ERIC Identifier: ED409316
Publication Date: 1997-07-00
Author: Bosworth, Kris
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Drug Abuse Prevention: School-based Strategies That Work. ERIC
Use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) is common in adolescence.
According to an annual survey of high school students, their use of alcohol has
remained consistently high for the past 20 years, with about 81% of seniors in
1995 reporting having drunk alcohol at least once in their lives and a little
over half (51.3%) reporting alcohol use at least once in the past month. Prior
to 1991, use of tobacco and illicit drugs (i.e., marijuana, crack/cocaine,
stimulants, inhalants, LSD, heroin) had been decreasing since the peak levels in
the late 1970s. Since 1991, however, these rates have increased steadily. In
1995, 39% of seniors reported they had used an illicit drug at least once,
whereas in 1991, 29.4% reported ever using an illicit drug. Using a survey
timeframe of the past 30 days, 23.8 % report using one drug in 1995, up from
16.4% in 1991. This increase in use is coupled with a decrease in the belief
that drugs are harmful. For example, in 1991, 79% of seniors thought that
regular marijuana users were at great risk for harm; only 61% felt that way in
1995. Since a belief in the harmfulness of a drug has been shown to be an
important deterrent to use, the sharp decline in the belief in the harmfulness
of marijuana adds urgency to ATOD prevention efforts (Johnston, O'Malley, &
ROLE OF THE SCHOOLS IN PREVENTION
For the past two decades,
significant public and private resources have been allocated to prevent youth
from using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and from this effort research has
identified effective prevention strategies. Thus, 20 years of prevention
research and evaluation places educators and other concerned adults in a
position to intervene to counter the trend of increased ATOD use by adolescents
(Sussman & Johnson, 1996; Tobler and Stratton, 1997; Duesnbury & Falco,
1995; Hansen, 1992). Since most ATOD use begins before the age of 20, schools
are the primary institution with access to this age group. Additionally, the
most common prevention strategy has been education, which is compatible with
schools' goals (Dryfoos, 1990).
WHAT WORKS...AND DOESN'T
Although the research is far from
conclusive, there is evidence that some strategies are ineffective. Scare
tactics, providing only information on drugs and their effects, self-esteem
building, values clarification, large assemblies, and didactic presentation of
material have not been shown to be particularly effective in the prevention of
ATOD use (Tobler & Stratton, 1997).
Other approaches have been shown to have positive results. No one
intervention will be able to prevent use and abuse of drugs for everyone but
studies indicate characteristics of curricula and programs necessary for
Because the majority of youth experiment with substances, particularly
alcohol and tobacco, ATOD prevention needs to target all students. Since risk
factors are present years before initiation, prevention activities must start in
elementary school and be periodically reinforced as students encounter new
social situations and pressures to use substances. Programs designed to meet
developmental needs of the students should be offered at each grade level
without oversaturating students to the point they discount the information.
DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION CURRICULUM CONTENT
identified that prevention programs need to be comprehensive and have sufficient
intensity to reasonably expect that the skills can be taught (Sussman & Johnson, 1996). Content areas that are necessary for an effective curriculum
*Normative education. Helps students realize that use of ATOD is not the norm
for teenagers. Students generally overestimate the proportion of their peers
actively involved in ATOD. Hence, it is easier to be pressured by the myth that
"everybody is doing it." Student surveys and opinion polls are used to help
students understand actual use rates.
*Social skills. Improving verbal skills may help students increase their ease
in handling social situations. Decision making, communication skills, and
assertiveness skills are particularly important during the late elementary and
middle school years when puberty changes social dynamics between young people
themselves as well as with the adults in their lives.
*Social influences. Helps students recognize external pressure (e.g.,
advertising, role models, peer attitudes) to use ATOD and to develop the
cognitive skills to resist such pressures.
*Perceived harm. Helps students understand the risks and short- and long-term
consequences of ATOD use. The message must come from a credible source and be
reinforced in multiple settings.
*Protective factors. Supports and encourages the development of positive
aspects of life such as helping, caring, goal setting, and challenging students
to live up to their potential and facilitating affiliations with positive peers
(Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992).
*Refusal skills. Learning ways to refuse ATOD effectively and still maintain
friendships was a strategy heavily relied on in many early curricula. Recent
research indicates that it is most relevant in supporting teens who do not want
to use drugs and in conjunction with other activities such as social influences
and normative education.
