Adolescence is the period of life with the highest rate of initiating substance use, including use that will culminate in addiction. Many widely used prevention programs targeted at adolescents have no evidence of reducing substance use. By their senior year of high school, 47.4% of American youth have used an illicit drug, 58.5% have consumed alcohol, and 22.3% have smoked cigarettes.
Schools and prevention funders can adopt effective programs, such as those recommended by The U.S. Surgeon General.
Prevention programs can expand their impact by targeting developmental factors (e.g., skills identifying and managing emotions) that protect not only against substance use but also problems such as depression, anxiety, social isolation and poor academic performance.
Investing in prevention programs that have a strong evidence base can reduce adolescent substance use as well as produce broader benefits for youth and their families.
Key Policy Evidence:
In a study of over 10,000 students aged 13-14, the “Climate Schools” comprehensive prevention program addressing both mental health and substance use produced significant decreases in binge drinking as well as in anxiety symptoms 30 months later.
The human brain has high plasticity in adolescence, and the younger that substance use is initiated, the greater the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.
Familias Unidas, a family-based intervention for Hispanic youth, comprises multi-parent groups and individual family visits. In a 2.5 year follow-up of 8th grade participants, substance use was 26% lower than among non-participants.
The Raising Healthy Children program combines social and emotional learning, training for teachers, and training for parents conducted by school-home coordinators. In a 6-year follow-up of 810 diverse grade schoolers, participants had 38% lower rates of heavy drinking than students not receiving the program.