Volume 10, Number 1
Targeting Prevention Messages: Research on Drug-Use Risk and Protective Factors Is Fueling the Design of Ethnically Appropriate Prevention Programs for Children
By Neil Swan, NIDA NOTES Contributing Writer
NIDA-funded researchers are exploring ways to use research to design ethnically appropriate prevention programs that respond to variations in drug abuse risk factors found among children of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
For a number of years, studies have shown that white children typically begin to use alcohol and other drugs at a younger age than Hispanic-, African-, or Asian-American youths do. Yet research also indicates that African Americans and Hispanic Americans are overrepresented in statistics on addiction and drug-related problems.
Studying the reasons for these differences
in drug use patterns can help determine the
best time and strategy for delivering prevention
messages to different ethnic groups.
Studying the reasons for these differences in drug use patterns can help determine the best time and strategy for delivering prevention messages to different ethnic groups, according to Dr. Richard F. Catalano of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington.
Through their research, social scientists have been investigating whether similar or different factors such as antisocial behavior predict the risk of beginning and continuing to use substances of abuse among children in different cultural groups. Even when predictors are the same for different cultural groups, some cultural groups may have greater exposure to a particular predictive factor than other cultural groups do.
Dr. Catalano and his colleagues at the University of Washington studied European-American and African-American fifth-grade students from Seattle schools to find ways to fashion prevention interventions to meet the differing needs of these white and black children. The researchers looked at the differences in risk factors and protective factors related to drug use as well as the differences--and similarities--in drug abuse prevalence and incidence between the two groups of children. The research team, headed by Dr. Catalano, found that the European-American students, particularly boys, had higher rates of tobacco and alcohol use than their African-American peers did. However, no significant differences in marijuana use existed between the two groups.
The researchers identified seven categories of risk and protective factors for drug use, including family management styles and family bonding, early antisocial behavior, accessibility and availability of drugs, and opportunities for involvement in school activities. They found no significant differences in the way these seven risk and protective factors predicted initiation of substance use among the two groups.
The researchers did identify differences among the two groups of children when they examined components of two of the seven risk factors: level of aggressiveness and the pupils' own assessments of whether they would be likely to use drugs when they become adults. Researchers found that African-American students were more aggressive according to teacher assessments, and black children rated themselves more "delinquent," another measure related to aggressiveness, than their white classmates. On the other hand, European-American pupils told the researchers that they were more likely than their African-American classmates to intend to use substances as adults. "It's the level of risk exposure that is different between the two fifth-grade groups, although the two risk factors still predict a higher variety of substance initiation for both groups," Dr. Catalano explained.
That is why prevention programs that help teachers manage pupils' aggression or that help children achieve goals in nonaggressive ways might be more relevant as early prevention approaches for the African-American children, he added. For the white pupils, early preventive approaches might be designed to specifically address norms and intentions to use drugs as adults. For instance, ways to influence children's intent to use drugs as adults might include dramatizing the negative consequences of drug abuse and targeting families, peer groups, and individual children themselves with these prevention messages.
"Well-prepared teachers could play a
major role in implementing culturally appropriate
drug abuse prevention training in the classroom."
The researchers found that the two groups of children had equal exposure to four significant predictors of substance use initiation: access to marijuana, friends who drink, opportunities for involvement in activities outside the classroom, and parents taking away privileges when students misbehave. The findings indicate that prevention programs undertaking risk-reduction effects for the two groups of children should pay equal attention to these four factors, Dr. Catalano said.
In a related study, Drs. Catalano, J. David Hawkins, and Janet Miller conducted a review of published research on childhood risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence, noting the promise of prevention strategies that focus on addressing risk and protective factors for drug abuse.
They also identified a number of prevention approaches that target early risk factors. These approaches include early childhood and family support programs; programs for parents that focus on children's behavior problems; social competence skills training, including social influences resistance training and normative change efforts; promotion of academic achievement; and comprehensive risk-focused programs.
The data on cultural differences suggest that some of these prevention approaches could be used as frameworks for developing culturally appropriate drug abuse prevention programs, said Dr. Catalano. For instance, strategies to respond to African-American children's greater exposure to aggression could use social competence instruction--training in coping and problem-solving skills and developing resistance to social influences--to help reduce the aggression-related risk of later drug abuse, he said.
Ways to influence children's intent to
use drugs as adults might include dramatizing
the negative consequences of drug abuse.
Teachers also could help reduce the role of aggression by setting classroom rules that provide clear ground rules so children know when they are approaching the limits of permissible assertive behavior, he said.
Teachers could fill an important need by targeting prevention messages to specific individuals or groups, such as white children who have a greater self-professed intent to use drugs as adults, Dr. Catalano indicated. "Well-prepared teachers could play a major role in implementing culturally appropriate drug abuse prevention training in the classroom," he said.
- Catalano, R.F.; Hawkins, J.D.; Krenz, C.; Gillmore, M.; Morrison, D.; Wells, E.; and Abbott, R.
- Using research to guide culturally appropriate drug abuse prevention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 61(5):804-811, 1993.
- Gillmore, M.R.; Catalano, R.F.; Morrison, D.M.; Wells, E.A.; Irtani, B.; and Hawkins, J.D.
- Racial differences in acceptability and availability of drugs and early initiation of substance abuse. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 16(3,4):185-206, 1990.
- Hawkins, J.D; Catalano, R.F.; and Miller, J.Y.
- Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin 112(1):64-105, 1992.
From NIDA NOTES, January/February, 1995
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