It’s called Preventure, and it works.
Created by Patricia Conrod, professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal, the new antidrug program for middle schoolers has been tested in Canada, Australia, Great Britain and the Netherlands. All studies published on the results show Preventure to be an effective program for reducing addiction risk in school kids.
By no means is Preventure the first of its kind. You may remember the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program from middle school. You may even remember the infamous response from Nancy Reagan regarding peer pressure to use drugs: “Just say no!” Well, not only has Preventure shown itself to be far more effective than either the DARE program or just saying no, studies have also shown that the DARE program (and just saying no) doesn’t work at all.
Preventure works by assessing the children’s personalities, identifying the traits that make them most at risk for drug addiction, and then intervening in a sense, teaching the students “cognitive behavioral techniques to address specific emotional and behavioral problems,” and then encouraging them to utilize these techniques, as reported by the New York Times.
Let’s take a look at why DARE programs are ineffective, and then take a more detailed look at Preventure, how it works, and how effective it already has been.
Just Saying ‘No’ isn’t Good Enough
The adolescent drug education movement began in the early 1980s, essentially with the former first lady uttering her now-famous words in 1982. The next year, DARE was launched in Los Angeles. Since then, the DARE program, along with the notion of just saying no to drugs, has reached 75% of American school districts and has been used in 43 different countries. If the program is this popular, it must work really well, right?
The DARE program consists of uniformed officers lecturing groups of school kids on the dangers of drug and alcohol use, once a week, for about an hour at a time. While noble, a study published by the US National Library of Medicine shows how “the effects of the DARE program on drug use did not vary across the studies with a less than small overall effect.”
The problem is that DARE is strictly educational. While knowing drugs are bad is good knowledge, it doesn’t prepare you for real-world situations. Preventure creates social environments where factors contributing to the likelihood of drug abuse are targeted, discussed, and then dealt with in a healthy way. The Library of Medicine study goes on to say that “the DARE program is not successful in reducing drug use among children.”
What’s worse than DARE not working? DARE making kids more likely to abuse drugs. A 2002 study showed that the program and others like it may actually increase the likelihood of substance abuse in some participants. The study found that such educational drug resistance programs “resulted in greater increases in alcohol use, cigarette use, marijuana use and multiple drug use…”
Preventure, and why it is Good Enough
Professor Conrod’s adolescent antidrug program Preventure replaces the educational approach with a psychiatry-based social approach. Here’s how it works:
Before the school year begins, teachers take a 2 or 3-day crash course in methods of therapy proven effective against psychological issues. Then, participating children take a personality test at the beginning of the year. “Months later, two 90-minute workshops – framed as a way to channel your personality toward success – are offered to the whole school, with only a limited number of slots,” as said in the Times article.
This personality test has been shown to detect up to 90% of those students at risk for substance addiction. Preventure has narrowed their focus down to four traits thought of as showing risk for substance abuse: sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety sensitivity, and hopelessness.
The school seemingly selects students at random to attend the workshops, but in reality, only those students with extreme test scores are chosen to attend. Students are assigned to whichever workshop deals with their most prevalent traits. The workshops motivate the students to understand the connection between their personalities and real-world responses. This test-taking and follow-up workshopping continues through subsequent grade levels.
Cases Where Preventure has Worked
The first study to analyze this so-called “personality-targeted cognitive-behavioral intervention” was performed in 2009 and published in the Journal of Mental Health. The researchers set out to determine if programs such as Preventure could curb alcohol-related behaviors, namely depression, panic attacks, and/or truancy. Participants aged 13 to 16 were split between (an early form of) Preventure, and no intervention at all. Those in the intervention were assessed on the four previously mentioned traits.
The results were extremely positive for those in the program. The program was found to reduce depression, panic attack frequency, truancy, and even shoplifting. The researchers ultimately concluded that the “intervention effects indicate that personality-targeted interventions designed to prevent alcohol misuse, can concurrently reduce other relevant psychological problems in youth.”
This was the first step for Preventure. It was now proven that the program helps fight psychological problems. Since the core idea of Preventure is to address such issues, a study of Preventure in action needed to be performed.
