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How You Can Help

Drinking is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Greater success in preventing underage drinking can go a long way towards protecting our young people from the harm that alcohol can cause. Prevention is as important as treatment. Fortunately, there are many organizations and options in both areas for parents, educators, health care professionals, advocates, and community leaders who want to help. You can:

Join Community Efforts to Prevent Underage Drinking

Drinking at an early age increases the risk that an individual will develop a serious alcohol problem later in life. Each year a young person delays drinking reduces that risk.

There are many community-based strategies that can help postpone drinking among youth. These include prevention programs, stricter enforcement of minimum drinking age laws, excise tax increases to discourage underage consumption, and regulation of alcoholic beverage sales.

You can also do your part by refusing to serve alcohol to minors in your home. Adults who condone supervised drinking send mixed messages and undermine community prevention efforts.

Communities also can participate in national prevention and treatment activities including Alcohol Awareness Month (April), National Alcohol Screening Day (April), Alcohol Free Weekend (April) and Recovery Month (September).

Establish and strengthen community- and school-based programs to help young people with serious alcohol problems.

Many communities offer programs to serve high-risk youth through the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, mental health clinics, shelters for runaway youth and vocational/job corps programs for high school drop outs. These programs can be critical for reaching young people with serious alcohol problems and assisting them in their recovery.

School nurses, disciplinarians and guidance counselors are often early points of contact for students with serious alcohol problems and should be supported in their efforts to identify and help these young people. Some school systems have formalized these efforts by establishing Student Assistance Programs (SAPs) which can be found in more than 1,500 school systems.

SAPs are modeled after Employee Assistance Programs, which many employers provide to help employees with problems that negatively affect their work performance. Like those programs, SAPs use their proximity to and familiarity with specific groups to help identify people with alcohol problems and refer them to appropriate treatment. While more research is needed concerning the effectiveness of SAPs, one large study in Rhode Island indicated that 86 percent of those who participated in an SAP reduced or stopped use of alcohol and other drugs.

For more information about SAPs, contact Student Assistance Services and the National Student Assistance Association.

Encourage wider screening and improved assessment for serious alcohol problems.

Screening young people for serious alcohol problems, in combination with assessment, facilitates early intervention and referral to an appropriate level of treatment.

Juvenile justice workers, school counselors, street youth workers and others who come into contact with high-risk youth can use standardized screening tools such as CRAFFT for screening in as little as 15 minutes. Although the American Medical Association recommends that health care professionals ask all young people about their use of alcohol and other drugs, more targeted screening can occur in primary care and emergency room settings among adolescents who are being treated for injury, sudden behavioral change and gastrointestinal complaints.


Clinical research indicates that health professionals can use the CRAFFT screening instrument to diagnose alcohol use disorders among adolescents. Its brevity and the inclusion of other drugs provide a considerable advantage over several other clinically proven screening instruments.

Two "yes" answers indicate a need for further assessment; four "yes' answers are indicative of dependence.

Source: Knight JR, Sherritt L, et al. 2002. Validity of the CRAFFT Substance Abuse Screening Test Among Adolescent Clinic Patients. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 156: 607-614.

Schools also offer opportunities for targeted screening among students with conduct disorders, significant changes in grade point average and a great number of unexcused school absences.

Organize systems of care to treat serious alcohol and other drug use problems among young people, as well as mental health problems, more effectively.

Because so many young people who drink have other health problems, separate systems for treating serious alcohol and mental health problems may make it more difficult to treat either condition effectively. Instead, communities can organize systems of care that use thorough assessments to meet the needs of individuals.

Strong collaboration and communication among agencies that serve youth is necessary to establish these systems, which work best when they involve families and deliver services based on individualized treatment plans.

Support equal coverage in health insurance for treatment of serious alcohol problems.

Many privately insured health plans restrict coverage for treatment of addiction treatment through benefit limitations and higher copays for services. Support legislative efforts at the federal and state level that would require private health insurers to provide coverage for addiction treatment at levels equal to that for other medical conditions.

Respect an individual's decision not to drink.

Never pressure an individual to drink. Young people, in particular, are susceptible to peer pressure and may be reluctant to discuss the reasons why they are choosing not drink. When offering refreshments to another person, always include nonalcoholic alternatives.

Other Resources

Alcohol and the Family