ERIC Identifier: ED341892
Publication Date: 1991-12-31
Author: Mohai, Caroline E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Peer Leaders in Drug Abuse Prevention. ERIC Digest.
During the past decade much has been learned about school-based drug
prevention programming. We now know that effective programs are comprehensive,
begin intervention efforts early, project a clear no-use message, contain
different strategies for different populations, and coordinate their program
with a broader community-wide prevention effort (Mohai, 1991).
More light has also been shed on the strengths and weaknesses of specific
program components, including curricula. Though drug prevention curricula
assessment has been difficult, evidence is mounting that curricula based on the
Social Influence Model (SIM) is especially effective in changing student
drug-use attitudes and behavior (Ellickson, 1990; Bangert-Drowns, 1988;
MacKinnon, 1991). Research has also shown that allowing students to take an
active role in prevention program delivery strengthens the program as well as
boosting the self-esteem and academic performance of the students who assist
(Carr, 1988; Benard, 1990; Norem-Hebeisen, 1983). Because of these advantages,
more and more schools are enlisting the skills and enthusiasm of trained "peer
leaders" to lead other students through SIM-based drug prevention curriculums
PEER LEADERS IN STUDENT SERVICES
Peer leaders have been
used by student services professionals since the mid-1960s. Peer leaders have
assisted school counselors and administrators in providing support for fellow
students with special needs such as academic (tutoring), social (orienting new
students), physical (aiding handicapped students), or emotional (leading support
groups). Both the growing strength of the self-help movement, and the
diminishing resources available to schools for assisting students, have made
peer leader programs appealing. (Carr, 1988; Benard, 1990).
Selection of peer leaders has been done in a number of ways, although most
programs do not restrict participation to high achievers or student leaders. In
fact, serving as a peer leader has been shown to have a transforming effect on
the school performance of underachieving and alienated youth (U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, 1989). Once selected, peer leaders go through a
special training program to develop strong communication and decision-making
skills (Myrick & Sorenson, 1988).
Specific benefits of a peer leader program include: (1) freeing up time for
teachers and counselors to perform other tasks, (2) providing strong role models
for other students (peers are more effective as role models than adults), (3)
creating a less threatening counseling environment where students can share
attitudes and experiences that they might not wish to discuss with an adult, and
(4) strengthening the self-esteem of peer leaders by providing them with
leadership experience and an opportunity to play a meaningful role in the lives
of others (Webb, 1987).
SOCIAL INFLUENCE MODEL (SIM) AND DRUG ABUSE
Based on the knowledge that social pressures play a major role in
shaping behavior, especially the behavior of youth, the Social Influence Model
(SIM), or Peer Influence Model as it is sometimes called, seeks to strengthen
students' awareness of and resistance to the external pressures exerted by
friends, family, and the media, and to internal pressures such as low
self-esteem that can lead youth to drug use (Norem-Hebeisen, 1983; Pentz, 1990;
Benard, 1990). Prevention curriculum based on SIM dispenses objective
information about drug use (within the context of a clear no-use philosophy),
examines drug use attitudes and behaviors, and gives social resistance skill
training (Ellickson, 1990; Mohai, 1991).
Peer Leaders in SIM Discussion/Resistance Skill Training
A variety of SIM curriculum delivery modes exist including printed materials,
presentations, media announcements, posters, games, surveys, movies, and
computer programs. One SIM approach especially conducive to the use of peer
leaders is discussion and resistance skill training groups where students can
sort out together assumption from fact and learn and practice assertiveness
skills that will help them successfully negotiate their way through the various
social situations in which their behavioral choices are challenged (Ellickson,
1990; Perry, 1986; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989).
Discussion/resistance skills training has become popular because it
capitalizes on adolescent needs for competence, autonomy, recognition, and fun,
and addresses social isolation that can lead to feelings of alienation and
delinquent behavior. (Carr, 1988; Benard, 1990). Skills targeted for improvement
problem identification and management
communication, including assertion and refusal skills (Carr, 1988).
Peer leaders lead fellow students through a specific drug prevention
curriculum that includes group discussion, question/answer and writing
exercises, and individual and group role playing. During these exercises
students challenge each others' beliefs, try out new social skills, and provide
important emotional support to one another that can extend beyond the group
session (Benard, 1990).
