Component Directors: Kathryn Stewart and Paul J. Gruenewald, Ph.D.
What can you do about alcohol problems in your community?
Researchers and prevention practitioners at the Prevention Research Center have been on the frontline since 1987, helping provide the research support and resources communities need to prevent alcohol use by underage drinkers, reduce problems among adults, and minimize the risks we all experience from heavy drinking, abuse and dependence. It is not just the drinker who may suffer from alcohol problems, but also his or her friends, family, and acquaintances who may be the unintended victims of drinking behavior: Drunken driving kills, and sometimes kills the innocent. Aggression and violence related to alcohol use is unleashed in interactions with other adults, and the spouses and children of problem drinkers. While treatment can help those who are addicted or dependent on alcohol, many drinking problems affect drinkers and non-drinkers alike and are best prevented by changing alcohol environments.
Over the past three decades we’ve examined many strategies that have been taken to reduce these alcohol problems; we have come to focus our particular efforts on environmental strategies since these appear most effective. Effective environmental strategies are those actions communities can take to change alcohol environments and reduce problems. Here are two examples: Underage drinking can be reduced by encouraging young people to “Just Say No” to alcohol use, but a much more effective strategy is to increase enforcement of laws against underage sales. Similarly, alcohol related violence could be reduced by encouraging moderate use among young adults, but a more effective strategy is to address those contexts in which risks are greatest; reduce the number and densities of risk contexts, such as numbers of outlets or frequencies of college drinking parties, and you effectively reduce violence and aggression related to drinking.Our education and dissemination component actively shares what we’ve learned with the public, community members and leaders, and policy makers throughout California and the US to help provide them with the tools necessary to prevent or limit the harmful consequences of substance use with a specific focus on alcohol. We help communities to identify local issues and potential barriers and suggest ways of moving forward to achieve the best possible outcomes.
The Education and Dissemination component of our research center is not a research component. But we must know our target audiences and their different needs in order to provide the best, most useful materials to aid, support and direct them in their work. Each target audience has their own unique needs and specific goals which, when properly addressed, can help advance community-based alcohol prevention strategies: City planners may be interested in zoning policies for alcohol outlets, police may be interested in effective policing practices to prevent drunken driving, the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving may be interested in underage access to alcohol. In each case the audience, goals and needs differ; thus, education and dissemination activities must adapt to each.
Education and dissemination activities must also be aware of the stages of the “Prevention Research Cycle” for every preventive intervention and target health outcome. We do not have a comprehensive model of all the risks for all alcohol problems so recommended environmental prevention strategies will be dependent upon the stage of current research. Some strategies are known to work very well for specific purposes; we know that even relatively modest police enforcement of underage sales laws can effectively reduce underage access to alcohol. Some work well but may not be available to communities; increased beverage prices reduce use and problems but are difficult to affect at the community level. Yet other strategies are under development; “social hosted” parties, those parties among underage youth at which adults permit alcohol use, are a risk to young people, but effective prevention strategies are only now under consideration.
With our community focus in mind we help communities by:
Effective environmental strategies are those actions communities* can take to change alcohol environments and reduce problems. Applying these strategies changes alcohol environments to benefit public health. Click on any of the buttons in the model to learn about some of the policy concerns currently being addressed by our research.
*A “community” can be defined in many ways, such as a small town, a rural community, a neighborhood, even a college or school. Essentially it is a group of individuals living in one locale in relatively similar conditions.