Alcohol and Drugs: Preventing Misuse

Community-based organizations, schools and other organizations that work with youth can help prevent or delay substance misuse through strategies based on scientific research. These strategies include using prevention interventions that can create a more supportive and healthier environment for youth.

Young people are more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs if they are exposed to certain risk factors.

Risk Factors

Risk factors are behaviors, attributes, characteristics or exposures that increase the likelihood of substance misuse. Such risk factors include:

  • Parents who misuse substances
  • Poor impulse control
  • Receiving harsh discipline
  • Rejection from peers
  • Easy access to alcohol

Protective Factors

Community groups and organizations can promote protective factors in order to prevent substance misuse in their communities. Such protective factors include:

  • Work and school opportunities that appeal to a young person's interests
  • Clear expectations from their family about acceptable behavior and values
  • Strong peer relationships and an ability to make friends
  • Physical and psychological safety

Types of Interventions

Organizations can choose among the following types of prevention interventions based on their capacity to respond to community needs. Each intervention type aims to reduce risk factors while increasing protective factors within the population it is serving.

Many popular strategies have not been proven to actually lower substance misuse. Be sure you choose a prevention intervention based on scientific evidence. For further examples of local interventions, check back on this page in spring 2019.

This type of prevention intervention seeks to address risk factors across a large population with broad changes to their environment, through:

  • Enacting and enforcing laws, regulations and policies
  • Media messaging
  • Changing cultural attitudes toward substance use
  • School-based programs that build social and emotional skills

Selective interventions focus on groups that experience risk factors. Examples of this kind of intervention include:

  • Programs that develop life skills for youth who are exposed to multiple risk factors
  • Peer support groups for adults who have a history of substance misuse
  • Parenting classes for families that have experienced domestic violence or homelessness

This type of intervention is focused on people who are already using substances. Mentoring and brief counseling are forms of indicated prevention.

Additional Resources

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