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Prevention program delivers message to youths


April 24, 2007

Although many adolescents in the United States already are drinking alcohol or using drugs by the time they are exposed to prevention messages, the field of prevention science offers hope.

An ASU research team led by Stephen Kulis and Flavio Marsiglia of the School of Social Work 's Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC) studied whether youths who have begun to experiment with substances could be helped by a classroom-based prevention intervention. Their surprising findings, “Promoting Reduced and Discontinued Substance Use among Adolescent Substance Users: Effectiveness of a Universal Prevention Program,” were just published in the leading journal for drug abuse prevention research, Prevention Science.

The team is known nationally for their Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) model program, “keepin' it REAL,” which has been successful in preventing or delaying initiation of substance use among youth.

The researchers, supported by a National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse grant, analyzed the effects of the program on 1,364 youths in 35 Phoenix middle schools who reported using substances at the beginning of seventh grade. Their findings indicate that the intervention was effective in reversing the course of these students' experimentation with alcohol.

Compared to controls, students in the program reduced or discontinued use of alcohol use over a two-year period – by 72 percent and 66 percent, respectively – after controlling for the severity of initial use, age, ethnicity and gender.

These desired program effects did not diminish with time, and they occurred among occasional and frequent users.

“This study shows that universal prevention programs can reach a diverse array of youth, from non-users to light, moderate and heavier users,” Marsiglia says. “Additional research is needed to deepen our understanding of specific program elements that produce these effects among youth from different cultural backgrounds and levels of acculturation.”

These findings are particularly significant, since prior studies and interventions have focused either on non-users or on seriously addicted users, with less specific attention to many youths who are experimenting with substances but have not yet progressed to serious use or addiction. Research on youth substance cessation also is fairly new and has focused primarily on tobacco.