Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What is substance use prevention?

The annual National Prevention Network (NPN) meeting was held in Seattle last fall and the University of Washington's David Hawkins gave a keynote address about substance use prevention. As our state expands prevention programming, particularly activities for preventing youth marijuana use, his keynote address provides a good reminder about what works and what does not.

Before a great deal of prevention research was done, many substance use prevention programs were used that have since proven ineffective. The last thirty years of research have made a significant difference in understanding what is most effective.

For example, while it may seem intuitively correct that providing information about drugs would be a straight-forward way to prevent young people from starting to use drugs, such a strategy actually increased drug use in some studies.

Locally, the UW's Social Development Research Group studied the effects of risk and protective factors on youth drug use. They found that protective factors can reduce youth drug use even in the presence of many risk factors.

Protective factors include the communication of clear standards in families, at schools, and in the community. When families, schools, and communities express clear standards against teenagers using drugs, youth are less likely to use drugs.

Individual prevention programs that encourage family bonding, teach skills that teenagers need to be able to avoid or refuse drugs, and provide parents with information about giving their children opportunities and recognition for pro-social behaviors have been found to be effective.

Communities have a role to play in prevention, too. Policies such as the minimum legal drinking age, taxes, and restrictions on where and when legal drugs are sold are proven methods for preventing youth drug use.

So, which prevention activities should be implemented in communities? Whichever ones address the problems specific to a community. Prevention activities are not one-size-fits-all. Know your community and what factors are putting teenagers at risk and what factors are protecting against drug use.

The entire keynote presentation may be viewed by clicking here.

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