Topic: Substance Abuse Prevention (Child & Adolescent) Programs

Scientific Ratings in this topic:

1 - Well-Supported by Research Evidence

2 - Supported by Research Evidence

3 - Promising Research Evidence

4 - Evidence Fails to Demonstrate Effect

5 - Concerning Practice

NR - Not able to be Rated

Learn more about the scale

Definition for Substance Abuse Prevention (Child & Adolescent) Programs:

Substance Abuse Prevention (Child & Adolescent) Programs is defined by the CEBC as 1) primary or universal prevention programs which are designed to prevent substance use, including alcohol, marijuana, and/or other drugs from occurring for the first time in children and adolescents, or 2) secondary or selective prevention programs targeted at individuals or families who are at high risk for substance use and abuse, with a goal of either preventing substance use from occurring or delaying onset of substance use. Programs may target youth directly as well as their parents and other family members, teachers, and other members of a youth’s ecosystem. Substance Abuse Prevention (Child & Adolescent) Programs differ in terms of timing, and may target early, middle, or late adolescents. These programs may occur in a variety of settings, including schools, homes, other community settings, and health care settings. Many universal and selective substance abuse prevention programs are delivered in group settings, but may also be self-administered via an instruction manual, online delivery, or an app.

Programs targeted at substance abuse prevention aim to reduce risk factors and enhance or promote protective factors. Known risk factors for adolescent substance use include poor parent-child communication, low parental monitoring, family stress, negative peer influences, low academic achievement, poor sense of belonging at school, mental health difficulties, and poor self-regulation and inhibitory control. Known protective factors include family relationships characterized by warmth, acceptance, and support; open parent-child communication; clear rules and expectations about substance use; and individual resiliency. In addition, school-based prevention programs often aim to address school and peer norms around substance use and to improve school climate related to substance use.

While there are many programs targeting high-risk families that may be effective in preventing substance use long-term, this definition only includes those programs for which substance use prevention is explicitly stated to be a goal of the program. In addition to preventing, reducing or stopping actual substance use, outcomes targeted by substance use prevention programs may include knowledge of substance use, school and peer norms around substance use, social and refusal skills, future intentions to use, and perceptions of risk associated with substance use.

  • Target population: School-age children and adolescents , including those at higher risk for substance use, and their families
  • Services/types that fit: School-, family-, and community-based programs, educational efforts (including parent education programs and universal efforts to educate children on substance use), support groups, and family support and strengthening programs
  • Delivered by: Educators, social services providers, mental health professionals, trained paraprofessionals, and peer or family partners. Some programs are self-administered via an instruction manual, online delivery, or an app.
  • In order to be included: Program must specifically target preventing child and adolescent substance use and/or abuse as a goal (may be a primary or secondary program goal).
  • In order to be rated: There must be research evidence (as specified by Scientific Rating Scale) that examines outcomes related to the prevention of substance abuse, such as changes in substance use knowledge, attitudes, and intentions; as well as measures of substance use behaviors, such as lower levels of use or decreased/delayed use. Research studies that assess outcomes longitudinally, rather than solely at postintervention, are prioritized; as are studies that examine program impacts on actual substance use behaviors.

Programs in this Topic Area

The programs listed below have been reviewed by the CEBC and, if appropriate, been rated using the Scientific Rating Scale.

One Program with a Scientific Rating of 1 - Well-Supported by Research Evidence:

  • Familias Unidas
    The parents of Hispanic adolescents between 12-16 years old and the adolescents

One Program with a Scientific Rating of 2 - Supported by Research Evidence:

Two Programs with a Scientific Rating of 3 - Promising Research Evidence:

Two Programs with a Scientific Rating of NR - Not able to be Rated:


Topic Expert

Sarah Dauber, PhD, Research Scientist, Associate Director of Adolescent and Family Research
Center on Addiction
New York, NY