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Elements of Effective Prevention Programs
There is a multitude of effective substance abuse prevention interventions that may have different areas of focus and can be implemented in a variety of settings. Interventions can involve the family, school, and community and may provide substance abuse prevention for an individual or a population of youth by focusing on environmental and community factors and policies, developmental factors, or skill development. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has identified 16 key principles for prevention programs based on risk and protective factors, the type of program, and the delivery of the program. 

Core Components of Evidence-based Prevention Programs
Structure, content, and delivery are the core elements of effective research-based programs that NIDA suggests can help to address the key principles, and should be considered when determining what kind of prevention program is best for individuals and your community.1


Structure refers to the following elements of a prevention program:

  • Program type. School- and family-based programs are two program types that have been shown to be effective in preventing drug abuse, with media and computer technology programs beginning to demonstrate effectiveness as well.
  • Audience. Programs are usually designed for a particular audience (e.g., girls at risk, Latino youth) to more effectively meet its needs.
  • Setting. Programs are traditionally designed to reach an audience in its primary setting (e.g., a school-based program held in a school); however, it is becoming more common for programs not to be held in their primary setting (e.g., a family-based program held at a school, or a school-based program implemented in a youth organization, such as a Boys and Girls Club). Programs that focus on multiple components or program types often reach their intended populations through a variety of settings. Combining two or more effective programs has proven to be more effective than conducting a single program.


The specific content of prevention programs varies, but is designed to reduce risk factors and strengthen protective factors. The elements of a program's content should include the following:

  • Information. Information can include facts about drug laws and policies, and drugs and their effects. Although drug information is important, it has not been found to be an effective intervention by itself; that is, without additional prevention components.
  • Skills development. Training to develop skills helps to build and improve behaviors (e.g., communication within the family, social and emotional development, academic and social competence, and dealing with peer pressure).
  • Strategies. Some prevention programs are targeted at structural change (e.g., enforcing existing laws, such as those on alcohol or tobacco sales to minors, establishing tolerance policies, enforcing school rules or promoting norm changes, and establishing curfews).
  • Services. Examples of services a program provides might include school, peer, or family counseling; drug-free zones; and health care.


The delivery of a prevention program includes the following elements:

  • Program selection or adaptation. Communities must match effective research-based programs to their community needs in order to ensure the right fit. Adaptation involves changing a program to fit the needs of a specific population in various settings. The program’s core elements are maintained to ensure fidelity to the model, while changes address the community’s specific needs.
  • Implementation. Implementing a program refers to how it is delivered, including the number of sessions, methods used, and program follow-up. Proper implementation is key to program effectiveness.

Caring Adults
Prevention programs have proven to be effective, but families and influential adults continue to play the most important role in determining how youth handle the lure of alcohol, cigarettes, misuse of prescription drugs, and illegal drugs. More recent studies have shown that parents and guardians (and adults influential in a youth’s life) who speak to their children about the issues and have dinner with them on a regular basis, have children with a lower rate of use and abuse.2 Prevention programs can help to support family/mentoring relationships by providing parenting/mentoring skills and communication strategies.3

Early Intervention
Intervening early—before high school—is critical. The data suggest that patterns of substance abuse become worse in the high school years. Individuals who begin using alcohol or tobacco when they are very young are more likely to abuse them later in life, when it becomes much more difficult to quit.


Mentoring for Preventing and Reducing Substance Use and Associated Risks among Youth
This review takes stock of the research that addresses the potential for mentoring to serve as a strategy for preventing and reducing substance use and the negative effects on personal health and well-being that may stem from this behavior. The review suggests several take-home messages for mentoring researchers and practitioners.

National Institute on Drug Abuse
A division of the National Institutes of Health, NIDA’s mission is to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction. 

Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
The Center, a division of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, provides national leadership in the federal effort to prevent alcohol, tobacco, and other drug problems.

National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration supports NREPP, a searchable online registry of more than 200 interventions supporting mental health promotion, substance abuse prevention, and mental health and substance abuse treatment. NREPP connects members of the public to intervention developers so they can learn how to implement these approaches in their communities.

youth.gov Program Directory
The program directory provides up-to-date information for effective programs that address risk and protective factors related to substance abuse. All programs included in the program directory have been rigorously reviewed based on their conceptual framework, if the program was implemented as intended, how it was evaluated, and the findings of the evaluations. The directory also includes youth-focused programs from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), another online registry of mental health and substance abuse interventions.

1 Robertson, David, & Rao, 2003
2 QEV Analytics, Ltd, Knowledge Networks, 2010
3 Robertson, David, & Rao, 2003

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