U project aims to curb teen alcohol use

Chris Vetter

Alcohol consumption has been on the rise in public schools for years. The use of alcohol by teenagers is a growing concern for parents and teachers alike. A 1992 study shows that 88 percent of 12th graders reported using alcohol at some time in their lives.
A University project is aiming to curb this growth of alcohol use. Researchers for Project Northland began working with junior high students in 1991 and are now following these students through high school.
The project began with 2,400 sixth-grade students and was implemented in 24 northern Minnesota communities where student drinking is at very high levels, said Kelly Komro, a research assistant on the project.
Project researchers worked with students who are looked up to by their classmates. They provided preventive training for the students and helped set up alcohol free extra-curricular activities for them.
“We are trying to tap into social influences for these teen-agers,” Komro said. Peer pressure not to drink is effective in this program, she added.
Results of the first half of the project were published in the July edition of the American Journal of Public Health. This part of the project followed a group of students through sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
The study showed a 28 percent decrease in the number of students who began using alcohol by the end of the eighth grade, and a 29 percent decrease in the number of students who said they consumed alcohol in the past month.
“This project demonstrates that a behavior like alcohol use that was seen as unchangeable can be changed,” said Cheryl Perry, chief researcher for Project Northland. The notion that kids are going to drink no matter what was proven wrong by this project, said Perry, an epidemiology professor.
The first phase of the project is preventing kids from drinking at an early age.
“Only a small percent of sixth-graders are using alcohol,” Komro said. “It is a prevention program before they reach high school.”
In the second phase of the program, researchers will follow the same group of students through high school. This part of the project will focus on ending teen-age access to alcohol.
Komro said curbing alcohol use is very important among high school students.
“Alcohol use is a major risk factor,” Komro said. “It can lead to violence, car crashes, sex and unwanted pregnancies.”
Komro added that car crashes are the leading cause of teen-age deaths and that alcohol had an influence in at least a third of these accidents.
The study was cited as one of the best in the nation by Making The Grade, a group that focuses on strategies to reduce drug and alcohol use.