Prevention Research for communities:


The use of effective drug abuse prevention strategies and programs by communities nationwide will significantly reduce the toll of drug abuse and addiction in our society, especially with our nation's youth. Ongoing research advances in the following areas will enhance our nation's prevention efforts:

Risk Factors

Understanding what determines vulnerability to substance abuse (alcohol/tobacco and/or other drugs) is crucial to the development of effective prevention programming. No one thing, one factor, leads to drug abuse. Drug abuse develops as the result of a variety of genetic, biological, emotional, cognitive, and social risk factors that interact with features of the community. Both individual factors and social factors makes an individual more or less at risk for drug abuse/addiction.

Studies supported by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) and SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) have already identified many risk factors associated with the development of drug problems. These factors are usually organized into categories that represent individual, familial, and social risks. For example; it is now understood that school-level risk factors include a pro-drug-use norm (standard) and availability of drugs on or near the school campus; and community-level risks include lack of positive academic and recreational programming for children and adolescents after school hours and on weekends, as well as low levels of law enforcement support with respect to minors' use of licit and illicit substances.

Protective Factors

For many years, the focus was on discovering the factors that put people, particularly children, at risk for drug use, abuse, and addiction. In the process we learned that there are also protective or resiliency factors that help protect individuals from developing drug-related problems.

NIDA-supported research has uncovered many such protective factors that operate at the individual level through the family, peer group, school, community, workplace, and the media, among others. Examples of protective or resiliency factors include a stable temperament, a high degree of motivation, a strong parent-child bond, consistent parental supervision and discipline, bonding to pro-social institutions, association with peers who hold conventional attitudes, and consistent, community-wide anti-drug-use messages and norms (standards), safe environments, trained and supportive law enforcement. An accumulation of protective factors help counteract the negative influences of a few risk factors.

To simplify; if a young person has a genetic predisposition toward alcohol/drug abuse, has family members abusing drugs, has no strong family bonding and is not encouraged in school, she may follow the easiest course and lean toward using/abusing drugs. But if this same young person has a positive school experience and can join groups or sports teams and lives in a safe, clean neighborhood, these factors may “protect” her from abusing drugs. They provide a balance, good standards, and alternatives.

The challenge for the future is to understand how risk and protective factors interact to make individuals more or less vulnerable to trying drugs, abusing drugs, and/or becoming addicted to drugs. It is necessary to understand the unique risk and protective factors that contribute to drug abuse among minority populations. This knowledge will allow prevention researchers and providers to design programs that can be more effectively tailored to individual needs.

happy girlsEffective Research and Community Needs

Communities that conduct on-going assessments of needs and services and that then design programs (with community members) to address the assessment outcomes are far more successful than communities who create programs based only on reports of success.

Successful programs use science-based tools to prevent drug abuse and take advantage of continued prevention research. Keep Kids Drug Free Regional Prevention Centers promote science based strategies for communities. Strategies that help communities better determine their own local needs and their readiness for interventions.

It is often difficult to determine how decisions are made about prevention implementation. A full understanding of these issues will help integrate prevention strategies and programs into existing community-level service delivery systems and sustain them.

A review of Community and School Risk and Protective factors includes: