Family-based prevention programs aim to prevent youth from falling victim to substance abuse issues by focusing on what families can offer. In fact, research has shown that family-based techniques can be the most effective way of preventing adolescent substance abuse, especially in adolescent girls. Since adolescence (ages 10-19) is a critical time for brain development, substance abuse during this time can not only lead to addiction, but a host of other problems, including disruptions in brain function, memory, behavior control, judgment, learning, and even motivation.
Therefore, prevention is key to ensure these adolescents secure the best chance possible at a healthy, successful, adult life. Families can reduce the risks of addiction or substance abuse by focusing on family-based prevention.
What Are Family-Based Prevention Programs?
Starting something new can be scary, but the reality of what could happen to your child without –and with drug addiction and other risk-taking behaviors—can be even more frightening. Fortunately, knowing what to expect before you begin a family-based prevention program can help ease some of this anxiety.
Family-based prevention programs target the family’s role in promoting child development and well-being, while also attempting to prevent unhealthy adolescent behaviors. Adult participants can expect to learn about family conflict management, effective parental communication and discipline techniques, and nurturing skills to support children. Youth can expect to learn strategies for dealing with peer pressure and stress, and the importance of having goals and dreams. Though all programs are different, high-quality programs will also allow you to put the skills you’ve learned into action with role-playing or practice sessions that involve both you and your children.
How Can A Family Prevent Drug Abuse?
Drug abuse prevention starts with parents well before children reach the so-called “age of concern” when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Similarly, a good family-based addiction prevention program must also begin at home. Developing an open line of communication with your child about drugs and making healthy choices is an important first step when it comes to preventing drug abuse. These tips can help you ensure you establish a family-based prevention framework long before your child is offered their first opportunity to experiment.
Open the Line of Communication Early
Consider the age of your child and what is age-appropriate to share with them about drugs and their effects. For example, at age 6, you can talk more generally about how drugs are not good for our bodies—especially as opposed to fruit, vegetables, and exercise, all of which are good for our bodies. Try to avoid movies or TV shows that glorify alcohol or drug use when children are young, but if the subject does happen to come up, you can discuss how smoking or alcohol can be bad for our bodies or lead to a person becoming very emotional or angry.
You can also begin helping your child develop an understanding between right and wrong very early on. Let children know you care about them and that they are safe with you. Establishing trust and safety in your relationship early on will make communicating about difficult topics more natural as your child grows.
Consider Your Own Habits
It’s important to realize the influence your own drug or alcohol use has on your child, as well. Consider the message using substances as an escape or as medication sends to your children—children notice how parents use alcohol, tobacco, and drugs in their daily lives, including using these substances to deal with emotions, stress, and pain. Even if you simply choose to imbibe in moderation at a celebration, it is crucial to demonstrate healthy behaviors like designating a sober driver to mitigate risk and set a good example for your child.
Develop a Positive Relationship
Prevention isn’t all about focusing on drugs and alcohol—it also involves developing a positive and trusting relationship with your child. Find time to do things with your children that they enjoy, as well as activities that help them understand how crucial it is to support others. Praise them for making good choices and recognize their efforts and successes. Use a mix of praise and criticism so your child can begin to develop understanding and self-confidence about their ability to make healthy and safe choices.
Supporting School-Aged Children
As your child experiences large peer groups for the first time in elementary and middle school, they may begin to hear about drugs in the media. Be aware of the media they are watching and the video games they are playing. Then, discuss the dangers of the behaviors they may see in movies and games. Encourage them to ask questions and answer them honestly at a level they can understand. At this age, you can begin to share more specific information about how drug and alcohol use can harm our bodies, allowing for more detail than when they were younger. Tell them how drugs can affect a person’s life. For example, drug use means that they would not be able to play their favorite sports.
Almost certainly, as children continue developing through middle school, they will hear about addictive substances from friends. You can support your child in developing positive friendships and hobbies at this time in their life. Participation in sports, the arts, and other extracurricular clubs often leads to positive interactions. These help develop positive adult and peer relationships.
You should also discuss what it means to be a good friend, including not pressuring others to do something just to fit in. Practice different ways your child can say, “no” to peer pressure through role playing. If you are struggling with talking to your child about drug and alcohol misuse, a family-prevention program can help both of you improve your communication skills about the subject.
Supporting Your Teen
As children reach middle and high school, they may know peers who use drugs and alcohol or experience pressure to use these substances themselves. Unfortunately, at this age, teens can be hesitant to bring up the subject of drugs to parents or guardians. Starting the line of communication early on in childhood can help with this, as your child will know you have always been a calm and trusted source of information. In addition, finding a time and location free from distractions to bring up the subject can be helpful—consider taking a walk or a trip to pick up ice cream. Try to remain calm and level-headed during these conversations, so that your teen doesn’t associate opening up to you with getting in trouble.
