The Drunk Uncle

Do you remember the Saturday Night Live (SNL) skit, “Drunk Uncle”? Bobby Moynihan plays a character on SNL’s Weekend Update that stumbles in, slurs his words and makes obscene and outrageous remarks. His skits are usually based around holidays or other monumental days – Drunk Uncle on Christmas, Drunk Uncle on New Year’s and Drunk Uncle on Election Day.

SNL is known for poking fun at sensitive topics – things that everyone knows about or things that everyone needs to or is already talking about. “Drunk Uncle” is one of those topics. It portrays a reality that is far too common in families today.

According to the American Addictions Center, every one in 13 adults in the United States (nearly 14 million), abuse alcohol or have an alcoholism problem.

How many people are in your family and extended family? More than 13? There are in mine. The chances of having a family member dealing with alcoholism or alcohol dependency are staggering.

Family gatherings during the holidays can be stressful enough, but when they include a “Drunk Uncle” (or a “drunk parent,” “drunk grandparent”) it can be unbearable for everyone, especially kids.

Be mindful that many of the kids you work with will be spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family members who abuse alcohol or have an alcohol problem. It might not be a “happy holiday” for these kids or a holiday they are looking forward to. In fact, the worry, dread and stress is likely weighing on them right now.

Be mindful of what you say to your kids as you send them home for the holiday. Wishing them the common greeting of “Happy Thanksgiving” might not be what they most need to hear from you.

Give thought to what you might say instead. Acknowledge the feelings that are present among them. It might be as simple as telling them you will be thinking about each one of them over the holiday. Perhaps you let them know you are available to talk if they are worried or nervous about anything regarding the holiday. Most importantly, tell them how you look forward to seeing them back after the holiday weekend.

Don’t assume that all kids are excited about the holiday and long weekend. Being aware of and sensitive to this is one of the best things you can do for your students. It can diffuse their anxiety while letting them know you understand and care. Perhaps you can even personally relate to their situation.

If so, then I want to wish you a Thanksgiving that is free of anxiety, worry or dread. You and your kids deserve it.

Thinking about you,


Pay Now or Pay Later

Does alcohol and other drug prevention make sense in a time of shrinking budgets, fewer staff resources and an increasing emphasis on student performance? 

Should we make the time to do substance use prevention?

Is there any benefit to keeping prevention alive?

The answer is clearly, “Yes!”

According to a recent article published by Verywell Mind, the estimated cost of substance abuse in the United States, including illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, is more than $820 billion a year and growing.

The total annual costs related to each type of drug is…

$300 billion for tobacco use.

$249 billion for alcohol abuse.

$193 billion for illegal drug abuse.

$78.5 billion for prescription drug abuse.

The total costs to society for substance abuse goes beyond the financial costs. Other costs include workplace productivity, unemployment, crime, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness and physical and mental health issues.

For adolescents, more specifically, the costs can be life changing. Research shows the earlier the age a person begins to use substances, the more likely they will have problems later in life as an adult. Beginning to use alcohol and other drugs at an early age places a kid at higher risk for academic failure, social, emotional, mental and physical developmental issues, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, crime, addiction, accidents and injuries and relationship problems – just to name a few. The earlier these problems begin to emerge in adolescence, the more likely they are to carry over into adulthood and become even bigger problems for the individual, their families and the community.

If you are concerned about what the adults in your community are doing when it comes to alcohol and other drug use and the costs of their behavior to your community, then making a commitment to doing effective prevention with your kids today is imperative. Why? Because your kids today will become your adults and parents in the future.

The bottom line is…the later the age a kid begins to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the less likely they will have problems later in their life as an adult. Pushing back the age of when kids begin to use substances (or in other words, delaying the onset of use) needs to be a primary goal in every prevention effort. Achieving this goal increases the likelihood kids grow up to be productive, responsible and healthy adults in the future.

Investing your time and financial resources in effective evidence-based prevention programs and approaches with your kids today is important and does pay off in the future.

According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the average evidence-based prevention program costs $220 per pupil including materials and teacher training. While this isn’t necessarily cheap, the benefits in purely economic terms are tremendous. The average evidence-based prevention program could save an estimated $18 for every $1 invested.

Think about prevention like the old Fram oil filter commercial that had the tag line, “You can pay now or you can pay later.” Spend a little bit of money now on prevention and it will reduce the unavoidable greater expense of paying for bigger problems later.

The benefits of substance abuse prevention are not always the most immediate or obvious, but they are there. Investing a little in each of our students will not only make their life better today, but also give them a better life later.

Using a Friendship Survey to Identify Peer Opinion Leaders and Isolates

These past two weeks we have talked about the importance of identifying two groups of students in your classroom or group – the peer opinion leaders and the social isolates. Knowing who these students are can have a significant impact on your overall program outcomes.

The challenge is how to successfully identify the peer opinion leader and the isolate. We tend to think we know who the peer opinion leaders and isolates are based on our own observations or knowledge. Research suggests that teachers are right a little more than half the time. A more effective approach is to let the students tell you who their peer opinion leaders and isolates are using a Friendship Survey.

Why bother with a Friendship Survey? There are two reasons.

First, results of the survey can be used to identify students who have no or few friends. Research shows that these students are at increased risk for engaging in drug use and other problem behaviors. Knowing who these students are can help you when you create small groups to complete activities. Your goal should be to help each of these students connect with other prosocial students. Do not to simply put the social isolates together as this tends to foster more peer isolation and increase their risk for becoming deviant. Read last week’ blog, Kids Without Friends, for more ideas on how to support and work with your social isolates.

Second, results of the survey identify peer opinion leaders. Peer opinion leaders set trends and have a profound influence on other students. They exist within all groups. They define norms within the peer group. Some peer opinion leaders have a natural positive influence. Some have a negative influence and can lead others to join them. In either case, peer opinion leaders should not be ignored. Refer to my blog, How to Use Peer Opinion Leaders as Change Agents, on strategies for involving peer opinion leaders in your class or group.

The bottom line is… the Friendship Survey is an effective, scientific, research-based tool, for identifying your peer opinion leaders and social isolates. It is more reliable than your own prediction.

The Friendship Survey I am sharing with you comes from the All Stars Core program. It can be administered with middle and high school age students as part of All Stars or as a stand-alone activity.

Download the Friendship Survey, tally sheet and instructions for free and give it a try. When you introduce the survey to the students tell them the survey will help you to know more about them as a group and how you can use their positive qualities and talents in the classroom or group. You also need to reinforce the survey is anonymous and they should not put their name on it.

You have nothing to lose and alot to gain by integrating the Friendship Survey into your group or classroom work. You gain insight into your students and their social networks while also earning the trust and respect of the peer opinion leaders and isolates. The mileage you can get from achieving this can have long-lasting effects not only in your classroom, but also in the lives of your students.