Coalitions in Action: Coalition Lowers Youth Drinking Rates with Comprehensive Campaign in Massachusetts

“It’s an art and a science and it’s fun to do,” said DanversCARES project director Peg Sallade of the comprehensive campaign using social media and relationships with local business and schools that lowered 30-day youth alcohol use by 12 percent and high-risk drinking rates by 25.5 percent between 2008 and 2014.

“Between 2012 and 2014 there continued to be some underage drinking incidents in the community brought to our attention by a police report at a coalition meeting,” Sallade recalled. “We felt it was important to continue to address. We already did a social host liability focused campaign and risk focused campaigns, so we wanted to gear this towards something new, focusing on healthy choices around prom time.”

Although teen alcohol use rates are lower, DanverCARES still wanted to promote positive habits. Modeling the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) iChoose campaign, the coalition took the concept of promoting healthy choices that teens already make and gave it a local spin. The campaign was geared towards youth aged 12-18, as well as elementary school students.

iChoose asked students and family members to identify a healthy behavior that they choose to do and promote it as a norm, specifically focusing on underage drinking and safe choices around prom time. Such as, “I choose to keep my lungs healthy because I want to be a singer.” It launched in March of 2014 in the local media, but some components are ongoing.

The coalition distributed iChoose information via direct mail. The middle school held a goal oriented poster project for students, as well as a substance-free scavenger hunt. Both the middle and high school held lunchtime activities promoting iChoose.

There was also a specific campaign for prom, “iChoose to stay safe, stay smart and not drink on prom night.” This message was disseminated across the community — on a street banner hanging over the main drag; stickers on java jackets at the local coffee shop; in a letter to the editor from the owner of the coffee shop, supporting the campaign; and a weekly feature in the local news for four weeks.

“High school students voted on four adults that they saw represented healthy choices,” Sallade explained. “The winners submitted a photo with the healthy choice they chose. Each week, a photo of the winner ran, along with a photo of a student, also promoting their healthy choices. We wanted to promote healthy choices that the kids are already making, not the risks.”

Sallade noted that it’s important to focus on one campaign a year so the message can be as strong as possible, without any competing prevention messages.

Looking forward, DanversCARES hopes to launch a new parent survey in the spring, as well as some targeting messaging on setting limits with children and social host liability.

Sallade said that although the issues are the same, they need to be refreshed for the next generation.

“I find particularly among high school teens, there is a four-year rotation. In 2009 we did a social host campaign, but we have to bring back the important themes related to underage drinking prevention on an ongoing basis,” she said. “Kids grow, families change and the need continues in the community.”