What is prevention?

Prevention is creating conditions for healthy families and communities, and developing personal skills to reduce the risk and increase protection from alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse. (Washington, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health Substance Abuse Disorder Services)

What are risk and protective factors?

Risk and protective factors are conditions that increase or decrease the likelihood of involvement in certain behaviors. These factors are predictive, cumulative, based on research and can be mitigated.

Protective factors buffer exposure to risk and shield kids from involvement against certain behaviors. Some of the factors are individual, such as high intelligence, resiliency and pro-social orientation. Others include parent- or caregiver-related factors like bonding and clear standards.

The Mayo Clinic lists several risk factors specifically for prescription drug abuse:

1. Past or present addictions, including alcohol and tobacco.

2. Family history of substance abuse problems.

3. Younger age, especially teens or early 20s.

4. Certain pre-existing psychiatric conditions.

5. Exposure to peer pressure or social environment where there’s drug use.

6. Easier access to prescription drugs, like in a medicine cabinet.

7. Lack of knowledge about prescription drugs and potential harm.

While risk factors cannot be removed, adults can give kids a buffer against them with what is called protective factor enhancement.

Positive parenting style

Living in a two-paren family

Higher parent education

Higher parental expectations about school

Caring school climate

Student participation in extracurricular activities

Early intervention services

Safe, supportive, connected neighborhood

Stong community infrastructure (services for those in need)

Local, state policies and practices that support health norms and youth programs

Engagement in positive meaningful activities

Cultural identity and connection

Positive personal qualities

Positive self-concept

Positive peer role models

Religious or spiritual beliefs

High grade point average

Life skills and competencies

(Alaska Department of Behavioral Health)

Research has shown that risk and protective factors work about the same across racial lines, and both are important in prevention efforts.

The Search Institute has expanded upon these lists with specific building blocks of health development — developmental assets. The institute’s research shows the more developmental assets young people have, the less likely they are to engage in high-risk behaviors.

On average, kids in grades six through 12 have or have experienced 19 of the 40 total developmental assets.

Anyone can be an asset builder, and the first step is taking a shift away from fixing young people’s problems and moving toward promoting young people’s strengths.

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