The Social Ramifications of Alcohol Abuse

What You Need


  • Newsprint and markers
The Social Ramifications of Alcohol Abuse


To understand how alcohol abuse not only affects the individual engaging in the behavior but also has ramifications for other people and society as a whole.


This lesson is part of a series being created by Science NetLinks as part of The Science Inside Alcohol Project, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For a complete list of materials, visit The Science Inside Alcohol: Educational Materials. The project will develop an interactive, Web-based science and health interactive and four accompanying lesson plans that teach middle-school students about how alcohol affects the human body.

This lesson was produced under Grant #1R25AA016107-01A1, NIAAA.

The focus of this lesson is on understanding the social ramifications of alcohol abuse. For example, if someone who has been drinking gets behind the wheel of a car and causes an accident involving other people, one person’s risky behavior becomes a problem that affects many other individuals. It is imperative that students develop an understanding of the dangers involved in alcohol abuse and begin to view risky behaviors as a deterrent to drinking. According to research, lessons like these tend to stay with young people when they begin learning about alcohol abuse at a young age (Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child about Alcohol).

In the Motivation part of the lesson, students work in small groups to brainstorm about decisions they made that affected people other than themselves. Point out that such behavior can have serious ramifications, especially if students lied and the lie resulted in additional expenses for the families or a run-in with the law. (For example, if a student told his/her parents that he/she was going to a friend’s house for a quiet evening but was really going to a party and neighbors called the police about the party, the student could be in serious trouble. In that situation, parents were never given enough information to guide their children toward appropriate behaviors.) Or have students ever made the decision to drop an old friend because he/she wasn’t “cool” enough? How did that decision affect the student, the friend, and other members of their social circle? After thinking of a few scenarios, students can write down their ideas and be prepared to share them with the class.

During the Development part of the lesson, students continue to work in groups as they consider what elements they would include in an alcohol abuse prevention program for their peers. Alcohol abuse includes all drinking by those under the age of 21 (except under various exceptions permitted by state laws, such as for religious reasons, under parental supervision, etc.). Using a set of questions designed to guide their thinking, students will think about how the program will be set up, how often group members will meet, what activities they will engage in, and what reading materials they may need to educate group participants. Students also can conduct their own research using the websites listed on the student E-Sheet. This approach to prevention has been corroborated in a December 2004 study entitled “Making a Case for Engaging Adolescents in Program Decision-Making,” which was published in the Journal of Extension. According to this study, one of the reasons that many prevention programs have not had long-term success is that they treat the participants as passive recipients; receiving information from experts that they are then expected to accept and believe in. The researchers argue that programs will be much more successful if they empower the participants to develop their own strategies for addressing problems by building on their strengths and knowledge base. This lesson is based on that philosophy.

In addition, ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these alcohol learning goals:

  • Alcohol’s action on the brain produces a number of behavioral effects:
    • The perception of risk, risk taking, acting on impulse, and sensation-seeking behaviors are all affected by alcohol use.
    • Even if you don’t drink, alcohol abuse has an impact on you and your family.
    • The costs associated with alcohol abuse and dependence are enormous and impact us all.
    • There can be both short-term and long-term consequences, even with moderate levels of drinking.

Planning Ahead

Because students will develop a prevention program with accompanying materials, it might be helpful to look at the following websites in advance. These resources focus on program development.

To provide you with sufficient background to teach this lesson, you can visit The Science Inside Alcohol Project, which includes additional educational material. You can also read Delaying That First Drink: A Parents' Guide for the latest research on the impact of alcohol on the growing body and tips on how to talk to kids about drinking.


Begin the lesson by dividing the students into small groups. Present them with this question: "Have you ever engaged in a behavior that turned out to not only affect you but many other people?"

Give students time in class to think of examples in which they discovered that something they did had much broader effects than they had thought it would. Ask students to write down their ideas on Part 1 of the Studying the Impacts of Teen Drinking student sheet and answer the questions on the sheet. Answers are not given to these questions because they will vary considerably.

Next, bring the class together to discuss those questions:

  • What impact did your behavior/decision have on you?
  • What impact did your behavior/decision have on other people?
  • Were you surprised that your actions affected other people? Why or why not?
  • Did you learn any lessons from this experience? If so, explain what you learned.
  • How do you think your experience applies to alcohol abuse?

