Can alcoholism and addiction be prevented?
In a society that continually promotes alcohol and drug use at every level, the need to provide education on the dangers of alcohol and drug use and its effect on children has never been greater. NCADD believes education on this critical threat needs to begin as early as possible in people's lives. Properly educated, children and youth are much more likely to avoid such dangers.
While many teens drink alcohol and use drugs, underage substance use is not inevitable. Families, communities and individuals are not helpless to prevent it. In fact, research confirms the benefits of parents providing consistent rules and discipline, talking to children about alcohol and drugs, monitoring their activities, getting to know their friends, understanding their problems and concerns, and being involved in their learning. The importance of open communication between parents and their kids regarding the negative effects of alcohol and drug use play a significant role in decreasing the chances of those kids developing a substance use disorder. And such communication continues to provide benefits through adolescence and beyond.
Prevention efforts are especially important for young people, and communities, schools, and workplaces provide essential venues for reaching those who may be at risk with prevention messages and strategies. It has been said that the best prevention is early intervention, and if the progress of alcoholism and drug abuse can be stopped early in its course, then great individual suffering and family disruption can be avoided.
Prevention programs can strengthen protective factors among young children by teaching parents better family communication skills, appropriate discipline styles, firm and consistent rule enforcement, and other family management approaches. At the same time, prevention strategies can address those most at risk with accurate information about alcohol and drugs, articulate the potential consequences from their abuse, and offer activities and opportunities unrelated to drinking or drugging that may open new doors for youth who are still growing, learning, and expanding their horizons.
Specific to young people, there are four areas which have proven to be effective in prevention and intervention of underage drinking:
1). Changing cultural misconceptions and behaviors about alcohol use through education.
Young people draw conclusions about alcohol-related social norms from what they see and hear about alcohol in their families and communities. These norms strongly influence their own attitudes and behaviors regarding alcohol. When communities consistently prevent underage access to alcohol, publicize and enforce alcohol-related laws, and limit the promotion of alcohol, they reinforce the message that alcohol use by young people is unacceptable.
2). Curtailing the availability of alcohol to young people under age 21.
The most documented principle in alcohol use prevention is: Make it harder for young people to get alcohol, and they will drink less. Communities can make alcohol less available by promoting responsible adult behavior and holding adults accountable when they provide alcohol to minors; by raising the price of beer, wine, and liquor; or by reducing the number of places where alcohol is sold or served.
3). Consistent enforcement of existing laws and regulations regarding alcohol purchase.
Communities can better enforce policies designed to stop drinking among children and adolescents. Studies find that existing laws regulating underage drinking are often not enforced. When these laws are ignored, it not only enables young people to drink but also communicates a general indifference to underage drinking.
4). Expanded access to treatment and recovery support services for adolescents and their families.
For adolescents, treatments that facilitate positive parental involvement, integrate other systems in which the adolescent participates (such as school and athletics), and recognize the importance of prosocial peer relationships are among the most effective. Access to comprehensive assessment, treatment, case management, and family-support services that are developmentally, culturally, and gender-appropriate is also integral when addressing adolescent addiction.