Reducing Underage Drinking–One Town Hall Meeting at a Time


Summer vacation is in full swing. This can be a relaxing time for students as they have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and break away from the stress of school. Unfortunately, it can also be a risky time, especially for teenagers. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Report, “Monthly Variation in Substance Use Initiation among Adolescents,” during summer vacation, more teens start using alcohol than in other months.

Parents and teachers can play a vital role in reducing underage drinking. By working together to reward each student’s decision not to drink and ensure that social events do not provide a drinking environment, parents and teachers are in a powerful position to address the perils of underage drinking.

One of the ways SAMHSA addresses the prevention of and increases the national conversation about underage drinking is with its Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking initiative. Having these conversations makes a difference. In 2014, 83% of the town hall meeting participants reported gaining new knowledge about the prevention of underage alcohol use, and 48% of event hosts reported they planned to follow up their event by developing a prevention strategy.

The initiative provides several tools and resources to help parents and teachers begin this conversation. SAMHSA provides community-based organizations with a $500 stipend to mobilize their communities to prevent underage drinking. Tools to help you plan an event include an underage drinking fact sheet, a Guide to Youth Engagement in Underage Drinking Prevention Events, success stories and parent resources.

Join the over 1,300 communities nationwide in hosting a Communities Talk: Town Hall Meeting to Prevent Underage Drinking:

  1. Email to express your interest in hosting a meeting. Please include the name of your organization, contact name, contact email, contact phone number and name of an affiliate national organization.
  1. Register to host a Communities Talk meeting. After you send an email expressing your interest, you will receive an invitation to register. Then, you will have the opportunity to receive a $500 planning stipend.
  1. Plan your Communities Talk meeting to prevent underage drinking using the resources available.

Frances M. Harding is the director for the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.



Talk. Your Children Really Do Hear You.

If you are reading this, you likely play an integral role in helping young people succeed. On behalf of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), I want to thank you for your commitment to youth. I also want to warn you about underage drinking, a threat to our young people that we are paying special attention to at SAMHSA.

Underage drinking has been a longstanding, persistent problem—so much so that some have decided it’s just something children go through. Many have forgotten how seriously alcohol can undermine a young person’s life goals. Yet, research shows that underage drinking is associated with academic problems; unintended, unwanted, or unprotected sexual activity; drug use;injury or death from accidents;and alcohol can harm the developing brain. Further, people who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol problems as adults than those who begin drinking at 21 or older.

That is why SAMHSA, together with partners including the PTA, launched the “Talk. They Hear You.” underage drinking prevention campaign. The campaign empowers parents and caregivers to talk with their children as young as 9 years old about alcohol. It also helps parents be effective in these sometimes tough conversations with tools such as Start the Talk.


This campaign targets parents and caregivers because research shows they have a significant influence on young people’s decisions about drinking alcohol.

Believe it or not, your children listen to you. So it is important to talk with them early and often. Here are some conversation tips from our experts:

  1.  Show you disapprove of underage drinking.
  2. Show you care about your child’s happiness and well-being.
  3. Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol.
  4. Show you’re paying attention and you’ll notice if your child drinks.
  5. Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking.

There are many perfect opportunities to talk about alcohol—in the car, at dinner, while watching TV or doing chores. Try to make your talks short and low-key. You don’t have to get everything across in one talk.

If you want to do more to prevent underage drinking in your school and community, visit the “Talk. They Hear You.” website for presentation materials, PSAs, and parent resources you can adapt or use as they are. You can also consider joining the thousands of communities holding Town Hall Meetings on underage drinking this spring.

Whatever you do, know that on the issue of underage drinking, your voice truly matters.

Frances M. Harding serves as Director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), and is recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts in the field of alcohol and drug policy.

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