Drug Prevention Among School-Aged Youth


Drug use and abuse are major issues that affect contemporary populations around the world. Problems that are associated with drug use are well known since they cause various problems to society. For instance, various drugs are linked with specific health complications that jeopardize the economic wellbeing of abusers as well as their families. Further, the issue of drug use and abuse is increasingly linked to the crime. For this reason, different programs and initiatives are usually put forward to ensure that society is rid of drug abuse. While some of the programs are rehabilitative, prevention measures have gained prominence in the recent past. This paper discusses the drug prevention measures that can be applied to school-age youths.

Population Characteristics

In the US context, school-age youths refer to learners who are in their final years of junior and senior high school. The average age of youths under this category ranges from 12 or 13 years to 18 years. In the United States, drug abuse among this group is a major public health concern since more youths are exposed to drugs at a very early age. There are approximately 25.5 million students in the US education system between the age group that is targeted in this study. Further, the targeted age group is mainly in the 7th-12th grade of education. According to Lambie (2004), this age is characterized by various changes that make the group vulnerable.

Firstly, it signifies the transition from childhood to adolescence stage where young people feel more independent. Secondly, the transition to high school means less supervision from parents and hence more risk of exposure to drugs. In addition, peer pressure is also high. Besides, a bad influence is very common. Apart from the above influences and risks, as more parents concentrate on their careers while dedicating little time to close supervision of the activities of their young children, the likelihood of trying out drugs such as alcohol also becomes high. Consequently, apart from the vulnerabilities that are related to age, external factors such as parenting and social upbringing are also major contributing factors to drug use and abuse in this stage.

Further, with the increased availability of drugs in society and a drive of experimentation in this age group, drug use is increasingly becoming a sad reality. According to Dishion, Kavanagh, Schneiger, Nelson, and Kaufman (2002), more boys in this group are exposed to drugs in relation to girls. Further, boys are also exposed to drugs at an earlier age. In fact, some studies report the first exposure at 11 years for boys and 13 for girls. In addition, gender disparity is also evident in the number of young people who use drugs.

The number of boys is higher than that of girls. It is also evident that more boys than girls try more drugs apart from alcohol by the age of 18 years. While the majority of youths try drugs as a one-time thing and never progress to active drug use and abuse, the high number of youths who try such drugs is alarming and an indication of an increase of those who will eventually become addicts and abusers. Therefore, it is important to learn the population characteristics of this age group and the risk factors of drug use, which will subsequently help to identify the best drug prevention approaches that can be used.

Historical Context of Drug Abuse in School-Age Youth

The problem of drug use among school-age youths has a long history in the United States. This observation is reflected through different policies and programs that have been put forward to ensure that youths do not abuse drugs. For instance, one of the most prominent steps towards preventing the exposure of youths is the various age- restrictions on the sale of common drugs such as alcohol that are enshrined in the law.

Different theories have been put forward to explain drug use among school-age youths. According to Usher, Jackson, and O’Brien (2005), motivation theories have been put forward to explain why youths try drugs. In this case, the concept of self plays an important role in understanding the likelihood of negative influence by others. Under these theories, highly motivated students are likely not only to perform better in academic work but also less likely to indulge in drug use.

Fostering high self-esteem both at home and school is an important way of reducing drug use among youths. On the other hand, lack of motivation, poor performance in school, and lack of close relationships with family members are indicators of highly vulnerable youth. Low self-esteem may lure young people into bad habits, including drug use and other irresponsible behaviors, which are detrimental to health and academic life. Schools and families play an important role in ensuring highly motivated youths (Townsend, Flisher, & King, 2007).

At the family level, there is a need for parents to be more involved with their children’s welfare whilst encouraging family bonding that ensures strong support that is necessary to resist negative influence from peers, media, and other sources of influence. In school, there is a need for teachers to monitor their students and/or identify those who are at risk of drug use. To ensure a highly motivated student body, the school should encourage the participation of students in different activities such as games and class discussions to ensure a feeling of inclusivity among all students.

The ecological systems theory is another important theory that explains human behavior. Accordingly, human behavior can be explained through layers of systems and interactions around an individual. Further, the theory holds that relations in a school setting can affect student interactions. The theory identifies five levels of interactions. The first level of the system is the person’s immediate environment, which includes family, peer group, school, or neighborhood.

