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Study Quantifies Cost-Benefit of Family Interventions Designed to Prevent Adolescent Alcohol Use

For Release May 1, 2002

Iowa State University researchers have calculated that brief family intervention programs designed to discourage teen drinking are both beneficial and cost-effective. Their study found that each dollar spent on intervention programs for adolescents was returned many times over in savings by preventing future costs associated with alcohol problems in adulthood.

The research, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, was funded by NIDA and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Acting NIDA Director Dr. Glen R. Hanson says, "This study demonstrates that investing dollars in preventive intervention programs is not only a good public health practice, but it is a good economic practice as well. The personal and public health benefits of preventing teen drinking and adult alcohol abuse are well known. Less well known by the public are the costs of these problems."

According to the latest statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the annual economic costs of alcohol abuse in 1998 were estimated to be $185 billion.

The Iowa investigators based their cost-benefit calculations on data from a longitudinal prevention trial with families of sixth graders from 33 rural schools in a Midwestern state. The families were randomly assigned to one of two interventions or to a control group. The two interventions were the Iowa Strengthening Families Program (ISFP), a seven-session intervention with parents and students together, and Preparing for the Drug Free Years (PDFY), a five-session intervention primarily involving parents.

The researchers conservatively estimated that prevention of a single case of adult alcohol abuse produces an average savings of $119,633 in avoided costs to society. Factoring these savings into the costs and effectiveness of the two interventions revealed that the ISFP intervention saved $9.60 in future costs for each dollar invested, and that the PDFY intervention yielded a benefit-cost ratio of $5.85 for each dollar invested.

The premise behind each intervention was similar: to focus on intervention during the critical period of transition in early adolescence, to promote parent-child bonding, to encourage effective family functioning, and to strengthen the child's defenses against negative peer influences, such as increasing the skills in resisting peer pressure to use alcohol.

Analyses were based upon 478 families at the end of the four-year study. One hundred sixty-two families were in the ISFP group, 153 in the PDFY group, and 163 in the control condition.

Between the critical ages of 13 and 16, fewer adolescents in the two treatment groups started to use alcohol compared to those in the control group. Based on study analyses, it would then be expected that fewer of the teens in the two intervention groups would be expected to develop problems with alcohol use as adults.

Lead investigator Dr. Richard L. Spoth says, "Family skills-training interventions designed for general populations have the potential to delay the onset of alcohol use, thereby avoiding the substantial costs to society at a proportionally small intervention cost."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports more than 85 percent of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research information and its implementation in policy and practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and other topics can be ordered free of charge in English and Spanish by calling NIDA Infofax at 1-888-NIH-NIDA (644-6432) or 1-888-TTY-NIDA (889-6432) for the deaf. These fact sheets and further information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the Home page at

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