Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents (In Brief)
How are risk and protective factors addressed in prevention programs?

The risk and protective factors are the primary targets of effective prevention programs used in family, school, and community settings. The goal of these programs is to build new and strengthen existing protective factors and reverse or reduce risk factors in youth.

Prevention programs are usually designed to reach target populations in their primary setting. However, in recent years it has become more common to find programs for any given target group in a variety of settings, such as holding a family-based program in a school or a church.

In addition to setting, prevention programs can also be described by the audience for which they are designed:

  • Universal programs are designed for the general population, such as all students in a school.
  • Selective programs target groups at risk or subsets of the general population, such as poor school achievers or children of drug abusers.
  • Indicated programs are designed for people already experimenting with drugs.

In the Family - Prevention programs can strengthen protective factors among young children by teaching parents better family communication skills, appropriate discipline styles, firm and consistent rule enforcement, and other family management approaches. Research confirms the benefits of parents providing consistent rules and discipline, talking to children about drugs, monitoring their activities, getting to know their friends, understanding their problems and concerns, and being involved in their learning. The importance of the parent-child relationship continues through adolescence and beyond. (See examples of family-based programs in Examples of Research-Based Drug Abuse Prevention Programs.)

In School - Prevention programs in schools focus on children’s social and academic skills, including enhancing peer relationships, self-control, coping, and drug-refusal skills. If possible, school-based prevention programs should be integrated into the school’s academic program, because school failure is strongly associated with drug abuse. Integrated programs strengthen students’ bonding to school and reduce their likelihood of dropping out. Most school prevention materials include information about correcting the misperception that many students are abusing drugs. Other types of interventions include school-wide programs that affect the school environment as a whole. All of these activities can serve to strengthen protective factors against drug abuse. (See examples of school-based programs in Examples of Research-Based Drug Abuse Prevention Programs.)

Recent research suggests caution when grouping high-risk teens in peer group preventive interventions. Such groupings have been shown to produce negative outcomes, as participants appear to reinforce each other’s drug abuse behaviors.10

In the Community - Prevention programs work at the community level with civic, religious, law enforcement, and other government organizations to enhance anti-drug norms and pro-social behaviors. Many programs coordinate prevention efforts across settings to communicate consistent messages through school, work, religious institutions, and the media. Research has shown that programs that reach youth through multiple settings can strongly impact community norms.7 Community-based programs also typically include development of policies or enforcement of regulations, mass media efforts, and community-wide awareness programs. (See community-based programs in Examples of Research-Based Drug Abuse Prevention Programs.) For example, it is important to note that some carefully structured and targeted media interventions have been proven to be very effective in reducing drug abuse.22