Engs, Ruth C. [Ed.] Controversies in the Addiction's Field Gail Milgram. "Chapter 22: Alcohol and Drug Education: School and Community Factors."

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Alcohol/Drug Education: School and Community Factors

Gail Gleason Milgram, Ed.D.


America's belief in the ability of its educational systems to solve social problems has fueled dramatic growth in school-based programs. The renewed interest in alcohol and drug prevention and education programs is but one example of the problems schools are expected to tackle. There are many essential elements for alcohol drug education to be comprehensive and integrated in the school's curriculum: a clear and articulated philosophy, realistic goals and obtainable objectives, content and methods that support the program, trained educators, and strategies that meet the needs of the students. A key factor in any educational program is the community's support, as the philosophical base and policy structure for the school's program evolves from the community. Building a bridge between the community and the school to create programs that are reinforced by both elements is an important task for prevention in the 1990s.

The School

Fors notes the school's mandate to contribute to the development of young people and the major challenges faced by the institution (1990). Weishert et al. studied whether the schools are appropriate settings for prevention programs and they found that although students might not be receptive to ail the information and activities provided in this setting, they do not "tune-out" school-based prevention programs (1984). Alcohol and drug education programs in schools date back to the 1800s, yet they have often lacked comprehensiveness. Gliksman and Smythe stress the importance of integration within the school's curriculum as the cornerstone of the schoo1's alcohol/drug program (1990).

Many programs have not defined prevention or clarified goals. Since selecting obtainable goals is directly related to the positive impact of the program and the ability to measure its results, prevention of what and for whom needs to be presented in a realistic fashion. The following list of questions is


designed to clarify goals and philosophical issues (Milgrarn, 1987):

A clear and articulated philosophy provides the support for policy development and educational program implementation. Other critical components for an alcohol/drug education program are alcohol/drug content materials and methods that support the goals and objectives and trained educators who understand and support the program. Identifying the needs of the students and incorporating the reality of the adolescent world into the program are also essential aspects. An open and nonthreatening classroom atmosphere facilitates the educational process. Since the classroom is a peer group, it is essential that the students interact with each other and discuss positive alternatives in high-risk situations. Perry's review of adolescent prevention programs suggests that peer-led strategies can be an effective method for drug abuse and heatith-promotion programs (1987).

Student Assistance Programs (SAPs), which are designed to help young people who are experiencing problems, are relatively recent addition to the school-based prevention area. The SAP assesses problems, promotes early intervention, and refers the young person to treatment when necessary. The issue of alcohol/drug problem educators must also be considered by the school


system: If an impaired educator is not receiving help, it will negatively impact on the programs designed for students. The alcohol/drug-dependent teacher or administrator needs to receive treatment. If treatment options are not part of the school system's personnel policy and procedures, the person's problem may become more severe.

Unfortunately, many systems emphasize some aspects of alcohol/ drug education and neglect others. For example, a school may purchase an excellent curriculum guide but neglect to train their educators in its use. Another example is a school system that limits the alcohol/drug education to one educational level (e.g., high school) or to one period of time (e.g., prom/graduation). When evaluation of alcohol/drug education programs occurs, and this is relatively infrequently, measurement of success is usually based only on the existing pieces. The role of possible missing elements is not considered. That is, it would be difficult to assess program impact on students' behavior if the program has not been developed and implemented in a comprehensive fashion.

The evaluation is often conducted immediately at the end of the program, and may not measure the program's full impact. Milgram's review of alcohol and drug education programs notes that too often programs are expected to produce dramatic effects in relatively short periods of time; when this doesn't occur, support is often withdrawn (1987). Bry suggests that evaluation studies should have a follow-up time of more than two years to allow for changes in behavior to appear (1978). Staulcup et al. recommends that the evaluation project be supported for longer than three years (1979), and Gliksman and Smythe point out that the value of school-based initiatives may not be apparent for several years (1990). Not only is there a need to build in longer follow up evaluations of school-based programs but measures of the program's impact on behavior need to be incorporated into the program's design.

Another issue which needs to be addressed is that too often program success is defined by political, rather than behavioral, measures. If individuals (e.g., school/community) are pleased with the program and feel that the program is successful, which it may or may not be, then program success is assumed, not studied (Gliksman and Smythe, 1990). This may create a difficult situation later when the school/community discovers that alcohol/drug problems still exist. The education program is then blamed for the failure when, in point of fact, the program may not have been well constructed or properly evaluated in the first place.

