A recent Reuters article revealed that the use of alcohol, prescription medications and illicit substances – other than marijuana – among U.S. teens is largely down in 2016, based on a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The annual survey is part of a series called Monitoring the Future which has tracked drug, alcohol and tobacco use among teens since 1975.
So, what’s the cause?
- Some experts think the decrease in smoking may be responsible for the decline in drinking and drugs. For the longest time, smoking has been a gateway to illicit activities. Cutting down on smoking means fewer teens are drinking alcohol and doing drugs.
- It’s been suggested that social media and video games may have contributed by keeping teens occupied at home and away from any peer pressure to consume alcohol or drugs outside of the home. In this case, the distraction is a welcomed one.
- One professional relates it to better relationships between teens and their parents. This may or may not be the case for all families, but for those parents with open lines of communication with their children, it’s making conversations about underage drinking easier to swallow.
- Other researchers say it shows that changes in policy that reduce the availability of drugs are working. Although, that’s not the case in states where marijuana is now legal.
- Even so, NIH researchers have attributed the decline in teen drinking and drug use as a sign that national campaigns warning against the dangers of drinking and drugs do actually work.
So, how is PR playing a role in reducing teen drug use and underage drinking? Here are five prevention campaigns that seem to be having a social impact on health trends among teens.
DoSomething.org and truth empower teens to take tobacco off the shelves
In 2014, CVS Health stopped selling tobacco products because the company declared that tobacco and pharmacies don’t mix well. This month, DoSomething.org and truth, the tobacco prevention campaign, joined forces for Take Back the Shelves, which inspires young people to create social change by demanding that pharmacies remove tobacco from shelves. The campaign educates teens about how tobacco companies aim to sell their products at point-of-sale, and asks participants to download a template and create artwork with items they want to see behind pharmacy checkout counters instead of tobacco products. They share their drawings on social media with #TakeBacktheShelves tagging a pharmacy.
SAMHSA’s Talk. They Hear You. campaign equips parents to discuss alcohol with their children
Underage drinking has been linked to brain development issues, injury or death from accidents, academic problems, drug use and sexual activity. And, research indicates that parents are an important influence on a teen’s decision to consume alcohol. Knowing that when parents talk about drinking, their children listen, SAMHSA launched an underage drinking prevention campaign to help parents address the issue of alcohol with their children early by providing interactive resources. The “Talk. They Hear You.” (TTHY) app is a game outlining the do’s and don’ts of talking to children and teens about underage drinking. It provides parents an opportunity to practice bringing up the topic of alcohol, think about questions to ask, and keep the conversation going.
Finish It movement seeks to end smoking and close the wage gap
While the teen cigarette smoking is at an all-time low, it’s been proven that smokers earn 20 percent less than non-smokers. Generally, smoking is linked with lower education, which typically means less earnings. So, truth and DoSomething.org are rallying a new generation to finish smoking for good by encouraging young people to #FinishIT. This prevention campaign uses myth busting true and false questions to shed light on the issue, and the social hashtag #FinishIt.
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids produces BREAKING POINTS documentary about teen stress and drug use
Today’s teens’ lives are packed from early morning until bedtime, and keeping up with high school homework, college essays, social media, sports, volunteering, part-time jobs and friends can be a daily struggle. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids produced BREAKING POINTS, a 30-minute documentary that explores the pressures that U.S. teens face and the ways that many cope by abusing prescriptions, other drugs and alcohol. The prevention campaign features candid perspectives from high school and college students, challenging the effectiveness of using prescription stimulants without a doctor’s prescription. The documentary is informing conversations about ways communities can support teens struggling to manage stress.
Youth Coalition gives Sticker Shock to anyone providing alcohol to underage teens
Over the thanksgiving holiday, the North Coastal Prevention Youth Coalition initiated a week-long campaign to send a message to young people to prevent underage drinking. The prevention campaign was called Sticker Shock and served as a reminder to anyone hosting a party, or thinking about providing alcohol to those under 21, that it’s against the law. The youth coalition placed yellow stickers on beer and alcoholic drinks in San Diego convenience stores. The stickers read “providing alcohol to minors under 21 is against the law” and “if they can’t buy it, don’t supply it.” This campaign is an example of youth taking control of their futures and committing to stay alcohol free.