Underage drinking. Kids who drink think everybody does it. What happens if they learn otherwise? Today's post is about a new campaign from the Alaska Wellness Coalition designed to curb and even eliminate underage drinking.

“But everybody else is doing it.”

It’s rare the parents who haven’t heard that from their resident teenager. But it’s more than just a rite of passage in high school. Young peoples’ perceptions of what their peers are doing play a significant part in how they justify risky behaviors.


According to social norms theory, people’s behavior is strongly influenced by their perceptions of the attitudes and behaviors of their peers. In Alaska, most teens choose not to drink in a typical month. Most Alaska teens think they do.

The Alaska Wellness Coalition (AWC) is kicking off a media campaign today to reduce and prevent underage drinking among youth by providing Alaska teens with information about healthy norms. The campaign is informed by data collected from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and School Climate and Connected Survey. The concept is modeled on a framework called Positive Community Norms (PCN), developed by Montana State University’s Most of Us program.

The PCN approach focuses on the healthy behavior of the majority, using images and messages that reflect positive norms. The approach doesn’t discount the threat that risky behavior poses to the individual and the community. Rather it seeks to undermine the distorted perception that everybody is engaging in risky behavior.

Today, alcohol is widely available and aggressively promoted throughout society. Many people regard alcohol use as a normal part of growing up. The underage drinker thinks everyone else is doing it, too. The AWC aims to turn that thinking on its head.

AWC’s PCN media campaign, targeted to ages 12-20, will focus on statewide TV/video spots, Pandora and social media. To help communities spread the message to all sectors of the population, the campaign also includes radio public service announcements, a website, posters and other communication tools.

In addition to the statewide elements, nine communities – Fairbanks, Nome, Mat-Su, Anchorage, Seward, Homer, Kodiak, Petersburg, and Ketchikan – are participating at a deeper level. Members of these communities attended a three-day training, receive regular support services and have actively engaged as the leadership team of the Alaska Wellness Coalition. It’s a multi-year campaign, so more communities will get involved as it progresses, according to AWC Campaign Coordinator Hope Finkelstein.

Data from the Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicate that underage drinking rates are trending down, but more work remains to further decrease consumption rates and the negative consequences related to underage drinking in Alaska. Underage drinking is dangerous, not only for the drinker, but also for society, as evidenced by the number of alcohol-involved motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides, and other injuries. People who begin drinking early in life run the risk of developing serious alcohol problems, and are at greater risk for a range of adverse consequences, including risky sexual activity and poor performance in school.

Identifying adolescents at higher risk can help stop problems before they develop. Websites for both the AWC and the social norms campaign are scheduled to launch the end of the month. Until then, additional information is available on the AWC Facebook page.

AWC is a coalition of groups working to improve the health and wellness of all Alaskans. AWC links local and regional health and wellness alliances by sharing state and local data, evidence-based programming, best practices, strategic prevention, current health trends, funding opportunities and statewide advocacy for health promotion.

Thrive Mat-Su, a community-based coalition organized to prevent substance abuse, began organizing the AWC in 2010 as a statewide prevention network. In 2011, the founding AWC members agreed to pool their efforts on a statewide media campaign to address alcohol use norms among youth. They voted unanimously to take a positive, strengths-based approach.

Funders of the PCN campaign are State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Division of Behavioral Health; Mat-Su Health Foundation; Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; Rasmuson Foundation; and local coalitions.