A problem, identified in reviewing the reviews of the literature, is that combined are many studies of varying levels of sophistication, grade levels, subject groups (e.g., age, socioeconomic level, geographic region), curricula, etc. Therefore the results resemble a hodgepodge and provide


little in the way of future direction (Goodstadt, 1986; Gliksman and Smythe, 1990; Milgram,1987).The lack of comprehensive and replicated evaluation research makes it difficult to provide information on what works for whom at what point in time.

The Community

The community is composed of many significant groups: businesses, churches, civic groups, courts, government, health care providers, helping professionals, police, school systems, etc. The philosophical position on alcohol/drugs and dependency, which is necessary for school-based prevention programs, must evolve from and with the community, as community support is essential for the educational programs. Also, if a community denies that a problem exists, this must be addressed. Realization that the problem can be dealt with can motivate the community to mobilize; the community can provide information on the range and diversity of patterns of alcohol and drug use. Community members can assess the needs of the community, coordinate the efforts of the many diverse groups, and support implementation of effective programs.

Community awareness of significant alcohol/drug issues has been targeted by the federal government (e.g., minimum age of purchase of alcohol), national groups (e.g., NCA, MADD, SADD), and campaigns by local organizations (e.g., Rotary Clubs, Jaycees) on significant topics, such as drinking and driving. Community governments also have a strong interest in prevention programs and can help develop community coalition groups and support organizations working on alcohol/drug problems. Corporate America is also supporting a range of programs for schools (e.g., curriculum development, teaching aids, educational kits), providing alcohol/drug messages through media resources (e.g., billboards, TV/radio public service announcements, videos) and funding community based projects (Adams and West, 1988). Work site prevention strategies (e.g., personnel policies, health promotion programs, and community projects) have also been implemented by many corporations.

The input and interaction of the parents in a community is a critical component in school-based alcohol/drug education. It is essential that parents be informed of the school system's policies on alcohol/drug use and problems and be given information regarding the alcohol/drug education program that is being conducted in the schools. Parents should know what type of program is in effect, in which grade levels the alcohol/drug education program is being conducted, and who is responsible for teaching the material (e.g., classroom teacher, health educator, school nurse). How the school is dealing with students who have an alcohol/drug problem should also be shared with the parent population. In addition, the manner in which the assistance


program interfaces with parentss and the community needs to be delineated. Parents should know how to access the program, what help is available in the school, and what outside referral resources are used. Support groups for parents have developed in many communities to help parents deal with issues of raising their children, facing alcohol/drug problems, and developing strategies to handle problem situations. Parent groups have also written letters of concern regarding alcohol/drugs in their community, offered support to school-based programs, raised money to help young and their parents (Allen, 1986).

The bridge between the school and community enables the flow of alcohol/drug information and motivates discussion on specific topics. Community support also reinforces the school's messages and ensures consistency (Gliksman and Smythe, 1990). Communities and schools have developed strategies to work together to solve a common problem. The Seattle Social Development Project in the Seattle school system focuses on training teachers and parents in identifying risk factors in alcohol/drug abuse and in developing skills to deal with these issues; the relationship between children and the significant adults in their lives is considered more important than the given curriculum. The Family Interaction Program, developed by the staff of the Summer Tobacco and Alcohol Risk Reduction (STARR) Project in Sumner, Washington, is based on the premise that family participation in alcohol/drug education will enhance the classroom prevention program. Training sessions for participating parents include alcohol/drug information, decision, coping skills, self concept and the activities in the Family Activity Book; the program complements the Here's Looking at You, Two curriculum and provide stategies and methods for families and schools to work together (Mecca, 1984).

The growth in the community-based prevention emanates from the belief that the community is well suited to a multi-faceted program (Saltz, 1988). Though little research exists on the success of community based alcohol/drug programs, the positive results from other community health promotion programs (e.g., cardiac health, anti-smoking, fitness) support the development of community alcohol/drug education programs. Research on what is successful will help show communities how to define and expand their role in this area. Program replicatiom in other communities will be stimulated by the suc achieved byu the program in one community.


The author gratefully acknowledges the help and assistance provided by Marilyn Z. Carpenter during the prepartion of this manuscript.



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