Web-Based Programs May Help Reduce Teen Substance Abuse

Needed: Solutions for the problem of underage drinking.

Posted Oct 16, 2015

By Joseph Nowinski, PhD and Abigail Jeffries

According to a 2013 survey, about 5.4 million people (14%) ages 12 to 20 have engaged in binge drinking (niaaa.nih.gov), and more than 190,000 a year have visited an emergency room for alcohol-related injuries. Parents, teachers, and doctors are right to be concerned with a pattern of increased drinking among our youth. Solutions are welcome.

One such solution is an affordable, Web-based program, which could help reduce alcohol abuse among high school juniors and seniors, a group that has the highest high school drinking rates.This Web-based program is called eCHECKUP TO GO, and it teaches awareness of the consequences, cost, and realities of alcohol use using a private, non-judgmental format (Adopting a Brief, Web-Based Feedback Approach to Counter High School Drinking: Considerations for Professional School Counselors
Author(s): Diana M. Doumas, Susan Esp, Rob Turrisi and April Schottelkorb
Source: Professional School Counseling, Vol. 18, No. 1 (2014-2015), pp. 148-157 Published by: American School Counselor Association).

Counselors and psychologists at San Diego State University originally designed eCHECKUP TO GO to help combat problem drinking on college campuses. Dr. Diana Doumas, Professor and Chair of Counselor Education and Director for the Institute for the Study of Addiction at Boise State University, and her colleagues feel the program could be extremely helpful in reaching 11th and 12th grade students because students in this age group, in which we see a combination of greater autonomy and risky decision making, tend to be closer to college students in their drinking habits than they are to their younger high school peers. Although eCHECKUP TO GO was originally designed for college-age students, the program’s content is appropriate for 11th and 12th graders and suitable for in-school implementation.

How It Works

Students take the self-guided 30-minute eCHECKUP TO GO assessment online and then receive instant, personalized feedback, which they can print or email to themselves. They get a unique login ID that enables them to go back into the program to see their results, retake the assessment, and compare the results over time.

There are various options for implementing the program. Students could complete the assessment as a separate orientation activity, or it could be integrated into the core curriculum. For example, after taking the assessment, students could use their experience with the program as a springboard to discussing alcohol use as a group in a classroom setting, or they could write an essay reflecting on what they learned from the survey experience. Students could also use their personal feedback as a basis for private discussion with a school counselor.

Doumas and her team cite studies which indicate that Web-based programs with this kind of format are effective in reducing heavy drinking and its consequences at the college level. They have also seen early indications that eCHECKUP TO GO is effective in the high school age group.

It Doesn’t Preach

A strategy that may account for eCHECKUP TO GO’s success is that it doesn’t simply preach abstinence from drinking. Instead, it aims at changing the way students think about alcohol by challenging their alcohol beliefs and expectations, as well as their perceptions of peer drinking norms. The program’s instant feedback gives students insight about their individual risk factors for developing alcohol-related problems, lets them see how their own drinking compares with actual U.S. and school drinking norms, offers accurate information dispelling myths related to alcohol use, and illustrates the financial and nutritional costs of drinking. Schools can customize the program to include normative data for the school population, links to community resources, and even the school colors and logo.

Cost-Effective and Relevant Intervention

In an age when education budgets are notoriously tight and teachers are already stretching to meet curricular demands, a program like eCHECKUP TO GO is attractive because it is:

Affordable – $975 per year for a license with unlimited use for the licensed school.

Flexible – can be implemented in group or individual format, as part of orientation, or as a universal prevention strategy

Easy – requires minimal training to administer

Relevant to students – content is geared to engage this age group on a social and emotional level

Effective – supported by research

According to the San Diego State University Research Foundation, eCHECKUP TO GO programs are currently in use at over 600 universities and colleges across 49 states, in Canada, Australia and Ireland. There is also an eCHECKUP TO GO program for marijuana. For more information, visit http://www.echeckuptogo.com/usa/.

Food For Thought

A Web-based program like eCHECKUP TO GO may be both an effective and affordable way to reduce drinking among high school juniors and seniors and help them continue to avoid substance abuse after graduating. What is your school district doing to address drinking in this particularly vulnerable age group?

Joseph Nowinski, Ph. D., is the author of Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem?

Abigail Jeffries is a freelance health and science writer whose work has appeared in the New York Academy of Sciences Magazine and Healthcare Ledger.

Abigail Jeffries
Source: Abigail Jeffries