The second study to analyze Preventure’s methods occurred three years ago in London, England. This time, the objective was to “assess the 2-year impact” of Preventure in 19 different schools. The teacher training occurred, where they learned about how to effectively help those with psychological issues. Then, the 90-minute workshops were held that each focused on 1 of the 4 trigger traits.
As before, it was determined that Preventure “can have a clinically significant impact on mental health outcomes in high-risk youth over 2 years,” but this time around it was also determined that Preventure can positively impact “personality-specific intervention effects in youth most at risk for a particular problem.” In plain English, this means Preventure works.
Another study performed in 2013 put the nail in the coffin, so to speak. Published in JAMA Psychiatry, the study placed 2,600 children aged 13 or 14, from 21 British schools, into Preventure. Finally, some hard data came.
Preventure was found to reduce drinking by 29% in the schools that participated. Furthermore, among those considered high-risk, binge drinking fell by 43%. Professor Conrod, founder of Preventure, said she believes even those who did not participate in this study were positively affected, receiving less peer pressure than normal from high-risk students.
The Four Traits
The four traits identified as putting kids at risk for addiction are the most important part of Preventure. Let’s dive a little deeper into these traits and why they are linked to being at risk for substance abuse.
This is the tendency to pursue excitement. While all of us like a thrill here or there, those who exhibit sensation-seeking behavior are those who put themselves at risk in order to experience excitement. Sensation-seeking people tend to be unpredictable, thrill-seeking, fun-loving people who enjoy the unfamiliar. As stated in the Times article, sensation-seeking “raises addiction risk for the obvious reason that people drawn to intense experience will probably like drugs.”
Defined as the inability to resist a certain action, impulsivity can lead to risky behaviors. Research has shown that those who regularly abuse substances exhibit signs of impulsiveness, and the more substances abused the more impulsive the abuser. Impulsiveness is also directly linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and those with ADHD are three times more at risk to abuse substances.
A mouthful at nine syllables, anxiety sensitivity is defined as awareness and fear of the physical signs of anxiety. Think of it as the fear of fear. For example, worrying intensely about getting the shakes due to anxiety would be an example of high anxiety sensitivity. It’s almost like emotional hypochondria. Using drugs as a self-medication is common among those with high anxiety sensitivity.
Also, anxiety sensitivity is linked to panic attacks, which if you remember, are helped by the workshops of Preventure. It is also linked to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and approximately 20% of those with PTSD suffer from a substance addiction. (The percentage jumps as high as 60% when dealing with veterans).
There is no good reason to abuse drugs, but some reasons are worse than others. Perhaps the worst reason to abuse drugs is hopelessness. Not seeing any bright side to your own life or future can be devastating, especially for a school-aged child. Hopelessness can lead to depression, and approximately 20% of those with clinical depression also suffer from a substance addiction.
Conclusion (and More about Preventure)
Although Preventure has not yet been tested here in the United States, we sure could use it. By the time American students reach their senior year, half of them have tried an illicit drug and over 70% of them have been drunk. Over 10% of all alcohol consumed in America is consumed by the underage. No matter how you calculate the statistics, this country has a lot of drug-addicted children.
If DARE doesn’t work, then why are we using it in three-quarters of our schools? If Preventure works, why haven’t we heard of it until now? To truly fight the war on drugs, we must fight the war on drug-addicted children, stopping the problem at the source. Education is simply not enough, and being told to just say no might actually imply that it’s “cooler” to say yes, in order to be accepted.
To combat drug abuse among our youth, we need to implement Preventure, a socially-integrated and evidence-based means of fixing the problems behind drug addiction. This quote, published in Scientific American sums it up well:
“…substance abuse prevention programs often educate pupils regarding the perils of drug use, teach students social skills to resist peer pressure to experiment, and help young people feel that saying no is socially acceptable. All the approaches seem sensible on the surface, so policy makers, teachers and parents typically assume they work. Yet it turns out that approaches involving social interaction work better than the ones emphasizing education.”
Watch the introductory video to Preventure below.
If you are seeking to implement Preventure, click here for details regarding program training.