Using peer leaders to deliver SIM-based drug prevention curricula has many
benefits. By giving youths an opportunity to help and learn from each other,
student-led SIM curricula address the internal needs of youth for personal
efficacy and self-worth, while building valuable skills in identifying and
effectively resisting social pressures to use drugs. To be effective, peer-led
SIM programming efforts should:
be supervised by well-trained adults capable of modeling the desired skills;
be based on demonstrated needs;
represent the social composition of the school and community;
be interactive and experiential; and,
provide peer leaders with extensive training and opportunities for skill
renewal. (Carr, 1988)
PEER LEADERS AS PREVENTION PROGRAM ADMINISTRATORS
addition to their use in directing group discussion/resistance skill training
groups, peer leaders also serve as prevention program administrators: assessing
school needs, selecting appropriate programs, and coordinating program
implementation and assessment. They also have taken the leadership in developing
alternative drug-free school and community activities. Peer leaders in some
school districts have served as instructors for younger students, teaching them
about the hazards of drug use while indirectly serving as powerful role models.
Others have encouraged peer leaders to establish and coordinate student-run
businesses to give youth more skills and greater experience with assuming adult
responsibilities (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989).
Although peer leaders have been effectively
assisting school staffs since the 1960s, they have recently assumed their most
critical role to date: leading other students through drug prevention
curriculums, particularly those based on the Social Influence Model. In
addition, peer leaders are serving as prevention program administrators and
often are taking the leadership in developing alternative drug-free school and
For educators exploring possible drug
prevention approaches and curricula, several excellent guides to curriculum
selection are available from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug
Information (NCADI), P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20852, (800) 729-6686, the
public information arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Free
prevention Curricula: A Guide to Selection and Implementation";
Community Creating Change: Exemplary Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Programs;
Prevention Plus II: Tools for Creating and Sustaining Drug-Free Communities;
Learning to Live Drug Free: A Curriculum Model for Prevention;
Prevention Resource Guide's for Elementary Youth and Secondary School Students.
Also serving as a programming resource are the Drug-Free Schools and
Communities Regional Centers established in 1986 as part of the Drug-Free
Schools and Communities Act to help schools and communities eliminate drug and
alcohol use among youth. The five regional centers are:
Regional Center, Sayville, NY, (516) 589-7022
Regional Center, Louisville, KY, (502) 588-0052
Regional Center, Oak Brook, IL, (708) 571-4710
Regional Center, Norman, OK, (800) 234-7972
Regional Center, Portland, OR, (503) 275-9480
Two organizations dedicated to the promotion and improvement of peer leader
programs may also be of help:
National Peer Helpers Association
Peer Counselling Project
Bangert-Drowns, R. L. (1988). The effects of
school-based substance abuse education-a meta analysis. Journal of Drug
Education, 18(3), 243-260.
Benard, B. (1990). The case for peers. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional
Educational Laboratory. ED 327 755.
Carr, R. A. (1988). Peer helping: the bridge to substance abuse prevention.
The BC Counsellor, 10(2), 3-18.
Ellickson, P. L., & Bell, R. M. (1990). Prospects for preventing drug use
among young adolescents. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation.
MacKinnon, D. P. et al. (1991). Mediating mechanisms in a school-based drug
prevention program: First-year effects of the Midwestern Prevention Project.
Health Psychology, 10(3), 164-172.
Mohai, C. E. (1991). Are school-based drug prevention programs working? (ERIC
Digest). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement.
Myrick, R. D., & Sorenson, D. L. (1988). Peer helping: A practical guide.
Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media Corporation.
Norem-Hebeisen, A., & Hedin, D. P. (1983). Influences on adolescent
problem behavior: Causes, connections, and contexts. Child and Youth Services,
Pentz, M. A. et al. (1990). Effects of program implementation on adolescent
drug use behavior: The midwestern prevention project (MPP). Evaluation Review,
Perry, C. L. et al. (1986). A process evaluation study of peer leaders in
health education. Journal of School Health, 56(2), 62-67.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1989). Prevention Plus II:
Tools for Creating and Sustaining Drug-Free Communities. Washington, D.C.:
Webb, M. (1987). Peer helping relationships in urban schools. (ERIC Digest).
New York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED 289 949)