Programs to Prevent Drug Abuse: One Size Does Not Fit All

[Editor’s Note: This article consists of excerpts from NIDA’s 2003 Preventing Drug
Use Among Children and Adolescents, Second edition, Washington, D.C.]

Prevention programs in schools focus on children’s social and academic skills, including enhancing peer relationships, self-control, coping skills, social behaviorial skills, and drug-offer refusal skills. School-based prevention programs should be integrated within the school’s own goal of enhanced academic performance. Evidence is emerging that a major risk for school failure is a child’s inability to read by the third or fourth grade, and school failure is strongly associated with drug abuse. Integrated programs strengthen students’ bonding to school and reduce their likelihood of dropping out. Most prevention curricula include a normative education component designed to correct the misperception that many students are abusing drugs (p. 19).

Many research-based prevention interventions in schools include curricula that teach the behavioral and social skills described above. The Life Skills Training Programexemplifi es one universal classroom program that is provided to middleschoolers. The program teaches drug-use resistance, self-management, and general social skills in a three-year curriculum, with the third year being a booster session offered when students enter high school.

ATLAS (Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids) is a selective program for male high school athletes. It is designed to reduce risk factors for use of anabolic steroids and other drugs, while providing healthy nutrition and strengthtraining information. Coaches, peer teammates, and parents are part of the program.

An indicated intervention that reaches high school students, Project Towards No Drug Abuse focuses on students who have failed to succeed in school and are engaged in drug abuse and other problem behaviors. The program seeks to rebuild students’ interest in school and their future, correct their misperceptions about drug abuse, and strengthen protective factors, including positive decisionmaking and commitment.

Recent research suggests caution when grouping high-risk teens in peer group interventions for drug abuse prevention. Such groups have been shown to produce negative effects, as participants appear to reinforce substance abuse behaviors over time. Research is examining how to prevent such effects, with a particular focus on the role of adults and positive peers (p. 20).

Principles for Effective Programs

• Prevention programs can be designed to intervene as early as preschool to address risk factors for future drug abuse, such as aggressive behavior, poor social skills, and academic diffi culties (p. 3).

• Prevention programs for middle or junior high and high school students should increase academic and social competence (p. 3).

• Prevention programs aimed at general populations during key transition points, such as the transition to middle school, can produce benefi cial effects even among high-risk families and children (p. 4). 

Looking for a Good Drug-abuse Prevention Program?

Several federal agencies have developed or sponsored lists of exemplary prevention
programs for youths. The criteria for inclusion and organization of each list varies, but
all lists require programs to be science-based and show evidence of positive results.
The following are good places to start when considering adding a program at your school.

Helping America’s Youth
The White House

Exemplary and Promising Safe, Disciplined, and Drug-Free Schools
Programs: 2001
U.S. Department of Education, Offi ce of Safe and Drug-Free Schools

SAMHSA Model Programs
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration

Blueprints for Violence Prevention
Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, sponsored by the U.S. Department of
Justice, Offi ce of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention