By Luis Vasquez, LICSW, Acting Director, SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention

During Alcohol Awareness Month each April, the nation takes note of the progress in reducing rates of

underage drinking and celebrate the efforts of communities across the country who are working together to prevent underage alcohol use.

According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), we have seen a dramatic decrease over the past 15 years in the percentage of 12- to 20-year-olds who report any lifetime alcohol use: 56.2 percent in 2002 down to 41.0 percent in 2017.

Sustaining Momentum through Community Engagement

SAMHSA’s initiative, Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking began in 2006 with the goal of bringing together stakeholders ranging from parents to law enforcement and educators to elected officials--anyone with an interest in preventing underage alcohol use and high-risk drinking among young adults. Nearly 10,000 Communities Talk events have taken place since then, starting important conversations around strategies and approaches for prevention efforts, and they’re making a difference. After the 2016 Communities Talk cycle, 84 percent of participants said they gained new knowledge about underage drinking, and 94 percent planned to share materials or lessons learned with others.

A critically important audience for Communities Talk events are parents, whose awareness of the prevalence and risks of underage drinking is essential to continuing the success of these efforts. For example, more than 80 parents attended a 2016 Communities Talk event "Safety, Stress, and Social Media: Educating Parents and Protecting Teens" in Hermosa Beach, California. During this meeting, the attendees heard from Hermosa Beach’s mayor, law enforcement, and public health experts about teen’s access to alcohol and related consequences. Parents learned about the city’s Social Host Ordinance, which allows law enforcement to impose a fine on adults who allow underage drinking in their home. The success of this event proved to be an inspiration for other underage drinking prevention efforts in Hermosa Beach, including training for local bar and restaurant owners in responsible beverage service.

The entire population of colleges and universities—administrators, faculty, students and parents comprise of another important audience. The University at Albany (New York) has been a leader in underage drinking prevention with steady declines in student alcohol use for more than a decade. The university held a Communities Talk panel event in 2016 that featured Albany’s mayor, a member of Congress, students, and SAMHSA staff. Attendees learned about the university’s underage drinking prevention strategies and campus and community prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

These are but two examples the impact of Communities Talk engagements in combination with additional prevention strategies are having. Several other communities across the country have experienced similar success after their events:

  • Newton, New Jersey, has experienced a 42 percent decreasein the use of alcohol among students in grades 6 through 12 since the city began hosting Communities Talk events in 2006.
  • More than 500youth in Erie County, Pennsylvania, have signed drug- and alcohol-free pledges.
  • In Butte County, California, 400 parents pledged that they wouldtake action to prevent underage drinking.
  • Future prevention initiatives and activities in Anaconda, Montana, received $730 in donations.

During April 2019 Alcohol Awareness Month, we encourage you to find your own way to get involved with underage drinking prevention efforts. Visit our website to learn how you can host a Communities Talk event or attend one in your community, and check out our Communities Talk  Success Stories to get inspired by other communities’ efforts.