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National Institute on Drug Abuse - NIDA NOTES
Volume 14, Number 6 (March, 2000)

Developing Successful Drug Abuse Prevention Programs

NIDA's research over the past 25 years has identified many factors that put young people at risk for drug abuse, and has also identified protective factors that decrease the likelihood that young people will use or abuse drugs. NIDA's drug abuse prevention research has shown how to develop, test, and implement programs that families, schools, and communities can use to successfully prevent drug use among young people.


Risk Factors

Research has shown that although there are many risk factors for drug abuse, the most crucial ones are those that influence a child's early development within the family. These risk factors include parents who abuse drugs or suffer from mental illness; lack of strong parent-child attachments in a nurturing environment; poor parental monitoring; and ineffective parenting, particularly with children who suffer from conduct disorders or have difficult temperaments. Other risk factors involve a child's interaction in environments outside the family-in school, among peers, or in the community at large. These risk factors include inappropriate classroom behavior or failing school performance, poor social skills or affiliation with deviant peers, and a perception that drug use is acceptable within peer, school, or community environments.

Protective Factors

The most important protective factors, like risks, come from within the family, but include factors that influence a child in other environments. Among protective factors identified by NIDA research are strong bonds and clear rules of conduct within a family, involvement of parents in a child's life, successful school performance, strong bonds with positive institutions such as school and religious organizations, and a child's agreement with the social norm that drug use is not acceptable.

Prevention Principles

Prevention programs include a wide variety of techniques depending on the target population, but NIDA research has identified several fundamental principles, such as:

  • Prevention programs should enhance protective factors and reverse or reduce risk factors;
  • Prevention programs should target all forms of drug abuse, including use of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and inhalants;
  • Prevention programs aimed at young people should be age-specific, developmentally appropriate, and culturally sensitive; and they should be long-term with repeat interventions to reinforce prevention goals originally presented early in a school career;
  • Prevention programs should include a component that equips parents or caregivers to reinforce family antidrug norms;
  • Family-focused prevention programs have a greater impact than those that target parents only or children only; and
  • Prevention programs should be adapted to address specific drug abuse problems in the local community.

A full description of NIDA's drug abuse prevention research can be found in the online publication Preventing Drug Abuse Among Children and Adolescents-A Research-Based Guide. The publication can be viewed, downloaded, or printed from the Publications index at NIDA's home page at

NIDA's Drug Abuse Prevention: Research Dissemination and Applications (RDA) materials include a core set of three resource manuals-Drug Abuse Prevention: What Works; Community Readiness for Drug Abuse Prevention: Issues, Tips, and Tools; and Drug Abuse Prevention and Community Readiness: Training Facilitator's Manual (PB97-209605, $83)-and three related manuals-Drug Abuse Prevention for the General Population (PB98-113095, $36), Drug Abuse Prevention for At-Risk Groups (PB98-113103, $36.50), and Drug Abuse Prevention for At-Risk Individuals (PB98-124365, $41). The core set of RDA materials and the related manuals can be ordered through the National Technical Information Service at (800) 553-6847, fax (703) 605-6900.


NIDA NOTES - Volume 14, Number 6

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