Kids learn reading, writing and math in school. But it's rare that they're taught to cope with stress and peer pressure. Education could include these life skills to lower substance misuse and abuse.
A long-term study surveyed young adults who had gone through family-focused substance misuse prevention programs when they were in middle school.
Researchers found that rates of substance misuse were 20 to 65 percent lower among young adults who had gone through a substance misuse prevention program compared to those who had not gone through such a program.
The study's authors concluded that universal, family-focused prevention and intervention programs were successful at lowering substance misuse rates.
Richard Spoth, PhD, from the Partnerships in Preventive Science Institute at Iowa State University in Ames, IA, led the investigation into ways to prevent prescription drug misuse among adolescents.
Researchers studied three types of family-focused prevention programs designed to reduce prescription drug misuse in adolescents and young adults. Programs were conducted in 1993, 1997 and 2002. Each of the three programs were carried out in 22 to 28 middle schools throughout several small towns.
The first two programs were called the Iowa Strengthening Families Program and the third was called the Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 and Life Skills Training.
Each of the prevention programs taught students and their parents about the risks involved in many different types of substance abuse, ranging from over-the-counter cough medications and prescription medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to illicit street drugs and marijuana.
The Strengthening Families Program consisted of seven two-hour sessions for both parents and their adolescent children. During the first hour, parents and kids were split up into separate skill–building groups and brought back together for the second hour for family activities.
In the youth sessions, kids were taught how to set goals, deal with stress and emotions, improve communication, increase responsible behavior and use skills to handle peer pressure. Further booster sessions worked with youth on developing quality friendships and dealing with conflict.
In the parent sessions, the groups focused on the importance of nurturing their youth and encouraging good behavior, but also on setting rules and boundaries. Parents were also taught bonding techniques and how to use appropriate discipline and consequences for violating rules. Further booster sessions worked with parents on dealing with parental stress and communicating when partners don’t agree on something.
Several years later, when the students had grown into young adults between 17 and 25 years of age, researchers contacted the students to interview them about their substance use over the years.
Researchers found between 20 and 65 percent lower rates of substance misuse in the young adults that had participated in the prevention programs compared to their peers who had not been in the program.
Reduced substance misuse was also found in young adults who had already started misusing substances before entering the study between the ages of 10 and 14.
“Brief universal interventions have potential for public health impact by reducing prescription drug misuse among adolescents and young adults,” the authors concluded.
This study was published in February in the American Journal of Public Health.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Mental Health supported funding for this study. No conflicts of interest were declared.