This entry was contributed by Five Town CTC Mentor Coordinator, Marti Wolfe
Binge drinking among high school students in our Five Town Community is
real, not just a problem that happens in “other” places. We know that
18.5 % of tenth grade students reported binge drinking, consuming five
or more alcoholic drinks in a row on the 2012 Communities That Care
Youth Survey. Thirty-six percent (35.9) of the seniors surveyed in
2012 also reported binge drinking. How do we prevent this injurious
behavior and arm our youth with information and skills to make healthful
Researchers know that risk factors are important predictors of binge
drinking. So, why not identify those individuals exposed to a high
number of risk factors and target prevention efforts to this selected
group? Naturally, this would reduce the incidence of binge drinking
among our young people. It seems pretty simple, but the Prevention
Paradox proves otherwise.
A recent University of Washington, Seattle Social Development Research Group (SDRG) Study illustrates the Prevention Paradox.
Researchers followed 808 diverse Seattle public school youth since they
were 10 years old, over an eight-year period. Researchers categorized
this sample population into two groups based on their exposure to risk
factors as reported on annual surveys. It turned out that 87.2% of this
population had a low-risk for binge drinking, and 12.8% had a high-risk
for binge drinking.
When it came to measuring the binge-drinking behavior of this sample
group at age 18, it became crystal clear that risk factors matter! In
the low-risk group, only 21% reported binge drinking while in the
high-risk group about half reported binge drinking. So far it seems like
a selective approach to reducing binge drinking is the ticket to
reducing this dangerous behavior. But there is more to consider.
In total, 25% of the 18 year olds in the SDRG Sample reported binge
drinking. But, only 6.4% were from the high-risk group, about 50
students, three-quarters of those reporting binge drinking were from the
low-risk group, about 152 students. The low-risk individuals in this
sample contributed the most cases of binge drinking by virtue of their
being in the majority. Roses’s Theorem explains this Prevention Paradox.
“A large number of people exposed to a small risk may generate many
more cases than a small number exposed to high-risk” (Rose 1994:24).
The Prevention Paradox gives us a solid, science-based lens with
which to see the need for Universal prevention efforts. It is important
to address the most widespread risks of binge drinking community wide.
These risks affect both low-risk and high-risk individuals. If we want
to significantly reduce binge drinking in our community, let’s inoculate
all of our young people with Universal, tested-effective prevention