Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The environmental approach

In last week's post about Project Extra Mile, I praised Diane Riibe for her advocacy of the environmental approach to underage drinking prevention.  Just what is the environmental approach?  It is perhaps easiest to explain by contrasting it with an individual approach.

The individual approach focuses on young people who are under the legal drinking age.  It uses strategies aimed at convincing them that they should refrain from consuming alcohol until they reach the legal age.  It threatens them with consequences for violating the law.  It attempts to educate them about the effects of alcohol, and about the risks of underage drinking.

The environmental approach, conversely, focuses on making changes not in the individual, but in the external environment.  Such changes often involve public policy and legislation.  Typical examples would be raising the legal drinking age, lowering the threshold for driving under the influence, strategies to reduce access to alcohol by those underage, increases in alcohol excise taxes, heightened accountability for adult providers. Tools for an environmental approach might also include compliance checks for retail establishments, efforts to reduce marketing aimed at youth, and more.

I am a strong believer in the environmental approach, and these are strategies that we used extensively during the 12 years I co-chaired Lincoln's campus-community coalition to reduce high risk drinking by young people, NU Directions (which subsequently transitioned to the Nebraska Collegiate Consortium).  These strategies, however, do not entirely replace those aimed at individuals. I still firmly believe in holding individual underage drinkers responsible for their actions, and for doing what we can to ensure that they understand the consequences.  An environmental approach, however, is appealing in its efficacy: it offers a big bang for the buck.

At last Wednesday's Project Extra Mile recognition dinner, a speaker did a good job of explaining the a dozens of overheated students on the verge of heat-related illness.  You could rush about to each, have them stop their physical activity and sit or lie down, apply cool damp washcloths to their head and neck, and provide each with cool water to drink.  That would be an individual approach.  Or, you could turn down the thermostat, and turn on the ceiling fans--an environmental approach.

Better yet, you could use a combined approach: tweak the HVAC, ramp up the fans, stop the scrimmage, and push the liquids.  


Steve said...

Don't forget about the importance of alternative transportation. Given that many are going to drink no matter what (teens and adults), stress the importance of a designated driver, or make sure cabs are both available and affordable. While I didn't always know what my kids were doing, I'm fairly sure they were careful not to drive under the influence, usually by having someone along who either didn't care to drink, or was willing to forgo it for one night. Related to that, let teens know that they are not doing anyone any favors by allowing their friends to drive drunk. Take the keys; you can give them back tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

An environmental factor that probably negates most attempts to lessen underage drinking are the beer and booze commercials they see on TV. When all the "cool" people are seen partying it up constantly on TV I doubt if those youngsters are going to pay heed to logical reasons why they should not drink.

Gun Nut

Grundle King said...

Here's a few of my problems...

Raise the legal drinking age...great, instead of discouraging underage drinking, you've criminalized once legal behavior. Say we woke up tomorrow and the legal drinking age was 23...what do you think those 21/22 year-olds are going to do?

Lower the DUI limit...again, you criminalize once legal (albeit, not advisable) behavior, AND you don't actually address the problem of underage drinking. You don't have to be underage to drive drunk.

Increase alcohol excise taxes...ha, let's not lose sight of what this actually means. It means it costs little Billie his buddies a few more cents to buy what P.E.M. likes to call 'alcopops', which is their slang for malt beverages like Mike's Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice. But when Billie and his buds are getting their money from mom and dad, and they're already throwing in a little extra cash for their buyer, what does it actually accomplish but to punish those misguided adults who choose to drink these beverages legally. Speaking of big bang for the buck...why would they waste their money buying expensive alcopops when they can buy a handle of cheap vodka and juice?

Efforts to reduce marketing aimed at youth...you mean like banning the Budweiser frogs and lizards? Yeah, great success. Those commercials were usually better than anything that was on TV! It seems, by their definition, anything that's remotely funny is marketing aimed at youth.

I do believe in the efforts aimed at reducing access, retail compliance checks, and holding buyers accountable...but I am a firm believer in NOT punishing law abiding adults for legal behavior because some kids aren't getting the message.

In short, I think Project Extra Mile is a bit of a joke. I fully support efforts to reduce underage drinking, but it seems like they went off the rails with their approaches when their initial efforts didn't prove as productive as they hoped.

Steve said...

While most efforts of alcolhol makers to get people to drink responsibly are pitiful, at best, I have to hand it to Budwieser for making it sound cool to be a designated driver in some of their commercials.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the last name of the subject of this post (and last week's) is Riibe, not Ribbe (at least the OWH spells it the former way). While I don't know Ms. Riibe, I am thankful for her work and the work of all of you who are fighting underage and binge drinking.


Tom Casady said...


Thanks for that typo.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more, the work she does now and previously for MADD is from the heart! We both have had the pleasure of working with Diane in educating and not preaching to young people about alcohol for several years and while it is another states gain, it is a great loss to the state of Nebraska. I wish her the best.
D Duensing