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National Institute on Drug Abuse -  NIDA NOTES
Prevention Research
Volume 12, Number 2
March/April 1997

From the 'Burbs to the 'Hood . . .

This Program Reduces Students' Risk of Drug Use

By Robert Mathias, NIDA NOTES Staff Writer


Photo by Frank Siteman

A school-based drug abuse prevention program that has been shown to lower drug use among white middle-class adolescents also reduces drug use among minority youths, according to soon-to-be-published results from a NIDA-funded study. The intervention had preventive effects on African-American and Hispanic youths' use of tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol and lowered their intentions to use drugs in the future, the study indicates.

While other drug abuse prevention studies have shown reduced drug use among populations that included inner-city minorities, "this is the first study of a prevention program focused exclusively on an inner-city minority population that has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing the use of multiple drugs among these youths," says Dr. Gilbert Botvin, who conducted the study. Dr. Botvin, who directs the Institute for Prevention Research at Cornell University Medical Center in New York City, has followed up this initial study with a large-scale study of the prevention program, called Life Skills Training, with a predominantly minority population in New York City schools.


Whose Opinion Counts? (Influences on Your Decisions)


 1. Write a list of who or what you think about when you make a decision.

2. For each of the following decisions, check off all of the things that influence your choice. For example, when you decide what to wear, do you think about your own opinions, your friend's opinions, your mother's opinions, etc.? You can check more than one influence for each decision.

  My Opinion My Friends' Opinion My Parents' Opinion My Past Experience, Successes, Failures What I See on TV  What I Read About What It Costs (in Time, Money, Convenience)

 What to Wear


 How to Cut My Hair


 What to Eat


 What Music to Listen to


 What Movies to See


 What I Like to Do


Look at all your answers. Where do you have the most checks? Your friends, parents, media? Sometimes you don't realize how much we worry what other people think. Are you REALLY making decisions that are right for you?


Noting that the Life Skills program has been tested extensively and successfully with white suburban youths, Dr. Botvin says, "What we're trying to do is determine the extent to which an intervention that is fundamentally the same will work with many different kinds of kids." This is important when it comes to implementing prevention programs in the real world, he says. "Many cities are similar to New York, where you have more than 100 different minority ethnic groups living, working, and going to school together," Dr. Botvin notes. "This makes it virtually impossible to implement an intervention that focuses on one specific population."

Under the Life Skills program, which was developed by Dr. Botvin, regular classroom teachers teach junior high school students skills to resist social pressures to use drugs and foster students' antidrug attitudes and perceptions. The program also teaches a range of social and personal skills that increase young people's ability to handle the challenges of adolescent life more effectively and reduce the likelihood that they will use alcohol and drugs.

In the initial study, 721 7th grade male and female minority students in 7 New York City schools received either the 15-session Life Skills Training intervention or the standard school drug education program that provided students with information about drugs and the hazards of drug use. Students in both groups were predominantly Hispanic and African American, economically disadvantaged, and comparable on other variables such as academic performance and family structure.

About 3 months after the intervention, the researchers administered confidential questionnaires about drug use and carbon monoxide breath tests for cigarette smoking to both groups. These measures showed that youths in the Life Skills group had significant reductions in both current drug use and intentions to use drugs. Compared to students who received the standard program, students in the Life Skills group smoked cigarettes and marijuana and drank alcohol significantly less often. They also had used more than one of these substances less often in the previous month. In addition, they had lower intentions of smoking cigarettes or marijuana, drinking beer or wine, or using cocaine within the next year.

Previously, Dr. Botvin had conducted a series of studies that consistently showed that the Life Skills Training program reduces tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use among white middle-class youths. Those studies indicate that the Life Skills program works equally well with boys and girls. One study, which followed students over a 6-year period, demonstrated that administering the intervention in the 7th grade and following it up with booster sessions in the 8th and 9th grades significantly reduced these adolescents' use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana, as well as use of more than one of these substances, through the end of high school. (For more information on this study, see "School-Based Drug Abuse Prevention Program Shows Long-Lasting Results," NIDA NOTES, November/December 1994, p. 8.)

The intervention used in the New York City study has been modified to ensure that the Life Skills program engages inner-city minorities, Dr. Botvin says. For example, program materials use illustrations of minority youths and change some of the scenarios in which students practice skills they can use to handle difficult situations. In addition, when teachers deliver the program to inner-city adolescents, they may use language that is more familiar to their students to bring the curriculum to life and better engage them, Dr. Botvin says.

Despite such surface modifications, "the underlying intervention strategy has remained the same throughout all of our studies,"

 Teachers  The teacher's manual for the Life Skills Training program contains the curriculum and materials needed to implement the program.

Dr. Botvin says. The research literature suggests that the factors that lead to drug abuse are largely the same in all adolescents, he says. Although there are minor differences among different groups, "basically the factors are similar enough to argue for using a common intervention strategy," he states. "This has enabled us to come up with a prevention model that potentially is applicable to kids from many different ethnic groups across the country," he says. Ultimately, therefore, the studies with white middle-class youths and the studies with inner-city minority youths "may give us an intervention that we can use in cities and towns and villages across the United States without having to develop separate intervention approaches for each and every different population," Dr. Botvin says.

In this regard, early results from the full-scale study of the Life Skills Training program under way with minority youths in New York City schools are promising. Now in its third year, the study is testing the intervention's effectiveness with approximately 4,500 students from a wide range of racial and ethnic groups in 29 schools. The study also will examine possible gender differences in the program's impact. An initial analysis conducted 1 year after the intervention was administered in the 7th grade is "showing prevention effects comparable to the effects that we showed in the pilot study, including significant reductions in tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and multiple drug use," Dr. Botvin reports.


Botvin, G.J.; Baker, E.; Dusen-bury, L.; Botvin, E.M.; and Diaz, T. Long-term follow-up results of a randomized drug abuse prevention trial in a white middle-class population. JAMA 273(14):1106-1112, 1995.

Botvin, G.J.; Epstein, J.A.; Baker, E.; Diaz, T.; and Ifill-Williams, M. School-based drug abuse prevention with inner-city minority youth. Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, in press.

For More Information:

To learn more about Life Skills Training, contact the Institute for Prevention Research, Cornell University Medical College, 411 E. 69th St., Room KB-201, New York, NY 10021, (212) 746-1270.

From NIDA NOTES, March/April 1997

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