About Us FAQ
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- What does ALERT stand for?
ALERT stands for "Alcohol (and other drugs) Labrotaries for Education, Research and Training."
- What does ALERT do?
ALERT provides Social Norms AOD (Alcohol and Other Drugs) prevention programming and brief interventions for teens in high school environments. If you'd like more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- What is a Social Norms program?
Until recently, the most popular way to stop teens from using AOD was to highlight risk. This is sometimes called "the scare tactic approach." This method essentially hopes to frighten individuals into positive change by focusing on the negative consequences of using. Think of the image of a wrecked car, flashing red lights, and the tag line "Speed kills!" and you will have a sense of this kind of public health campaign.
However, research has shown that this strategy does not change behavior. Survey research on college campuses reveals that most students believe everyone, except themselves, drinks often and to excess. In reality, most people drink moderately or not at all. Correcting such misperceptions reduces heavy drinking and related harm.
Essentially, the social norms approach uses a variety of methods to correct negative misperceptions (usually overestimations of use), and to identify, model, and promote the healthy, protective behaviors that are the actual norm in a given population. When properly conducted, it is an evidence-based, data-driven process, and a very cost-effective method of achieving large-scale positive results.
- Why are students so surprised at the outcomes of the survey?
We, the researchers, are not surprised at the outcomes of the survey. We have conducted many of these surveys in the past and we know that all student groups, and most adults, have serious misperceptions about the amount of substance use going on among their peers. This is the case in colleges and universities across the nation. In fact, most people in any given social system tend to think that there is more negative behavior (e.g., lying, cheating, using racial epithets, heavy drinking) going on than there really is. This seems to be an invariant part of human nature.
- Why do ALERT’s posters and ad’s focus on positive messages?
“Communication and Social Norming” is the strategy we at ALERT Labs use to correct misperceptions. We find out the truth about the amount of negative behavior taking place and we communicate that truth to the members of the social system, in this case, the students at GVSU.
Remember the hopeful note in the phrase “The truth shall set you free!” That is the foundation of our work. We know from previous experience that once a group realizes that most of its members do not engage in the negative behavior, in this case “dangerous drinking,” they feel free to reject or disengage from that behavior.*
- What good does it do to tell students that their beliefs about how much drinking and drugging goes on are actually misperceptions?
The survey results tell us that most students, 30 percent, believe that the “social atmosphere” at GVSU “promotes alcohol use.” Zero students very strongly disagree with that perception. Overall, only 36 percent disagree at all. So, it will take time for the majority, the non-using students, to begin to assert their influence and change the social atmosphere. For too long the minority, those who use alcohol and other drugs most heavily, have not realized that they are not representing most students when they tell war stories about their drinking and drugging.
Again according to the survey, 49 percent of those students who drink most heavily report having been “criticized for their drinking by their peers.” These students represent only 3.711% of the undergraduate population: 89% don’t drink like they do.
Most students don’t approve of their peers’ frequent and heavy drinking, and they need to make their voices heard.
- Where do they get those numbers?
ALERT uses a scientific instrument called the Personal Report of Student Perceptions (PRSP), developed at Rutgers University and adapted to GVSU. The questionnaire allows researchers to identify the respondents’ patterns of alcohol and other drug use as well as their perceptions of others’ use.
Freshmen at the Transitions Orientation Program this summer were given the PRSP in order to identify the patterns they had developed in high school and the summer prior to beginning college. For several years now, freshmen have been given this questionnaire at the beginning of their experience to understand their behaviors and perceptions. This administration of the survey serves as a pre-test, it allows us to measure changes in freshman drinking and drug use, and in their perceptions of others’ use, at the end of the academic year.
Each year in April we administer the survey to a random sample through the web. (We get the sample from the University’s office of research.) We send a postcard to students in the sample asking them to participate, and explaining how they can do so over the internet. There are a large number of participants in both studies. There is no identifying information on the questionnaire, so it is confidential, which allows participants to share their true feelings and behaviors more comfortably.
The statistics which we report to the entire GVSU community through posters, Lanthorn ads, table tents, etc. come from this April survey of a scientific sample from all full-time undergraduate students, freshmen through seniors.
- How do we know that the students who took the survey told the truth?
The survey is designed to take into account that some respondents will not be truthful. We can exclude the results of respondents that were internally inconsistent from our analyses. The overall results shown on the posters are based only on the responses of students who were truthful.
