preventing problems associated with drinking alcohol, and especially those related to heavy alcohol use among youth and young adults. The rationale behind targeting communities instead of a subgroup of young people, such as those enrolled at a particular school, is compelling. Whether they are working, attending college, or in the military, young adults typically are part of a community. The means through which young people usually obtain alcohol--retail outlets, restaurants, bars, and social settings such as parties--operate within the environment of the community.

Community strategies that focus on changing the local environment to decrease heavy drinking and reduce alcohol problems, among all age groups or specifically among young people, have the potential to effect structural changes in the community drinking environment that could have an especially broad and long-lasting impact on drinking behavior (see Holder 1997; Holder et al. 1997; Babor et al. 2003).

Research indicates that the prevention strategies most effective with minors and young adults are policy strategies that influence the price, availability, drinking context, or perceived risks of heavy drinking (Babor et al. 2003). Substantial changes in the conditions of sale (such as changing which outlets can legally sell alcohol and when they can do so) may alter young people's access to alcohol as well as stimulate or reduce heavy drinking in this age group (Wagenaar et al. 1996). Similarly, introducing or legalizing specific beverage types (e.g., wine coolers, high-alcohol beer) appears to change beverage preferences and may increase alcohol consumption (see summary in Babor et al. 2003).

Federal as well as State laws--including those governing legal drinking age, licensing of alcohol outlets, the legal blood alcohol level for drinking and driving, service to obviously intoxicated people, and alcohol advertising--often form the basis for local policies. Local governments, in turn, are responsible for implementing and enforcing these laws. Examples of local government action can include giving priority to drinking-and-driving enforcement; mandating server training for bars, pubs, and restaurants; defining responsible alcoholic beverage service by licensed retail establishments; and allocating enforcement resources to prevent alcohol sales to people who are underage or obviously intoxicated. The relative emphasis that local police departments give to different alcohol-related policies is an example of the kind of administrative decision that is made locally. …

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