The rising depression rates of children at this age are also a risk factor for addiction. Continue your previously-established open line of communication when your teen has questions or concerns about mental health, and indicate that substance abuse not only fails to solve mental health issues, but worsens them.
Finally, set clear expectations about family rules and consequences surrounding drug use. It is also important to talk with your child about expectations regarding what they should do if they are around others who are using drugs. Should they call you immediately? Exit the situation? Establishing a family plan can help your teen make better decisions in the moment.
What’s In a Good Family-Based Prevention Program?
Whether you find yourself struggling to establish open communication with your child or simply want to instill protective factors and reduce risk, a family-based prevention program can be a positive addition to your family’s health and wellness efforts. There are many of these programs, but those based on scientific research have met specific standards and have been shown to lead to proven outcomes. Families looking for a family-based prevention program should be aware of what makes a program effective to avoid wasting time and resources on programs that are not properly developed. Assess these four characteristics when searching for a program that fits your family.
1. Program Design and Content
A family-based prevention program should be well-designed, with a clear aim to meet the needs of the families involved.
Each of these components is crucial in a successful family-based prevention program:
- Clear Goals and Objectives—Effective programs include clear, realistic goals and objectives, and take the time to ensure all understand them. This includes everyone from stakeholders and staff to program participants.
- Theory-Driven and Research-Based Design—Program goals and activities should be designed based on what research indicates are the most effective approaches. For example, activities should target risk factors, protective factors, and family assets that research has shown to increase the likelihood of substance abuse prevention.
- Appropriate Dosage and Intensity—Exposure to a program can, and should, differ based on the families involved. Low-risk families may only need a program that lasts for a short duration, while high-risk families benefit from ongoing or intensive programs.
- Comprehensive Program Design—Programs should not focus on just one component of prevention, but take a broad approach. All parts of the child’s life should be considered, including school, community, and home.
- Use of Active Learning Techniques: Evidence shows being an active participant in family-based prevention programs leads to better outcomes than a “lecture style” program. The use of role-playing, simulation, and varied teaching models leads to increased success as participants are active and interested in learning.
2. Program Relevance
An effective, evidence-based family prevention program selects specific methods that are relevant to the families they serve. Some programs target certain ages, cultures, or risk factors.
The more specific the program is to a family, the better outcomes they will likely experience. Programs should be:
- Developmentally Appropriate—Adolescence spans several years of childhood. A program appropriate for a 12-year-old may not be appropriate for a 17-year-old. Programs should meet families and the targeted youth where they are at in life developmentally. The Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 is appropriate for middle school-aged children, for example.
- Available When Participants are Ready to Change—Programs should seek to help participants when they are going through a transition (e.g. transition to high school, death of a loved one), or when a problem becomes evident (e.g. a youth’s first contact with law enforcement). For example, the Nurse-Family Partnership Program is an evidence-based family program that targets at-risk, first-time mothers during their pregnancy.
- Culturally and Socially Relevant—Choosing a program that is tailored to the culture and tradition of youth and families can improve recruitment, retention, and overall program efficacy. For example, the Strong African American Families program targets African American families with children from 10-14 years old.
3. Program Delivery and Implementation
The content of a program is important to consider, but so is the way the content is delivered. Trained staff and fostering good relationships are key to program success.
Evidence-based family prevention programs will:
- Foster Good Relationships—Positive and supportive relationships are more likely to lead to behavior changes and substance abuse prevention.
- Establish Trust—Establishing trust is important, and participants should not be expected to share sensitive personal information until trust has been established.
- Have Highly-Qualified Staff—Employees or volunteers in these programs should be trained and committed to establishing trust, being non-judgmental, and upholding confidentiality agreements.
4. Program Assessment and Quality Assurance
Programs should be evaluated regularly, and any new research or developments should inspire change within the curriculum.
Evidence-based family prevention programs should be:
- Evaluated Efficiently—Programs should be evaluated at the appropriate times using the right tools and scientific methods.
- Implemented with Fidelity—Staff and volunteers should maintain consistency within each program’s procedures.
- Well-Documented—Program procedures should be well-documented so that outcomes can be clearly monitored.
Getting Substance Use Support for Your Family
Family-based prevention programs give parents and youth tools to foster a positive parent/child relationship before substance use and addiction. By supporting youth to develop an understanding of the importance of making good choices and empowering parents and families to take preventive actions, family-based prevention can help reduce the risk of substance addiction.
If your child is already showing signs of substance abuse disorder and you’d like to learn more about the process of a family intervention, please head on over to my site to learn how we can help.
Experienced Chief Executive Addiction Recovery and Mental Health Professional
Business professional in the Addiction Recovery and Mental Health industry for the past 26 years. Caring, compassionate and strongly motivated to make a difference in the organizations I am affiliated with and welfare of the population we serve. Currently focused on advocating, educating and developing projects leveraging evidence based, real time technology to support individuals in recovery.