To finish this section, students should use their Studying the Impacts of Teen Drinking student esheet to go to The Science Inside Alcohol Project e-book. Students should read the Stories About Kids found in the e-book. Once students have read these stories, hold a class discussion by asking questions like these:

  • Overall, what do these stories tell you about teens and alcohol abuse?
  • What do you think about the story about Ciara Stein? Do you think her research makes a difference for how police use breathalizers?
  • How did Kat's family background affect how she treated alcohol?
  • What other factors contributed to Kat abusing alcohol and other drugs?
  • What finally helped Kat turn her life around?
  • In the How to Save a Life story, what factors contributed to Sandy's abuse of alcohol and drugs?
  • What tactics did his parents use to help him? Did they work?
  • What do you think of such tactics?


Ask students to turn to Part 3 of their student sheet. The student sheet outlines their assignment: to design an alcohol abuse prevention program with accompanying educational materials. It also includes questions for them to consider as they develop their programs. Before students get started, spend a few minutes discussing the assignment and going over these questions:

  • What are the overall goals of the program?
      (The goals of the program are to develop strategies for alcohol abuse prevention that adolescents can believe in.)
  • What is the target age range for your prevention program?
      (Most programs will probably be developed for middle-school students.)
  • What elements should the program include? For example, would it be helpful to include activities about how individual behavior can affect other people?
      (Consider whether an activity like the one you did at the beginning of the lesson would help students understand why alcohol abuse is a problem. While answers will vary, the programs should include some factual information about alcohol abuse, some activities that help students understand how their behavior [in this case, alcohol abuse] affects other people, and some strategies for spreading the word about their program.)
  • How should the program be set up? For example, it could be a local program with a set time and meeting place, or it could be a virtual program, which could bring in members from around the country. Decide how you want to organize it.
      (Answers will vary. If students would like to create a program online, make sure they have access to people who could help them do this.)
  • What examples of trade-offs should the program include?
      (Students should recognize that they will probably have to deal with trade-offs such as: popularity being traded for strong relationships with family members; being “uncool” but healthy; making the decision not to risk driving with people who have been drinking in exchange for always going along with the crowd; sticking to your values in exchange for having a cool boyfriend.)
  • What educational materials will you need for program participants?
      (The student esheet lists some innovative ideas, such as developing a comic book. Encourage students to be creative and to think “out of the box.”)
  • What kind of materials are you interested in developing?
      (Answers will vary.)
  • What would you like participants to learn from the program?
      (While answers will vary, the programs should focus on the social ramifications of alcohol abuse. Students should be more aware of what could happen if someone drives after drinking or if an individual falls asleep after drinking while babysitting, leaving the child alone and at risk for an accident. Concrete examples such as these will help students realize why this issue is so important.)

To learn more about prevention programs, students are referred to these resources:

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Detailed Information About the Importance of Prevention

Information About Programs

Sample Educational Materials

After students have completed the student sheet and developed a sample product they would use with their programs, tell them to prepare for a class presentation of their ideas. At the end of the presentations, collect them and use them as an assessment of students’ understanding of the consequences of individual behavior, how that understanding can be used to develop a prevention program, and students’ ability to develop creative activities that other students would enjoy and learn from. More information about assessment is found in the next section.


As you listen to students’ presentations, consider these questions:

  • Do students understand the idea that one person’s behavior can have an impact on many other people? Do they understand why this concept can be a deterrent to risky behavior?
  • Do their program designs seem relevant to the topic? Do they include knowledge appropriate for teenagers?
  • Are the educational products fun and creative? Would they serve as a “wake-up” call to the dangers of alcohol abuse and why prevention is important?
  • Do the programs and educational materials reflect a deeper understanding of the concerns surrounding alcohol abuse? Do students use that knowledge to present a compelling argument?

After listening to the presentations and looking at their sample products, engage students in a discussion about the different programs. Have them critique their peers, pointing to the strengths and weaknesses of each program and product. As a class, develop a model program that incorporates the best thinking from the class. Write down the elements of the model program on a sheet of newsprint. Which educational products do students think are most effective?

To inform parents/caregivers about student work on this topic, consider using the letter found at the end of the lesson.


The concepts in this lesson can be extended by leading students through these other Science NetLinks lessons on the science inside alcohol:

Look for an opportunity to present the class’s model program to another group of students. It could be another class or an after-school club. Ask these students for feedback and continue to revise the program based on comments. If students would like, they also can develop brochures and fact sheets to hand out at their school.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards State Standards