Adolescent drug abuse prevention programs – do they really help?
At the risk of “giving away the ending,” the answer to the title of this article is “Yes, but…” The “but” is that not just any intervention will be effective. In the book Dangerous Drugs: an easy-to-use reference for parents and professionals by Carol Falkowski, drug and alcohol use are a leading cause of preventable death for those 15 to 24 years of age. Focusing on the word preventable, it is vital to appreciate that there are factors that can increase the risk for drug use and addiction plus protective factors that can lower it the chance of drug addiction and alcoholism. Drug abuse is associated with underachievement in school, delinquency, teenage pregnancy and depression so that is further motivation to prevent such abuse.
In “Adolescent drug abuse – Awareness and Prevention” by B. Chakravarthy, et al (The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 6/1/2013 issue) it is noted that children that have experienced more than several adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have an increased risk of abusing drugs. Such ACEs include neglect, as well as living in a home where adults abuse drugs or are criminals or have mental illness. Those teens who have experienced more than a few ACEs should be selected for interventions such as mentoring and tutoring.
The above article also notes that poverty, unless extreme, isn’t an ACE. It is also important to recognize factors that decrease the risk for drug use and abuse. Included in this list are parental involvement, school success, and clear expectations and consequences for teen behaviors.
Beyond targeting those at high risk for drug abuse and providing appropriate intervention, what else works to prevent this deadly problem? Per the Chakravarthy article, multiple exposures on drug abuse, interactive methods information delivery, social skill training, culturally sensitive materials, and presentations of familiar topics. Also, enhancing protective factors.
Per the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (INODC), one in twenty adults aged 15-65 abuses heroin, cocaine or other illegal drugs. Per Carol Falkowski, most adult drug users started their inappropriate drug use as teens.
Information in this article and other sources should lead to optimism since this is a problem we can do something about. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) stresses that prevention can decrease the chances an adolescent will try illegal drugs or become addicted. In Dangerous Drugs, the author notes that parents often incorrectly believe their teens don’t care what they think, but that isn’t true. If you’re a parent or other caring individual, make the precious investment in a teen.