Curriculum delivery also has a critical
influence on curriculum effectiveness. Successful curricula rely on interactive
techniques rather than on lectures or other forms of one-way communication
(Tobler & Stratton, 1997). Role plays, simulations, Socratic questioning,
brainstorming, small group activities, cooperative learning, class discussions,
and service learning projects are strategies that engage students in
self-examination and learning (Bosworth & Sailes, 1993). Refusal skills need
to be practiced in the classroom through role plays in the context of realistic
settings where ATOD might be offered. Videos and multimedia software that are
set in real-world environments can be used to provide models of appropriate
behavior and to stimulate discussion.
Teacher attitudes and school and classroom climate may also be preventive.
Adults in schools need to model the social, decision-making, and communication
skills taught in the curriculum. Setting high expectations, open and supportive
communication, a value of caring and helping, and the creation of a positive
environment may be as important as curricula. Prevention messages can be
integrated into general curricula, and literature, movies, songs, or current
events that portray substance use/abuse can help students understand social
pressures and the personal consequences of ATOD use.
ROLE OF THE COMMUNITY
Because of the complexity of the
problem, coordination of prevention messages and activities with other
institutions in a youth's life is essential. The community, not the school, is
where most teen ATOD use occurs. Schools must be actively involved in planning
and coordinating community-wide activities that develop and strengthen
anti-drug-use norms in the community and family as well as among peers,
including public policy, media-created awareness, advocacy, and enforcement.
Communities can be active in changing and supporting non-use-norms and
reinforcing messages given at school. Many curricula have suggestions for
integrating parent activities and information sharing (Aguire-Molina & Gorman, 1996).
IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHER EDUCATION
To translate prevention
research into classroom practice requires that teachers have the motivation,
knowledge, and skills to be effective implementers of ATOD prevention
curriculum, create positive and intellectually stimulating classrooms, and be
willing to support and work on community prevention efforts. Many of the
following suggestions can complement content that is already an integral part of
If teachers are to present a prevention curriculum, they must understand the
serious consequences of ATOD use during the teen years, particularly for young
adolescents. Teachers should examine their own ATOD history and current use
patterns to identify any bias they may unintentionally convey to students that
would contradict the message of the ATOD prevention program. In addition,
teachers should be able to counter student remarks that glamorize or minimize
the consequences of drug use. Therefore, teacher education needs to provide
preservice teachers with statistics on use rates as well as information on
predictor variables, mediating factors, and prevention strategies.
Interactive techniques used in ATOD curricula can be used with almost any
classroom subject. Both current teachers and teachers in training need exposure
to and practice in a variety of such techniques. The regular use of interactive
strategies in all content areas will help to increase student involvement in
learning, which has an impact on protective factors.
Teachers should be familiar enough with research-based prevention to be able
to make informed choices about curricula and other programs. Several guides to
effective curricula and programs are available to facilitate selection
(Dusenbury, 1996; Bosworth, 1996).Teachers must request information about
outcome results and select programs that work, rather than slick but ineffective
References identified with an EJ or ED number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should
be available at most research libraries; most documents (ED) are available in
microfiche collections at more than 900 locations. Documents can also be ordered
through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (800-443-ERIC).
Aguire-Molina, M., & Gorman, D. (1996). Community-based approaches for
the prevention of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Annual Review of Public
Health, 17, 337-358.
Bosworth, K. (1996). DIADS (Drug Information Assessment and Decision Support)
on World Wide Web http://www.education.indiana.edu/cas/diads/diads.html
Bosworth, K. & Sailes, J. (1993). Content and teaching strategies in 10
selected drug abuse prevention curricula. Journal of School Health, 63(6),
Dryfoos, J. (1990). Adolescents at risk: Prevalence and prevention. New York:
Dusenbury, L. (1996). Making the grade: A guide to school drug prevention
programs. Washington, DC: Drug Strategies.
Dusenbury, L., & Falco, M. (1995). Eleven components of effective drug
abuse prevention curricula. Journal of School Health, 65(10), 420-425. EJ525362
Hansen, W. (1992). School-based substance abuse prevention: A review of the
state of the art in curriculum, 1980-1990. Health Education Research, 7,
Hawkins, J., Catalano, R., & Miller, J. (1992). Risk and protective
factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood:
Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1),
Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P., & Bachman, J. (1996). National survey
results on drug use from the Monitoring the Future study, 1975-1995. Volume I:
Secondary school students. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, U.S.
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Sussman, S., & Johnson, C. (Eds). (1996). Drug abuse prevention: Program
and research recommendations. American Behavioral Scientist, 39 (7).
Tobler, N., & Stratton, H. (1997). Effectiveness of school-based drug
prevention programs: A meta-analysis of the research. Journal of Primary