Online Games Teach Teens Alcohol Risks

Early alcohol initiation is of great concern for many reasons. Those that begin drinking during adolescence are more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol when compared with those that begin drinking in adulthood. There are short-term risks, such as assault, injury and vehicle crashes, and long-term risks like sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and organ damage. 

Teens that begin drinking before they reach the legal age exposing their bodies to these health issues over a longer period of time when compared with individuals that begin drinking in adulthood. As a result, there are many reasons to prevent teen drinking.

Initiatives such as televised public service announcements focused on the negative consequences of drinking have proved ineffective. With their natural risk taking behavior and feelings of invincibility, negative consequences seem too far in the future or too unlikely to happen to them.

Researchers are testing new ways to incorporate education and prevention efforts that resonate with teens. A new study suggests using games incorporated into a social marketing campaign could be an effective way to turn teens away from alcohol use.

The study, published in the journal Health Education, tested the effectiveness of a six-module course focusing on alcohol education with 14- to 16-year-olds. The results suggest that incorporation of such programs could have a significant impact on teen drinking rates.

The program is called Game On: Know Alcohol, and features activities that educate teens about the cognitive, physiological, physical and emotional changes that can occur as a result of alcohol consumption. The games, which include titles such as “Risky Ride” and “Beer Goggles,” demonstrate the effects of binge drinking, and include information on how to minimize or abstain from drinking altogether.

The program was an effective tool for altering attitudes about alcohol consumption in the teens that participated. However, the results were more promising for the girls enrolled in program when compared to the boys.

Study author Sharyn Rundle-Thiele of Australia’s Griffith University explained that the teens were able to learn and have fun at the same time. The pilot study shows how games that incorporate alcohol education are an effective alternative to other types of alcohol education strategies.

The study findings provide support for intervention that can be done in the home with parents involved as a low-cost alternative to more expensive drinking prevention programs.

The program may be ideal in school districts that struggle with funding for their school counselors and may be stretched to provide adequate substance use prevention curriculum. Students could work on the games at home or in the school’s computer lab.

In addition to programs such as these, parents can help their teens stay away from alcohol consumption. The incorporation of family traditions, like game night or regular family dinners, can give teens a strong feeling of family identification. In addition, providing outlets for regular conversation can help eliminate the loneliness and boredom that can open a door for alcohol experimentation.