Strategies & Approaches

Strategies and Approaches

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on underage drinking notes the following:

The patterns and consequences of youthful drinking are closely related to the overall extent and patterns of drinking in the society, and they are affected by the same factors that affect the patterns of adult consumption. From this standpoint, it is possible that the most effective way to reduce the extent and adverse consequences of youthful drinking would be to reduce the extent and consequences of adult drinking (2002:16).

An environment that does not support good choices (for alcohol consumption by individuals of any age) seriously undermines the education and awareness programs presented to youth. While young people get messages from role models such as their parents, teachers, and school counselors about the dangers of alcohol use, many contradictory messages about alcohol use are conveyed by other environmental sources. Advertisements and media portray drinking as the essence of “cool”—fun, sexy, and glamorous. Youth live in communities, often, that place a lower priority on enforcing campus alcohol policies or even the minimum legal drinking age. Young people report having easy access to alcohol, either by buying it themselves or getting it from adult providers. Finally, many adults convey a permissive attitude towards teen drinking: “thank goodness, it’s only alcohol” or “kids will just be kids,” “it’s a rite of passage.” Communities, overall, need to stop sending these mixed messages and instead help young people to develop safe and healthy behavior by creating a safer and healthier environment—one that is consistent  with the warnings against alcohol  concerned adults convey.

An environmental prevention model includes the following elements to bring about long lasting change:

  • Strategic use of data can help identify the problem, develop a strategy, and plan and monitor progress.
  • Community organizing ensures that community stakeholders are identified and involved, and helps to gain public support and change community norms.
  • Policy advocacy includes making changes in policies, either mandated (as in laws or regulations) or voluntary (via business or social policies or procedures).
  • Media advocacy where strategic use of the media helps to gain public and policymaker support for policy or norms change.
  • Enforcement of each of these elements ensures that the changes made are sustained over time.

For more information on environmental prevention, see the link below:

Hoover, S.A. 2005. Environmental Prevention. Community Prevention Institute (CPI) & Center for Applied Research Solutions (CARS). http://www.ca-cpi.org/tarp/EP-Final.pdf

The purpose of this publication is to provide an introduction to the use of environmental prevention strategies in the reduction of alcohol-related problems. Environmental prevention is a systems-approach designed to change structures and community norms that facilitate underage and hazardous drinking. This paper provides an overview of research on environmental prevention, discusses the key elements of an environmental prevention model, and provides information on planning and additional resources to apply these strategies at the community level.

Using an environmental change approach does not absolve youth of their actions. Certainly, they should be held accountable for their behavior; however, they are not the only ones responsible for binge drinking problems. Youth generally do not produce, promote, distribute, or sell alcohol--adults and adult businesses do. Youth do not set alcohol prices, taxes, advertising and promotion policies, nor establish laws and regulations--adult voters and businesses do.

Research and experience show that successful alcohol prevention programs should incorporate one or more of the following four science-based strategies.

Change social norms
Youth draw conclusions about alcohol-related social norms from what they see and hear about alcohol in their families and communities. These norms strongly influence their own attitudes and behaviors regarding alcohol. When communities consistently prevent underage access to alcohol, publicize and enforce alcohol-related laws, and limit the promotion of alcohol, they reinforce the message that alcohol use by young people is unacceptable.

Improve law enforcement
Communities can better enforce policies designed to stop drinking among children and adolescents. Studies find that existing laws regulating underage drinking are often not enforced. When these laws are ignored, it not only enables young people to drink but also communicates a general indifference to underage drinking.

Reduce availability
The most documented principle in alcohol use prevention is: Make it harder for young people to get alcohol, and they will drink less. Communities can make alcohol less available by promoting responsible adult behavior and holding adults accountable when they provide alcohol to minors; by raising the price of beer, wine, and liquor; or by reducing the number of places where alcohol is sold or served.

Change policies
Policymakers can take an active role in limiting alcohol availability to youth. Increasing alcohol taxes, raising the minimum drinking age, enforcing zero tolerance laws, and promoting social host liability laws are just a few strategies that policymakers can promote to reduce underage and binge drinking in their local communities, and send a message to youth and adults alike that underage drinking is not tolerated in the community.

Each of these strategies and approaches will be explored in depth as you navigate these pages.


Hoover, S.A. Policy Strategies to Reduce Underage and Binge Drinking. Prevention Tactics. Community Prevention Institute.

Hoover, S. 2004. Binge Drinking: Community Action to Reduce Binge Drinking. Prevention Tactics 8:4. Community Prevention Institute.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2004. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance United States, 2003. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: CDC Surveillance Summaries 53(SS-2):1-96.