In spite of a massive national investment in alcohol education, the evidence clearly demonstrates that our current efforts are overwhelmingly ineffective and are often counterproductive. The assessment of the effectiveness of alcohol programs over the past 15 years reveals that those based on the responsible-use approach tend to be superior to those based on the abstinence approach. Hanson puts the historical relationship between Americans and alcohol into perspective, discusses federal policies on alcohol that are highly ideological and biased, and advocates the development of responsible-use curricula that will prepare students to be, as adults, responsible consumers of alcohol.
While alcohol has been praised as a sign of refinement, a source of relaxation, and a complement to good times, it has also been cursed as the cause of disease and death. The temperance movement, which taught that alcohol was poison and that moderation in its use was no more possible than moderation in murder, has greatly influenced American thought and is reflected in our abstinence-oriented approach to alcohol education. Current programs reflect not only these abstinence origins but the inclusion of drug education several decades ago. Hanson finds that, despite good intentions, evidence indicates that this approach has proved ineffective. He considers the strong and often mixed feelings Americans have toward alcohol that are reflected in ever-changing public policy and concludes that the development and evaluation of alcohol education programs should be based on the best scientific evidence available rather than on political ideology. Recommendations for change in alcohol education are presented, with the most important being that we must promote the development and evaluation of diverse responsible-use curricula with the goal of reducing alcohol abuse.