Substance Abuse Prevention

You can’t teach “just say no” and expect good results. Prevention has to be experienced throughout one’s life.

Perhaps you participated in a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program through school. Typically, police officers talk to a class of students for an hour once per week for 10 weeks. DARE has a zero-tolerance agenda and teach that all kinds of drugs, including alcohol and marijuana, are equally bad. They make use of scare techniques such as photos and videos of the negative consequences of addiction.

One would think this education would be a deterrent to addiction. However, it turns out that beginning in the late 1990s studies showed that DARE had no effect on whether or not students would go on to use or misuse drugs and alcohol in the future. After 20 years of implementing this program in schools, long term studies proved its ineffectiveness. Some evidence even suggests lower levels of self-esteem and a higher risk of substance misuse of students who went through DARE.

There are other curriculums with more promising results. The following are evidenced-based programs.

NOPE (Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education) is designed to combat opioid addiction.

PROSPER (Promoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience) is designed for middle school students that is based on resiliency concepts via strong families.

Shatterproof is designed to stop drugs from shattering the lives of families. They focus on inspiration and anti-stigma efforts. They address addiction as a disease.

High school drinking and drug use is the lowest it’s been in 15 years. However, addiction often begins in adult years. Rather than rely on a 10-week school-based program, some programs are designed for families. Parents can be helped to communicate in positive ways, improve relationships with their children, and support academic and extracurricular activities. While Big Brother/Big Sisters doesn’t focus on substance prevention per se, they serve as a protective factor in youths lives.

A comprehensive prevention program will address risk and protective factors for substance use problems. Risk factors include early aggressive behaviors, lack of parental supervision, alcohol and drug use and easy availability, and poverty. Protective factors include good impulse control, parental monitoring, academic competence, anti-drug use policies, and strong neighborhood attachment.

People who become addicted to a substance often have underlying issues such as poor emotion regulation, insecure attachment, and may have a history of trauma. They may have repeated failures, helplessness, hopelessness and feel demoralized. These issues are not going to be addressed in a 10-week class.

According to SAMHSA, some prevention interventions are designed to help individuals develop the skills to act in a healthy manner. Others focus on creating environments that support healthy behavior. Research indicates that the most effective prevention interventions incorporate both approaches.

So, what can you do? Do your part to create a healthy environment for people from birth through adulthood.


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