Alcohol Awareness: Are Kids Getting the Message?

Prevention Efforts Can Contradict Other Influences

Teen With Earphones
Significant Number of Teens Unreached. © Getty Images

Adolescents can be influenced to try drug and alcohol by a variety of sources - their peers, movies, television shows or even the songs they hear. Prevention efforts are designed to counteract those negative influences by providing children and teens with the facts about the dangers of early use of alcohol or drugs.

Adolescents are seemingly inundated by alcohol and drug prevention messages: they hear it from their parents; at school they have special programs, posters, pamphlets, films, lectures and discussions; they hear public service advertisements on radio and television; and special observances like the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence's Alcohol Awareness Month target teens.

Remarkably, with all the various efforts to target this age group with prevention information, many of them are still not getting the message.

Fewer Teens Getting the Message

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the number of children who reported receiving drug or alcohol prevention messages from media and school sources has actually declined from 2002 to 2011.

A large majority of adolescents were exposed to prevention messages during those years, but the total number declined in spite of increased efforts to reach them.

The percentage of adolescents who had conversations with their parents about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse remained steady over the same period, but the NSDUH survey found that 40% of teens did not have those conversations with parents.

Trends in Teen Exposure

Here are some of the trends in adolescent exposure to substance abuse prevention messages that the survey found:

  • Teens who talked with their parents about substance abuse peaked at 60.3% in 2004, then leveled off to about 58%.
  • Those who participated in a prevention program outside of school peaked at 13.9% in 2003, then leveled off to about 11.5%.
  • Adolescents who were exposed to prevention messages through media sources between 2002 and 2004 was about 83%, but dropped all the way to 75.1% in 2011.
  • Teens who received prevention messages at school dropped from 82.5% in 2002 to 77.7% in 2011.

These trends were similar for both males and females.

Exposure to Prevention Messages in 2011

The NSDUH survey looked at exposure to prevention messages for two adolescent age groups: those 12 to 14 and teens 15 to 17. In 2011, the survey found that the younger group was more likely to have received prevention messages in school, but less likely than the older group to have received them from media or their parents.

The latest available NSDUH figures (2011) for both groups combined show that:

  • 75.1% were exposed to messages in the media.
  • 74.6% were exposed to messages at school.
  • 57.8% talked with their parents.
  • 11.7% participated in a program outside of school.

Need to Remain Deligent

Although Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration officials point out that these numbers indicate most youth are getting the prevention message, it is significant that 40% of them do not hear the message from their parents and about one-fourth of them somehow go through school without being exposed to the message.

In 2013, SAMHSA officials reported that continued vigilance is needed - by practitioners, policymakers, educators, and parents - to ensure that youth is receiving prevention messages to counterbalance those forces that influence teens to begin experimenting with drugs.

Parents should be aware that it is never too early to begin a family conversation about the dangers and consequences of alcohol and drug abuse.

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration "Trends in Exposure to Substance Use Prevention Messages among Adolescents." The NSDUH Report February 2013

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