Schools encouraged to prepare for Alcohol Awareness Day

Note: This is a joint letter from Commissioner of Education Jim Rier and Guy Cousins, director of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Community groups and schools across the state will be conducting activities to raise awareness about alcohol use and abuse throughout Maine’s Alcohol Awareness Week, Dec. 1-5, which includes Alcohol Awareness Day on Monday, Dec. 1.

Through MRSA Title 20-A, Section 4803, Sub-section 5, Maine recognizes the need for schools and community organizations to address alcohol issues. The statute reads, in part:  “Alcohol Awareness Day, the first Monday in December, shall be observed by studying, for at least 45 minutes, a constructive approach toward the use of alcohol and the problems and dangers of alcohol abuse upon the individual, the family and society. The commissioner shall prepare appropriate materials for this observation.”

Teachers seeking assistance in planning an Alcohol Awareness Day activity may contact the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHS) at the Department of Health and Human Services at samhs.irc@maine.gov or 1-800-499-0027, 287-8900 or TTY 711. Age-appropriate materials that can be duplicated for classroom use are available upon request.

One way to address Alcohol Awareness Day is to use a DVD or video followed by a class discussion. In 2013, SAMHS released “When you say NO to Alcohol, what are you saying YES to?”  This 8 minute online video profiles five Maine students who discuss their interests as well as their reasons for choosing not to drink.  The simple message of the video for middle and high school students is that despite assumptions, not all students drink and many students choose not to use drugs.

The “When You Say No” video and other Alcohol Awareness Day resources can be found here. A discussion guide is also available for download. The Information & Resource Center catalog provides a complete listing of substance use and abuse prevention resources available from SAMHS.

Beyond observing Alcohol Awareness Day, it is important that Maine students be provided with education and awareness about alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. This can be part of school’s health education curriculum and aligned to the Maine Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction, Health Education Standards. Ongoing curriculum programs are a vital piece of alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention education.

SAMHS also offers an online guide to assist Maine schools in creating, updating and enforcing a substance use policy. The 2014 revised guide, Substance Use Policy: A Comprehensive Guide for School Policy Development, provides recommendations and practical suggestions for a complete policy, based on the latest available research and best practices.