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School policies reduce student drinking -- if they're perceived to be enforced
Date:7/9/2013

"Just say no" has been many a parent's mantra when it comes to talking to their children about drugs or alcohol. Schools echo that with specific policies against illicit use on school grounds. But do those school policies work?

University of Washington professor of social work Richard Catalano and colleagues studied whether anti-alcohol policies in public and private schools in Washington state and Australia's Victoria state were effective for eighth- and ninth-graders.

What they found was that each school's particular policy mattered less than the students' perceived enforcement of it. So, even if a school had a suspension or expulsion policy, if students felt the school didn't enforce it then they were more likely to drink on campus. But, even if a school's policy was less harsh such as requiring counseling students were less likely to drink at school if they believed school officials would enforce it.

"Whatever your school policy is, lax enforcement is related to more drinking," Catalano said.

The study was published recently in the journal Health Education Research.

The results were similar in Washington, where the legal drinking age is 21 and schools tend to have a zero-tolerance approach, and Victoria, Australia, where the legal drinking age is 18 and policies are more about minimizing harm.

In the study, 44 percent of Victoria eighth-graders and 22 percent of Washington eighth-graders reported drinking alcohol. Victoria students also reported higher rates of binge drinking and alcohol-related harms.

Apart from perceptions about enforcement, harmful behaviors in both states were reduced when students believed policy violators would likely be counseled by a teacher on the dangers of alcohol use, rather than expelled or suspended.

"Schools should focus on zero tolerance and abstinence in primary and early middle school, but sometime between middle school and high school they
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Contact: Richard Catalano
catalano@uw.edu
206-543-6382
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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