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SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 4, 2003

SAMHSA Offers Alcohol Prevention Strategies to Youth

Think children age 9 to 13 are too young for anti-alcohol messages? Think again.

By eighth grade, many students are already drinkers. In SAMHSA's 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, for example, 6.5 percent of 13-year-olds reported that they had downed at least one drink in the last month. And the average age of kids taking their first drink is dropping, the survey reports. Underage drinking doesn't just harm children's physical and psychological development, either. It also sets them up for problems later in life. In fact, the survey warns that kids who first try alcohol at age 14 or younger are 4 1/2 times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence problems later in life than those who have their first drink at 18 or older.

Young people participating in Too Smart to Start activities in Cincinnati, Ohio, this summer
Young people participate in "Too Smart to Start" activities in Cincinnati, OH, this summer.

To stop such problems before they begin, SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) recently launched a national public education initiative called "Too Smart to Start." Part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Youth Media Campaign to Change Children's Health Behaviors, the initiative provides research-based materials and strategies that professionals and volunteers at the local level can use to educate their communities' children—and parents or other caregivers—about the dangers of underage drinking.

Photo of John Overlook, Mark Clegg, and Shondolyn Lagdameyo
Event volunteers include (l to r) John Overlook, Mark Clegg (holding baby Elizebeth), and Shondolyn Lagdameyo, a staff member at the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati.

To help get the message out, several national organizations—the American Medical Association, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors/National Prevention Network, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, National Family Partnership, and PRIDE Youth Programs—will help publicize the initiative and disseminate its materials to their community-based affiliates. Ten community-based projects around the country will also be involved as pilot programs.

Together they will work to meet the initiative's specific objectives of increasing the number of conversations children and adults have about the harms of underage drinking, increasing the percentage of 9- to 13-year-olds and their parents or other caregivers who view underage drinking as a problem, and increasing the general public's disapproval of underage drinking. An evaluation will assess the initiative's impact in the 10 pilot sites.

"It's a whole lot easier to keep children from starting to use alcohol in the first place than it is to intervene once they've become drinkers," said CSAP Director Beverly Watts Davis. "With this initiative, every member of the community can help us keep youngsters from taking that first sip of alcohol."

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A Multifaceted Approach

Developed with input from 9- to 13-year-olds and their parents and other caregivers, "Too Smart to Start" puts the issues important to young people at its center. The initiative's philosophy is to allow young people themselves to offer advice and help create prevention efforts rather than simply participate in them. As young people introduce their parents and other caregivers to today's youth culture, adults' roles shift from directing activities to acting as partners and supervisors. While kids learn the importance of not drinking, adults learn how to listen and modify their own behavior.

The initiative provides everything that children, parents, and other community members need to start their own ongoing campaigns against underage drinking.

One key resource is the Too Smart to Start: Community Action Kit, which features an implementation guide offering information about underage drinking and step-by-step advice on starting local projects. The guide explains how to research target audiences, assess local needs, identify partners, create an action plan, and raise public awareness through presentations, special events, educational programs, and the mass media. It also features such resources as a needs assessment form, talking points for presentations, a quiz, press release guidelines, and a sample letter to the editor. In addition to the guide, the kit includes a brochure, a poster, a "SmartSTATS" data book, booklets for parents, PowerPoint presentations, and sample public service announcements for print, radio, and television.

too SMART to START logoThe initiative offers plenty of other materials to support local efforts. Additional "Too Smart to Start" materials include posters for both children and adults, ready-to-use public service announcements, booklets that help parents and other caregivers talk to children about drinking, and a board game designed to dispel common myths about alcohol use and encourage open discussion about drinking.

Communities don't have to use every single resource, however. Flexibility is one of the initiative's hallmarks, say its developers, noting that communities can customize their own initiatives to reflect local needs and resources. The "Too Smart to Start" brochure even outlines options for more or less intensive campaigns. Communities with limited resources, for instance, could make the core tactic called "Mosaic Messages"—public service announcements featuring snippets of interviews with local children and adults—the centerpiece of their efforts. Communities with greater resources could also create documentaries allowing children to give their own perspectives on underage alcohol use.

All "Too Smart to Start" materials are available free of charge; the initiative also offers communities free technical assistance on a wide range of topics. To order materials or arrange technical assistance, write to SAMHSA's National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20847-2345; or call 1 (800) 729-6686 (English and Spanish) or 1 (800) 487-4889 (TDD); or go to End of Article

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    SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 4, 2003

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