Reducing Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use

Drug-abuse prevention programs can help high-risk youth, according to this five-year study by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP). The report found that prevention programs for high-risk youth have been effective in reducing rates of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use.

The study included more than 10,500 youth in 48 communities with high levels of poverty, crime and substance abuse. The results showed that prevention programs strongly influence boys’ behavior while they are participating in those programs and for a few months afterwards. The impact on girls is initially weaker, but increases over time and is longer-lasting.

The programs varied widely in design, and some were effective while others were not. Unfortunately, the report does not specify the range of effectiveness, or the proportion of programs that were effective. However, it concludes that the programs that were most successful showed a clear purpose and evidence-based strategy, focused on self-examination, maintained intensive participant contact and were offered in after-school settings.

For girls, programs that focused on behavior-related life skills were the most effective. Boys benefited most from programs that emphasized interaction with peers or adults.

Approximately 60 percent of the youths participated in prevention programs. Their reported first-time use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana was 12 percent lower when the program was completed, compared to those who were not in a program. Eighteen months later, the participants’ first time use was still 6 percent below that of other youth.

For youths who had already used tobacco, alcohol or marijuana, use of these substances was 10 percent lower for those who completed a prevention program compared to those who did not. Eighteen months later, however, participants’ substance abuse levels were 22 percent below the levels of the other youths.

The programs had a more immediate impact on boys, who were 29 percent less likely to use drugs at the end of the program, and 22 percent less likely six months later. However, this difference disappeared 18 months after a prevention program was completed.

In contrast, substance use was only 3 percent lower for girls who completed a program compared to girls who did not participate, but 18 months later this difference had increased to 9 percent.

The report confirmed a “web of influence” in the lives of these youth, which included school, family, peers and community. For example, in strong families, parents influence their children’s choice of friends and their decisions about whether to smoke, drink or use drugs. Youth who do well in school tend to have friends who do not use these substances, and those youths are also less likely to use them. The report concluded that “family, peers, school, community and society protect against substance abuse.”

  1. The National Cross-Site Evaluation of High-Risk Youth Programs, U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, DHHS Publication No. SMA-25-01. Available free from National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.