Vice Squad
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
Optimal Advice to Teens About Alcohol: Just Tell Them No?

Primo research assistant Ryan Monarch brings this Washington Post column (registration required) to Vice Squad's attention. The column is entitled "Why You Shouldn't Teach Moderate Drinking," and it promotes the work of a group called "Community of Concern." Community of Concern publishes a pamphlet, "A Parent's Guide for the Prevention of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Use," that has been adopted by many school districts. Their website also offers an e-learning course for parents.

The Post article and the Community of Concern website both emphasize the science behind the policy prescription of keeping kids away from alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. From the Post article: "[The booklet] says that kids should wait until their brains and bodies are both physically and emotionally mature enough to deal with the biochemical alterations of alcohol ingestion. The research indicates that people are not ready to drink until their early twenties. The law and science say the same thing independently -- don't drink until 21."

I am much less sure than the booklet's authors seem to be, however, that a policy of just telling kids not to use the stuff is so clearly the best approach and further, is dictated by science. Yes, adolescents and young adults do face specific physical and "economic" harms from drug use beyond those faced by adults, and irresponsible use by adolescents is particularly costly and troubling. But most kids in the US will try alcohol before they are 18, and a majority will even sample currently illicit drugs. Safe use messages, particularly for older teens, seem, then, to have a lot to recommend them. For this harm reduction approach in the case of drugs, see the website of Safety First. For a fuller discussion of this tricky issue, see this previous Vice Squad post.

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