One helpful tool for preventing teens from trying alcohol and drugs is called the “Risk and Protective Factor” theory. There are many factors that have been statistically proven to contribute or lead to teen drug use. By identifying some of these risk factors, we hope you can make positive changes in the lives of teens to help prevent drug and alcohol use and abuse. For the purpose of this article the word “drug” will refer to any illegal drug, alcohol, or prescription drug that is used improperly.
It is often helpful to think of this model like assessing risk factors for a medical problem like heart disease. There are some things that we know put you at high risk for developing heart disease like poor diet and little exercise. Knowing that you have those risk factors can help you to make positive changes to avoid developing the disease.
Studies show that teens are more likely to use and abuse drugs if:
- There is a high availability and easy access for the teen
- The community favors using alcohol and drugs
- The teen’s family has a history of alcohol or drug problems
- The teen has poor commitment to school or is failing
- Gang involvement
- Low social involvement or poor social skills
- Friends use alcohol and drugs
- or They are generally rebellious against rules
If your teen or a teen you know has several of the factors on this list, they are more likely to become involved with drugs and more likely to develop an addiction. If you can recognize these factors you can work to change them. Some of the best “protective factors” or things you can put in place to help overcome risk factors include:
- Providing opportunities for growth and entertainment
- Teaching children skills to say no, find other friends, and engage in other activities
- Giving children recognition and praise for good decisions
- Helping children bond with parents, communities, and friends
- Having a positive example of healthy beliefs and clear standards about drug use
- Having an adult who they can openly communicate with
As more research comes out the absolute number one factor showing to help teens avoid drug use and addiction is: Positive Relationships with Adults. The more relationships a teen has where they feel valued, respected and validated; the lower the chances are of them developing a substance abuse problem. These relationships must include having the teen feel comfortable to talk to the adult, and feeling that the adult will actually LISTEN to them, rather than criticize or give advice. These relationships can be with just about anyone; parents, family members, teachers, community center leaders, neighbors and anyone else the teen comes in contact with.
So Focus, Focus, Focus on building those positive relationships with teens you know. Be that person they can talk to openly. Encourage them to build relationships with other positive adults. Share with them your positive beliefs and values. Play games, hang out and most of all LISTEN.
If you would like to learn more about risk and protective factors, or how to help your teen stay substance abuse free visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/preventing-drug-abuse-among-children-adolescents/chapter-1-risk-factors-protective-factors
For information on how to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol visit: