Program Outcomes for Youth
Reduction of Risk Behaviors in Youth including: 
Adolescent Substance Abuse

by Karen Hoffman Tepper

Substance use is considered to be a coming-of age for many adolescents. Teens often engage in experimental drinking and drug use as a way to show their "maturity." Unfortunately this "harmless" experimentation often has serious consequences. Academic failure, drinking and driving, mental and physical health problems, addiction, violence and suicide are just a few of the potential problems which are associated with either heavy or frequent use of substances by teenagers. Recent studies examining the prevalence of substance abuse indicate that preventing it should be an important goal in our communities (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 1996). In addition recent research has indicated that drug and alcohol abuse is an issue for rural as well as urban teens and studies and prevention efforts should be focused equally (Roundtree & Clayton, 1999).

Substance abuse consists of either heavy or frequent use of alcohol, cigarettes or illicit substances. Use of these substances may cause harm to either the teenager or individuals associated with the teen user. Promoting positive youth development is one area where much research has focused. Resilient adolescents are less likely to become involved in drug and alcohol abuse. Youth development programming focuses on building competencies including physical social, cognitive, vocational, and moral competence (National Assembly, 1994). Recent research has also focused on setting realistic goals for intervention. An argument has been made that the elimination of substance use may not be such a goal, but researchers do believe that preventing substance abuse is both an important and feasible goal for intervention (Dielman, 1994).

Numerous factors have been outlined as either risk or protective factors for drug abuse. These factors are often targets for intervention. Researchers believe that by creating change in these behaviors associated with drug abuse they help to prevent drug abuse from occurring.

Related Elements:
Home environment, including parent-child relationship, parental behavior and parental monitoring
Deviant or inappropriate behaviors
School performance
Peer behaviors and attitudes
Attitudes about drug use
Affiliation with prosocial institutions
Ability to deal with temptation

Various types of programs exist which aim to eliminate substance abuse. The most well known substance abuse program to date may be the DARE program. DARE is a knowledge-only program, and most research has shown that it is not effective in eliminating substance abuse (Lynam, Milich, Zimmerman, Novak, Logan, Martin, Leukefeld, & Clayton, 1999). Most research indicates that programs which include peers and are interactive are the most effective at altering behavior (Tobler, 1986). The duration of programs has also been shown to be an important consideration in their development (Ellickson, Bell, & McGuiran, 1993). Different types of programs have been shown to have differing effects on different populations. All of these factors should be considered when developing programs.

        Dielman, D. E. (1994). School-based research on the prevention of adolescent alcohol use and misuse: Methodological issues and advances. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4, 271-293.

      Ellickson, P. L., Bell, R. M., & McGuigan, K. (1993). Preventing adolescent drug use: Long-term results of a junior high program. American Journal of Public Health, 83, 856-861.

      Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., & Bachman, J. G. (1996). National Survey Results on Drug Use from the Monitoring the Future Study. Washington, DC: NIH Publication.

      Lynam, D. R., Milich, R., Zimmerman, R., Novak, R., Logan, T. K., Martin, C., Leukefeld, C., & Clayton, R. (1999). Project DARE: No effects at 10-year follow-up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 590-593.

      National Assembly. (1994). Building Resiliency: What Works! A Community Guide to Preventing Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse Through Positive Youth Development. Washington, DC: National Assembly.

      Roundtree, P. W., & Clayton, R. R. (1999). Contextual model for adolescent alcohol use across the rural-urban continuum. Substance Abuse and Misuse, 34, 495-519.

      Tobler, N. S. (1986). Meta-analysis of 143 adolescent drug prevention programs: Quantitative outcome results of program participants compared to a control or comparison group. Journal of Drug Issues, 16, 537-367.
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