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Alaska’s Strategies to Prevent Underage Drinking


Sara Clark
Substance Abuse Community Prevention Coordinator
3601 C. Street, Suite 878
Anchorage, AK 99524
Phone: (907) 269-3781

Substance Abuse Prevention in Alaska

Across the board (all ages) Alaska has one of the highest per capita alcohol consumption rates in the nation and the prevalence of alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse, at 14%, is twice the national average of 7% (Gallup Corp. Telephone survey for DHSS, ADA). This is critical information in our efforts to reduce youth substance abuse because we know that alcoholism runs in families, and children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry).

The use of alcohol and other drugs among our states high-school aged students, while high, is very similar to the national statistics for youth substance abuse. Statistics collected through the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) provide an improved, although still grim, picture regarding the current pattern of alcohol use/abuse by Alaskan youth:

75.1% of high school students have used alcohol at least once, down from the 1995 YRBS of 80.1%

38.7% had at least one drink of alcohol in the last 30 days, down from 47.5% in 1995

26.5% had a binge drinking episode, down from 31.3% drinking 5 or more drinks within a couple of hours and in the last 30 days.

Research shows that those youth who begin drinking alcohol by the age of 13 have a higher likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol and lifelong difficulty with substance abuse. Again we see an improvement in the current pattern of alcohol use in the 2003 YRBS, with a decrease from 36.7% to 23.2% of youth under the age of 13 having used alcohol at least once.
In addition, a recent health survey shows that smoking among Alaska’s high school students has fallen almost 50% in the past eight years. The 2003 YRBS showed high school teens who reported smoking once in the past month fell from 37% to 19% since the last survey in 1995.

Impacts of Youth Substance Use and Abuse

Substance use and abuse has a profound impact on Alaska’s youth. It contributes to injuries, school drop out rates, teen pregnancy, interpersonal violence, suicide attempts, depression, youth crime and many other social problems. The good news is that with the release of the full results from the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, we are beginning to see decreases in most of the youth behavior problems due primarily to the substance use and abuse rates declining.

What Works

In almost thirty years of research for the best methods to offer prevention and early intervention services to youth and families, a number of key issues have been identified for Alaska:

  • Environmental and educational strategies help communities take an active role in addressing local issues of substance abuse.
  • Culturally appropriate services promote greater success in our Alaska Native communities by implementing programs that incorporate traditional cultural values.
  • Identification of a community’s risk and protective factors has lead to the use of the resiliency model that builds upon positive life skills and experiences, helping youth succeed despite growing up in a high-risk family or environment.
  • More aggressive underage purchasing enforcement laws for both alcohol and tobacco reduce teen usage and adult purchasing for youth.
  • Greater emphasis on local option laws assist in giving communities more control of access to alcohol and drugs.

Community-Based Grant Programs

Currently the State DHSS, through the Divisions of Behavioral Health, Juvenile Justice and the Office of Children’s Services, issue grants to a diverse array of community-based organizations with the goal of developing creative programs focused on prevention of youth substance abuse, strengthening individual, family, school and community approaches to prevention, and increasing community readiness to decrease substance abuse among youth. State agencies work in partnership to fund communities in a collaborative manner so that services are implemented without duplication or competition

The state of Alaska is committed to continuing aggressive, targeted and integrated services to reduce and prevent substance use and abuse across the state, to empower communities as active partners and to begin changing the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of our state’s young people in terms of health, wellness and the dangers of substance use and abuse.