What are they?
Environmental strategies are evidence-based and promising substance abuse prevention activities that are designed to complement the programs and services that aim to target individuals’ knowledge, attitudes and skills. Rather than targeting individual/ peer or internal risk factors such as early initiation of drug use or rebelliousness, these strategies target community domain risk factors such as laws and norms favorable toward drug use and/or availability of drugs. Many years of research in the area of substance abuse prevention has identified three main environmental strategies that are shown to influence the levels of consumption and negative social consequences of alcohol and drug use. These strategies are:
- Enhancing compliance with existing laws, regulations and policies to reduce the availability of illegal substances.
- Improving public and private laws, regulations and policies to reduce substance abuse and its negative consequences;
- Changing the social norms that support illegal substance use
These strategies are based on the fact that while individuals’ behaviors and attitudes are strongly influenced by family and friends it is also determined by the broader social influences in the community. The influence of providing programs and activities to increase a youth’s knowledge, skills and attitudes regarding substance abuse can be lost when the larger environment does not support what is being taught. One of the most influencing factors in a community’s level of substance use is a community’s social norms. Social norms can be defined as a pattern of behavior expected within a particular society in a given situation. The shared belief of what is normal and acceptable shapes and enforces the actions of people in a society. The very fact that others in one’s society follow the norm may give them a reason to follow it. Social norms are expressed through formal laws and regulations that govern acceptable behavior but also through media messages, advertising of products and also by community members’ tolerance and acceptance of certain behaviors such as underage drinking.
Research has shown that reducing youth exposure to alcohol advertising, enhancing enforcement of laws and regulations and creating a social atmosphere of disapproval of underage drinking reduces the prevalence of teen drinking and drug use.
What does this mean for Livingston County?
Through the Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse’s Healthy Communities that Care (HCTC) Initiative there has been extensive research on risk and protective factors present in Livingston County youth as well as prevalence of substance use and other antisocial behaviors. The findings show that some of the most prevalent risk factors are in the Community Domain (i.e. laws and norms favorable toward drug use) and the most prevalent risky behavior is underage drinking. As a result one of the goals of HCTC is to develop and implement environmental prevention strategies in Livingston County Communities. Specifically HCTC will be implementing three strategies: Parents Who Host Lose the Most, Project Sticker Shock, Reducing Underage Drinking Social Marketing Campaign. An overview of each of these strategies is listed below.
This is a public awareness campaign developed by the Drug-Free Action Alliance in 2000. The objectives are to educate parents and adults about the health, legal and safety risks of serving alcohol at teen parties in order to increase awareness of and compliance with New York Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws. Implementation of this campaign can take place through public forums, public service announcements (PSA’s), newspaper articles and/or dissemination of fact sheets.
This campaign is designed to reach adults who might purchase alcohol legally and provide it to minors. Stickers warning consumers about the penalties for providing alcohol to minors are placed on all multi-packs of beer, wine coolers, and other alcohol products that might appeal to underage drinkers. The impact of the stickers in increased by media coverage and by longer lasting signs and window clings to be displayed in the participating stores. This project brings together law enforcement, youth, retailers and adults to raise awareness and change attitudes regarding underage drinking.
Social Marketing Campaign to Reduce Underage Drinking
This strategy is designed to use the same techniques that commercial marketing uses with the purpose of changing human behavior in order to improve health or benefit society. Social marketing targets people who have a reason to be concerned and who are ready for change. It also reaches a large number of the population who are ready for behavior change. A campaign designed to address underage drinking will be designed specific to each community based on live research conducted such as focus groups and interviews to assess attitudes and perceptions. The campaign can target one or multiple audiences such as youth and adults. The materials used such as PSAs (public service announcements), posters, brochures and signs will be different for each target audience.