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Approaches That Work

Karol Kumpfer, Ph.D., president of the Society for Prevention Research and a professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, says that the most effective programs are comprehensive programs that integrate social and life skills training to help young people handle the real pressures and choices in their lives, rather than just offering facts about the health and other hazards of substance use.

Kumpfer and others like Gilbert Botvin, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Prevention Research at Cornell University Medical Center in New York City, are part of a cadre of prevention researchers who have tried to shift alcohol and other drug abuse prevention from scare-tactic messages on "what drugs do to you" to a focus on building basic coping and life skills.

Boy at computer

Children learn computer skills at La Bodega de la Familia, a New York-based program that helps the families of addicted people.


Botvin developed the 16-year-old Life Skills Training program at Cornell. Under the program, regular classroom teachers help junior high or middle school students to develop skills in resisting social pressures to use drugs and encourage students' anti-drug attitudes. The program has shown it can reduce use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana among teenagers by as much as 75 percent. The goal of this program is to teach resistance skills, as well as personal coping and social skills, to confront the challenges of being an adolescent. Studies have shown that teens with more effective skills for decision-making, critical thinking, and dealing with stress and anxiety are less likely to become substance abusers.

"We are not trying to teach them health facts . . . we are talking about things that are relevant to everyday life," says Botvin. The program is aimed at enhancing self-esteem, and teaches teenagers strategies for applying refusal skills in cases where they might be pressured into using drugs. "It gives them the confidence to deal with those situations and gives them the license to say 'no,'" Botvin says.

Life Skills has been used and tested extensively among white middle-class adolescents, and in recent years it has been applied to minority youths. Results from a study of that program are promising, indicating a drop in use of tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol, and intention to use, among African-American and Hispanic adolescents.

Botvin says his research also points up the importance of continuity when it comes to prevention efforts. He and his research team have studied students over a six-year period and found that administering this kind of intervention in the 7th grade, followed up with supplemental sessions in the 8th and 9th grades, significantly reduces adolescent use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana through the end of high school.

-- Janet Firshein

NIDA guide

The National Institute on Drug Abuse publishes a guide to research-based prevention programs.
To order, contact

Photo: Courtesy of La Bodega de la Familia
Guide: Courtesy of NIDA


This description is not intended as an endorsement of this particular program.

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