Voices from the Field

Voices from the Field is a place for administrators, teachers, school support staff, community, and family members to learn what experts -- researchers, practitioners, family -- from across the country think by reading a short post that includes the latest promising practices on a range of school climate topics, along with references and related resources.

How effective is your community in creating environments that help young adults understand the risks of underage drinking?

The Issue of Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol use by persons under age 21 years is a major public health problem. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth aged 12-20 in the United States, more than tobacco and illicit drugs, and is responsible for more than 4,700 annual deaths among underage youth. People aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinking episodes. On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers. In 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol use.

Who Can Address Alcohol Consumption?

To reduce underage drinking, a community must collaborate with high school and college administrators, student body leadership, social and athletic organizational leadership, parents, neighborhood associations, local retailers, community and campus police, and other community members to maximize community-wide efforts that impact both high school and college students.  This can be in the form of community coalition building or grass roots community organizing.

Collaboration among these stakeholders can be challenging, however. Philosophy about zero tolerance versus harm reduction focus, and even forms of illegal procurement of alcohol for high school and college students often differ, making consensus on specific strategies difficult, and require special approaches to bring stakeholders to unifying action despite these differences. Prevention research strongly supports the use of comprehensive, integrated programs with multiple complementary components. Such evidence-based prevention strategies geared to secondary and post-secondary students require collaborative efforts between organizational leaders at high schools and colleges, and key community members. Similarly, the transition from high school to college presents new opportunities and new problems for young adults. These transitional issues point to the need for high schools and colleges to work together with community members to assist young adults in making appropriate choices.

How Can Community Collaboratives Best Address Alcohol Consumption?

To address secondary and postsecondary problems related to alcohol consumption, experts recommend:

  • Identifying key constituents for collaboration
  • Developing specific mechanisms for engaging key campus and community groups
  • Developing comprehensive gender- and culturally-appropriate approaches to working with high schools, colleges, and communities
  • Identifying methods of moving coalitions from talk to action
  • Building collaborations through coalition building and grassroots community organizing is pivotal in addressing the issue of underage drinking. Focus on intervention strategies that are proven to work and the need for staff or volunteers who are strategic and not afraid of conflict is equally important.

While there are challenges, there are proven methods to combat underage alcohol abuse.

  • Increasing awareness of drinking policies
  • Increasing enforcement polices
  • Working with the judicial system
  • Having systems in place to make sure polices are being fully implemented


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