Peer Pressure, Not Scare Tactics, Stop College Age DUI's

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), someone dies as a result of drinking and driving every 40 minutes. DUI perpetrators are generally young people from 21 – 34 years old, and most of these fatalities occur at night or on weekends during traditional party times. Many young people learn to drink in high school or college, and catching on to that, many schools and colleges have adopted anti-drinking campaigns to scare teen and college aged people straight when it comes to imbibing. Remember the old “Friends don’t let friends drink and drive” commercials? Ads like that and more are plastered all over college campuses these days. And children as young as elementary school age are learning about the perils of substance abuse and driving under the influence.

According to a new study recently published in the Cochrane Library 2009, though, these scare tactics don’t work. Scientists say that teens and college aged people overestimate the actual amount that their peers drink, and that this misconception often leads to a culture where teens feel they must drink in order to keep up with their peer group.

"This creates a type of peer pressure, which drives levels of drinking upwards," said David Foxcroft, professor of health care practice at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom and the review's co-author.

So if scaring young drivers straight about the perils of driving under the influence doesn’t work, then what does? According to researchers, it’s the same thing that compels them to drink in the first place – peer pressure.

The study found that clueing young people in on just how much their peers actually drink does more to curb drinking than billboards, seminars, commercials, flyers and other scare tactics. The trick is, the information must be imparted individually, either one or one or by a computer. Interestingly, group counseling or mailed feedback did not have a similar impact, perhaps proving that when young people receive what they feel is trustworthy information about the real incidence of drinking in their peer group, they no longer feel as much pressure to pick up a cocktail.

Students who received personal feedback either through the Internet or individual face-to-face sessions reduced their overall alcohol consumption compared with those who did not get personal feedback. The review also found evidence that Web-based feedback reduced binge drinking — defined as five or more drinks in one sitting for a man and four or more for a woman — and alcohol-related problems.

Foxcroft and his fellow researchers analyzed data from 22 previously published studies that included 7,275 mostly U.S. college students. All the studies had the same goal — to reduce drinking by educating students on how their drinking behavior compared with others on campus. The review sought to determine which methods are effective and which are not.

Studies also found that web-based one on one feedback also potentially curbed another teen and college student problem – binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting for a man, and four or more for a woman.
What does this study say about teaching teens and college students not to drink and drive? Perhaps to give up the scare tactics in favor of a good old fashioned talk. Explain to kids that their friends are likely exaggerating their alcohol consumption, and that they should not feel pressured to live up to a false ideal.

How do you teach your teens and college aged children about the perils of drinking and driving? I would like to hear your opinions, and your thoughts on this story, in the comments.