Today's youth face many risks, including drug abuse, violence, and HIV/AIDS.

Responding to these risks before they become problems can be difficult.

One of the goals of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is to help the public understand the causes of drug abuse and to prevent its onset.

Drug abuse has serious consequences in our homes, schools, and communities. From NIDA's perspective, the use of all illicit drugs and the inappropriate use of licit drugs is considered drug abuse.

Prevention science has made great progress in recent years. Many interventions are being tested in "real-world" settings so they can be more easily adapted for community use.

Scientists are studying a broader range of populations and topics. They have identified, for example, effective interventions with younger populations to help prevent risk behaviors before drug abuse occurs.

Researchers are also studying older teens who are already using drugs to find ways to prevent further abuse or addiction. Practical issues, such as cost-benefit analyses, are being studied.

Presenting these findings to the public is one of NIDA's most important responsibilities.

We are pleased to offer our In Brief edition of the publication, Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide for Parents, Educators, and Community Leaders, Second Edition.

The second edition offers updated principles, new questions and answers, new program information, and expanded references.

This In Brief edition summarizes sections of the guide for community use.

For more information, we invite you to visit NIDA's Web site at, where the complete guide and other materials on the consequences, prevention, and treatment of drug abuse are offered.

We hope you will find both the guide and the In Brief edition useful and helpful.

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director
National Institute on Drug Abuse

Prevention Principles

Risk Factors and Protective Factors


Prevention programs should enhance protective factors and reverse or reduce risk factors.14

. The risk of becoming a drug abuser involves the relationship among the number and type of risk factors (e.g., deviant attitudes and behaviors) and protective factors (e.g., parental support).32

. The potential impact of specific risk and protective factors changes with age. For example, risk factors within the family have greater impact on a younger child, while association with drug-abusing peers may be a more significant risk factor for an adolescent.11, 9

. Early intervention with risk factors (e.g., aggressive behavior and poor self-control) often has a greater impact than later intervention by changing a child's life path (trajectory) away from problems and toward positive behaviors.15

. While risk and protective factors can affect people of all groups, these factors can have a different effect depending on a person's age, gender, ethnicity, culture, and environment.5, 20


Prevention programs should address all forms of drug abuse, alone or in combination, including the underage use of legal drugs (e.g., tobacco or alcohol); the use of illegal drugs (e.g., marijuana or heroin); and the inappropriate use of legally obtained substances (e.g., inhalants), prescription medications, or over-the-counter drugs.16


Prevention programs should address the type of drug abuse problem in the local community, target modifiable risk factors, and strengthen identified protective factors.14


Prevention programs should be tailored to address risks specific to population or audience characteristics, such as age, gender, and ethnicity, to improve program effectiveness.21

Prevention Planning

Family Programs


Family-based prevention programs should enhance family bonding and relationships and include parenting skills; practice in developing, discussing, and enforcing family policies on substance abuse; and training in drug education and information.2

Family bonding is the bedrock of the relationship between parents and children. Bonding can be strengthened through skills training on parent supportiveness of children, parent-child communication, and parental involvement.17

. Parental monitoring and supervision are critical for drug abuse prevention. These skills can be enhanced with training on rule-setting; techniques for monitoring activities; praise for appropriate behavior; and moderate, consistent discipline that enforces defined family rules.18

. Drug education and information for parents or caregivers reinforces what children are learning about the harmful effects of drugs and opens opportunities for family discussions about the abuse of legal and illegal substances.4

. Brief, family-focused interventions for the general population can positively change specific parenting behavior that can reduce later risks of drug abuse.27

School Programs


Prevention programs can be designed to intervene as early as preschool to address risk factors for drug abuse, such as aggressive behavior, poor social skills, and academic difficulties.30, 31


Prevention programs for elementary school children should target improving academic and social-emotional learning to address risk factors for drug abuse, such as early aggression, academic failure, and school dropout. Education should focus on the following skills:8, 15

. self-control;
. emotional awareness;
. communication;
. social problem-solving; and
. academic support, especially in reading.


Prevention programs for middle or junior high and high school students should increase academic and social competence with the following skills:6, 25

. study habits and academic support;
. communication;
. peer relationships;
. self-efficacy and assertiveness;
. drug resistance skills;
. reinforcement of anti-drug attitudes; and
. strengthening of personal commitments against drug abuse.

Community Programs


Prevention programs aimed at general populations at key transition points, such as the transition to middle school, can produce beneficial effects even among high-risk families and children.

Such interventions do not single out risk populations and, therefore, reduce labeling and promote bonding to school and community.6, 10

Community prevention programs that combine two or more effective programs, such as family-based and school-based programs, can be more effective than a single program alone.3


Community prevention programs reaching populations in multiple settings-for example, schools, clubs, faith-based organizations, and the media-are most effective when they present consistent, community-wide messages in each setting.7


Community prevention programs reaching populations in multiple settings-for example, schools, clubs, faith-based organizations, and the media-are most effective when they present consistent, community-wide messages in each setting.7

Excerpted from longer PDF document:
Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents

Also see Index page.