The second level of the systems is mesosystem, which refers to interactions between microsystems such as family relationships. The third system is the exosystem, which refers to the external setting that does not involve the individual as an active participant. For instance, workplace stress by a mother spills over to a conflict at home. The fourth level system is the macrosystem, which refers to the larger cultural and ideological context.

Lastly, the chronosystem refers to the effect of time and important life transitions when changes occur. According to Dishion and Kavanagh, (2000) each of the above methods has a central function in terms of investigating substance consumption in adolescents. For instance, at microsystems, peer pressure or drug use history in families is a risk factor for drug use among school-age youth. Further, at the macrosystem, the high availability of drugs and drug use prevalence can indicate a higher chance of drug abuse among youths in that given society. Therefore, it is important to understand how these systems work and their importance in helping to deter drug use in society.

Prevalence, Interventions, and Treatments

The prevalence of drug use among school-age youths is a worrying issue. A survey that was carried by the New Hampshire Center for Excellence in 2006 found that the average age at which children tried drugs was 13 years. In addition, the study found that more than 80% of New Hampshire senior high school students had tried alcohol and that almost half of them were drinking regularly. Nationwide, some studies indicate that over 70% of young people try drugs such as alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana by the age of 12 years while the figure goes to 82% by 14 years. Of the common drugs, alcohol is the most used drug in this age group at 38.7%, followed by cigarettes at 22.4%, and Marijuana at 15.3% (Townsend et al., 2007). Further, more boys than girls are involved in the use of drugs.

Most intervention programs for this age group are aimed at preventing drug use. These programs are both national and universal. They reflect the seriousness with which the government and other stakeholders in the education sector take issues of drug use among youths. Further, the theories heavily draw on the social learning theory. The theory focuses on learning in a social context. It holds that people learn from others through imitation, observation, and modeling.

Concisely, the theory claims that people learn through observation of others’ behaviors and outcomes and that such learning may lead or not lead to behavior change. Cognition plays an important role. Consequently, through different programs that are aimed at reducing drug use, early awareness and expectations of punishments or reinforcements can have a profound impact on an individual’s behavior.

Firstly, the Guiding Good Choices (GGC), which was previously known as Preparing for the Drug-Free Years, is a curriculum that targeted middle school students in the United States (Usher et al., 2005). Its main aim was to educate parents on the importance of their involvement and close relationships with their children in reducing stress and risk factors of drug use. It encouraged family-heads to generate age-matching connections and participation and/or develop apparent prospects of obedience. It also persuaded them to uphold a close examination of kids’ conduct whilst teaching them (children) peer-pressure coping strategies.

Further, the program encouraged parents to put forward conflict management strategies and expression of a positive feeling to encourage family bonding. The strategy was successful in terms of restraining excessive drinking and cannabis Sativa consumption.

Another program is known as the Life Skills Training (LST). The program has a wider coverage in terms of the issues, which it addresses. Mainly, the program is designed to address the risk and protective factors of drug use in the population. The program, which is a 3-year curriculum plan for students in junior or middle-high school, mainly focuses on teaching life skills, including drug resistance skills. The program captures three main subjects, including drug confrontation tactics and information, universal public tactics, and character supervision strategies. The program, which has been extensively researched, is effective in reducing the prevalence of tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, and illicit drug use by 50% to 87% (Townsend et al., 2007).

Lions-Quest Skills for Adolescence is a universal life management-learning scheme that is deployed countrywide for middle and high school populations. In middle-high school, the program’s main aim is to stop or interrupt the onset of the consumption of unlawful substances. The strategy utilizes public authority and mental-ability methods to train mental-conduct tactics that are imperative in boosting a sense of worth, accountability at the individual level, effectual communication, and better administrative procedures. The program also aims at helping youths to resist peer pressure whilst increasing knowledge on the consequences of drug use.

The plan has been found effective in discouraging commencement into habitual consumption of cannabis Sativa and other addictive and prohibited substances. Further, after 2 years of exposure to the program, it has been found that it leads to lower initiation and regular use of marijuana across all racial groups (Buehler, 2006).