Another important point: the charge that we sometimes hear, that some students will lie on the survey, does not say whether the concern is that students will under-report their use of alcohol and other drugs or over-report. The fact is that students in general are more likely to exaggerate their use than to say they do not use. In short, we are confident that the data we make available in posters and other media are accurate.
P.S. We urge students who are interested in the science of survey research to come talk with us and/or to search out a teacher who has a background in math and statistics and/or social science research methods, e.g., one of the many faculty who teach the SS300 course.
- Why do adults, most of whom drink at least occasionally, and some of whom use other drugs, want to prevent underage drinking?
The 2002 National Survey on Drug Abuse in America reveals that 70% of adults drink alcohol and 8.3% of American 12 and older use other drugs.
It seems clear that most students believe they are justified in asking why, if “it” (drinking, smoking, using drugs) is OK for adults, it is not ok for themselves. And adults need to have some answers. Some of the best answers can be found in the American Medical Association Fact Sheet on underage drinking and the teenage brain, (see www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/9416.html).
Some facts from that, and other sources, are:
- Underage drinking results in permanent damage to the memory.
- Underage drinking results in damage to the part of the brain where critical thinking and learning takes place.
- Underage drinking usually leads to lower grade point averages.
- The younger a person is when starting to drink, the higher the chances of alcohol addiction.
- Increasing numbers of young people are becoming addicted to alcohol and other drugs before the age of 18.
- Television and radio advertising contribute to increases in underage drinking.
- Commercials for alcohol during sports programs reach more teens than adults.
- Adolescents need only drink half as much as adults to suffer the same negative effects on the brain.
- Teens who drink frequently usually do not outgrow alcohol use and they do become problem drinkers or addicts as adults.
- Underage frequent drinkers cannot catch up with non-drinkers in brain development in adulthood.
- Underage drinkers are six times more likely than non-drinkers to have unplanned and unprotected sex.
- Underage drinkers who start to use before age 15 are 10 times more likely to be injured or killed in accidents.
- Most rapes among teenagers are “acquaintance rape” and 90% of them involve the use of alcohol.
- Teens whose parents talk to them about not drinking are 12% less likely to drink regularly.
- 70% of teens at a local high school who drink on 4 or more occasions per month have driven under the influence, and 70% have been in a serious argument or a fight.
In short, the answer is that there are significant biological, physical, differences between adults and those who are still in their teens to early 20’s.
- How do I know if I have a problem with drinking?
For those who suspect that they may have lost control of their drinking or who suspect that they may be addicted, the following confidential on-line assessment can help them identify their risks:
ALERT research reveals that approximately one out of every 15 GVSU students drink alcoholically or pre-alcoholically, which can result in serious health and social problems as well as the risk of violence and injury. These students drink three or more times per week and consume four to five or more drinks per occasion, and usually drink to get drunk. Some are probably already addicted to alcohol; others are extremely likely to become addicted unless they are able to abstain or drastically reduce their alcohol consumption.
Students who drink at these dangerous rates need to be aware 14 out of every 15 students, ~80% of students, drink moderately or not at all. Heavy drinking is NOT the norm at Grand Valley State University.
Mar 19, 2011
Posters used in MSA schools during the 2010-11 school year are available now under Media. Note that names of the schools have been omitted to protect the schools' identities.
Sep 24, 2010
Sep 18, 2010
"ALERT Labs, in partnership with Kent ISD and others, has been awarded a new, 5-year, $625,000 Drug Free Communities grant to continue the work begun in 2005 with a 5-year, $500,000 grant for the Making Sobriety Attractive (MSA) program.
The work of the MSA program to prevent adolescents alcohol and other drugs use, begun in 2005, will continue and expand to more schools as part of the new "Positive Influences" prevention program.
More details will be released over the next few weeks.
May 1, 2010
April 2010 "Parents Are Heroes" Newsletter Posted.
Go to About Us > Newsletters > April 2010 Newsletter
Hosting a Drinking Party for Graduating High School Students Can Result in Arrest, Big Fines and Court Costs, MIP’s for the Guests, and Even Tragedy…. The best choice for Graduation Parties is to go alcohol-free, focusing on activities suited for 18-year olds rather than targeting the party to adults.
Mar 28, 2010
- March 2010 "Parents Are Heroes" Newsletter Posted.
Go to About Us > Newsletters > March 2010 Newsletter