Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents (In Brief)
What are the core elements of effective research-based prevention programs?

In recent years, research-based prevention programs have proven effective. These programs were tested in diverse communities, in a wide variety of settings, and with a range of populations (for example, family-based programs in schools and churches).

As community planners review prevention programs to determine which best fit their needs, they should consider the following core elements of effective research-based programs.

  • Structure—how each program is organized and constructed;
  • Content—how the information, skills, and strategies are presented; and
  • Delivery—how the program is selected or adapted and implemented, as well as how it is evaluated in a specific community.

When adapting programs to match community needs, it is important to retain these core elements to ensure that the most effective parts of the program stay intact.

The table below provides examples of these core elements of prevention programs by sample program types—for example, Community (Universal), School (Selective), and Family (Indicated). In brief, the core elements are described below.

Structure - Structure addresses program type, audience, and setting. Several program types have been shown to be effective in preventing drug abuse. School-based programs, the first to be fully developed and tested, have become the primary approach for reaching all children. Family-based programs have proven effective in reaching both children and their parents in a variety of settings. Media and computer technology programs are beginning to demonstrate effectiveness in reaching people at both community and individual levels.

Research also shows that combining two or more effective programs, such as family and school programs, can be even more effective than a single program alone. These are called multi-component programs.

Content - Content is composed of information, skills development, methods, and services. Information can include facts about drugs and their effects, as well as drug laws and policies. For instance, in a family intervention, parents can receive drug education and information that reinforces what their children are learning about the harmful effects of drugs in their school prevention program. This opens opportunities for family discussions about the abuse of legal and illegal drugs.

Drug information alone, however, has not been found to be effective in deterring drug abuse. Combining information with skills, methods, and services produces more effective results. Methods are geared toward change, such as establishing and enforcing rules on drug abuse in the schools, at home, and within the community. Services could include school counseling and assistance, peer counseling, family therapy, and health care. Parental monitoring and supervision can be enhanced with training on rule-setting; methods for monitoring child activities; praise for appropriate behavior; and moderate, consistent discipline that enforces family rules.

Delivery - Delivery includes program selection or adaptation and implementation. During the selection process, communities try to match effective research-based programs to their community needs. Conducting a structured review of existing programs can help determine what gaps remain. This information can then be incorporated into the community plan, which guides the selection of new research-based programs. Chapter 4 presents brief program descriptions. More comprehensive program information is included in the complete second edition. Also, planning and program sources can be found in Selected Resources and References.

Adaptation involves shaping a program to fit the needs of a specific population in various settings. To meet community needs, scientists have adapted many research-based programs. For programs that have not yet been adapted in a research study, it is best to run the program as designed or include the core elements to ensure the most effective outcomes.

Core Elements of Prevention Programs
Program Type Structure
Audience Setting
Community (Universal) All Youth Billboards
School (Selective) Middle School Students After-School Programs
Family (Indicated) High-Risk Youth and Their Families Clinics
Program Type Content
Information Skills Development Methods Services
Community (Universal) Drug Trends Social Skills Tolerance Policies Drug-Free Zones
School (Selective) Drug Effects Resistance Skills Norms Change School Counseling and Assistance
Family (Indicated) Drug Abuse Symptoms Parenting Skills Home Drug-Testing; Curfew Family Therapy
Program Type Delivery
Implementation Features
Community (Universal) Spanish-Speaking Populations Consistent Multimedia Messages
School (Selective) Gender Booster Sessions
Family (Indicated) Rural Recruitment/

Implementation refers to how a program is delivered, which includes the number of sessions, methods used, and program follow-up. Research has found that how a program is implemented can determine its effectiveness in preventing drug abuse.

Use of interactive methods and appropriate booster sessions helps to reinforce earlier program content and skills to maintain program benefits.