Project ALERT is a universal 2-year drug prevention curriculum that targets middle and senior high school students (Townsend et al., 2007). The strategy’s key agenda is to help lessen the beginning and habitual consumption of ordinary illegal drugs among the young-looking generation. The drugs that it targets include tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, and inhalants. The strategy has been successful in discouraging the onset of consumption of cannabis Sativa. Besides, it has helped bring down excessive use of cigarettes. More importantly, it has lowered the rate of drinking of illicit brews while at the same time boosting the victims’ mindsets towards the consumption of unlawful substances. Besides, it has helped smokers to quit.

Despite the above programs, some youths still advance from their initial drug use to become drug abusers at a very early age. Different programs have been put forward to rehabilitate youths who have become addicted to drugs in the US. Treatment is important since failure may lead to lifelong drug problems for youths who develop drug dependency at an early age (Buehler, 2006). Rehabilitation in established drug use rehabilitation centers is common among both youths and other members of society.

Apart from rehabilitation for students who have severe drug use problems, the 12-step recovery program is widely used to help youths who are struggling with drug problems. For youths, most of the programs require close involvement of family members to ensure adequate support to prevent them from going back to drug use.

Recommendations for Drug Prevention

Drug prevention is the surest way of reducing drug use cases among school-age youths in the population. Drug prevention programs are aimed at reducing various vulnerabilities that lead to early drug use. For the effectiveness of these programs, the following processes are highly recommended:

  • Family involvement is highly encouraged: In this case, families need to offer the much-needed support to their school-age members to ensure that they can resist influences that may lead to drug use. Further, it is important to reduce drug and substance use in the family and/or lessen early exposure to drugs. Children in families where drug use is common are more likely to become drug users themselves (Dishion & Kavanagh, 2000).
  • The involvement of schools in the prevention programs is very important: In this case, it is worth noting that school-age youths spend most of their time in the school setup. Most of the influences come from peers in school and hence the need for active involvement of schools through the curriculum and other programs in creating awareness on the consequences of drug use.
  • The drug prevention initiatives must also actively involve the community: According to Buehler (2006), drug availability in the community determines the level of drug use among youths. Further, drugs that are easily available in the immediate society also determine the drugs that are abused among youths. Consequently, there is a need for the community to be involved in drug prevention activities.
  • The involvement of government and policymakers is important: In this case, there is a need for the government to be active in the designing of programs and policies that reflect the prevailing needs of the nation. Like the facets of drug use changes, so is the need to adjust frequently such policies to address effectively the prevailing challenges of drug use among school-age youths.


Drug use in school-age youths is a major problem not only in the US but also across the world. There is a need to understand the causes of the problem and consequently design effective programs to fight drug use in youths. Many drug prevention programs have been put forward to address the problem.

For instance, Project ALERT, Lions-Quest Skills for Adolescence (SFA), Life Skills Training (LST), and Guiding Good Choices (GGC) are some of the programs that have been used in the American education system to prevent drug use among school-age youths. In some cases, drug use treatment becomes important for people who develop drug use problems and addiction. Lastly, the involvement of families, schools, community, and government is important to ensure the success of drug prevention initiatives and programs.

Reference List

Buehler, C. (2006). Parents and Peers in Relation to Early Adolescent Problem Behavior. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(2), 109-124.

Dishion, T., & Kavanagh, K. (2000). Multilevel approach to family-centered prevention in schools: Process and Outcome. Addictive Behavior, 25(3), 899-911.

Dishion, T., Kavanagh, K., Schneiger, A., Nelson, S., & Kaufman, N. (2002). Preventing early adolescent substance use: A family centered strategy for the public middle school. Prevention Science, 3(3), 191-202.

Lambie, G. (2004). Motivational Enhancement Therapy: A tool for professional school counselors working with adolescents. Professional School Counseling, 7(4), 268-276.

Townsend, L., Flisher, A., & King, G. (2007). A Systematic review of the relationships between high school dropout and substance use. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 10(4), 295-317.

Usher, K., Jackson, D., & O’Brien, L. (2005). Adolescent drug abuse: helping families survive. International Journal of Mental Health and Nursing, 14(3), 209-214.

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