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SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 1, Winter 2003

Alcohol Abuse: Prevention for People of All Ages

In connection with Alcohol Awareness Month this April, SAMHSA is again co-sponsoring two prevention efforts for children and adults that highlight the effects of alcohol abuse.


When do you begin to discuss alcohol use and its problems with young children? The sooner, the better! That was one of the key messages gleaned from SAMHSA's 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The survey found that not only are there nearly 10.1 million underage drinkers between the ages of 12 and 20 throughout the United States, but also that the average age of a child's first use of alcohol continues to drop.

To address this problem, SAMSHA, in collaboration with Scholastic, Inc., is offering the successful Reach Out Now curriculum for fifth grade teachers, their students, and parents. The effort was launched for the first time last year. Divided into two parts-one for teachers and the other for parents-the free Reach Out Now curriculum provides a wide variety of prevention materials related to underage drinking.

For teachers, easy-to-use materials, including Reach Out Now: Talk With Your Fifth Graders About Underage Drinking, are provided for use in the classroom to educate students on the effects of underage drinking. Included in the materials packet is a four-page set of lessons and in-class activities, with instructions on how to incorporate the materials into classroom curricula in English, social studies, and science.

Instructions are provided to teachers on presenting three lessons in sequence:

  • Understanding the Effects of Alcohol increases students' knowledge about alcohol through interactive classroom discussion, such as "Check your alcohol IQ" and "Alcohol: A True/False Quiz."

  • Getting It: A Science Experiment helps students understand the effects of alcohol on the developing child through a science-based experiment in which they observe the effects of pouring alcohol on an egg.

  • Making Healthy Decisions demonstrates ways to make healthy decisions and find alternative activities to underage drinking using critical-thinking skills.

Because parents are the most powerful influence on youth behavior, the Reach Out Now materials also include a Family Resource Guide to bring alcohol-awareness education into the home. This guide offers six constructive actions that parents and caregivers can use to help their children make wise decisions:

  • Maintain good lines of communication.

  • Get involved in the child's life.

  • Make and enforce clear and consistent rules.

  • Serve as a positive role model.

  • Help a child know how to choose friends wisely.

  • Be aware of the child's activities.

To help parents take these steps, activities for each are suggested. For example, in one role-playing activity, the parent helps the child develop different ways of refusing alcohol. In addition, parents are encouraged to create a family calendar to keep track of the activities of all family members so that the parent is more involved in the child's life.

In 2002, the Reach Out Now materials reached nearly 100,000 teachers and more than 3 million students nationwide.

To obtain a copy of Reach Out Now, contact SAMHSA's National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, at P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20847-2345. Telephone: 1 (800) 729-6686 (English and Spanish) or 1 (800) 487-4889 (TDD). To access electronically, visit SAMHSA's Web site at

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Children aren't the only ones at risk for alcohol abuse-adults are too. According to SAMHSA's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, there were 13.4 million persons in the United States classified with dependence on or abuse of alcohol in 2001.

Over the years, scientists have documented the effects of alcohol on many of the body's organ systems and its role in the development of a variety of medical problems, including cardiovascular diseases, liver cirrhosis, and fetal abnormalities. Alcohol use and abuse contribute to injuries, automobile collisions, and violence. Alcohol can markedly affect worker productivity and family interactions. Further complicating this picture is the fact that many people don't know that they have a problem with drinking.

For this reason, SAMHSA, in collaboration with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Screening for Mental Health, Inc. (a nonprofit organization that coordinates nationwide mental health screening programs), are focusing this year's annual National Alcohol Screening Day on the impact of drinking on health. The annual observance will be held on Thursday, April 10, at an anticipated 1,500 sites nationwide.

Last year nearly 90,000 people attended National Alcohol Screening Day events nationwide, and the sponsors anticipate that the numbers will increase this year.

Using the theme, "Alcohol and Health: Where Do You Draw The Line?", National Alcohol Screening Day highlights the effects of alcohol on the body, with particular attention to specific medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. By attending the free, anonymous screenings, attendees can assess their alcohol use and learn what to do and where to go if they need help. If the individual requests it, referrals to treatment can be obtained at one of these sites or through SAMHSA's Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator (See For More Information).

Addressing a wide range of drinking behaviors from risky drinking to alcohol dependence, the National Alcohol Screening Day program is a community-based program, which involves various community organizations, colleges, hospitals, emergency rooms, and primary care practices. The program includes educational presentations, alcohol screenings, and opportunities for participants to meet with a health professional.

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