Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

A National Study of Substance Abuse Prevention Professionals in Higher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

A National Study of Substance Abuse Prevention Professionals in Higher Education

Article excerpt


There is an established body of research on the effectiveness of comprehensive substance abuse prevention strategies in higher education. There is relatively little research, however, on the characteristics and job functions of prevention professionals and their effectiveness. This study was designed to examine the characteristics of professionals who offer prevention services. It examined the characteristics, training, and job functions of prevention professionals and the relationship between educational preparation and professional affiliations and the comprehensiveness of prevention services. Using multiple regression, a significant relationship was found between the number of prevention workshops and conferences that the prevention professionals attended, the number of professional certifications they held, and the subsequent comprehensiveness of programming offered by their institution. Continued research on the substance abuse prevention professional is recommended in order to better understand the effectiveness of prevention services thus finding the balance between messenger and message in prevention.


The field of prevention programming in higher education has made significant progress during the last decade. Research in this area has accelerated our knowledge of college student substance abuse prevalence rates (Meilman, 2001), the physiology of drugs, the application of social norms marketing strategies, environmental strategies, and harm reduction strategies (Higher Education Center, 2001). The research has continued to support the need for comprehensive substance abuse prevention services which offers a continuum of services to a number of populations by key stakeholders through a sound infrastructure of planning and evaluation (Anderson and Milgram, 1998; Miller, 2001; Higher Education Center, 2001; and Gonzalez, 1987).

One of the missing pieces in our knowledge about prevention effectiveness, however, is the role of the prevention professional. Despite research on education and mental health professions that indicates the importance of their training, certifications, and professional experience, the research in prevention has focused primarily on the content of the programs (Werch, Lepper, Pappas, and Castellon-Vogel, 1994). If we are to develop a comprehensive approach to researched-based prevention, one of the next steps is a strengthening of our understanding of the prevention professionals who deliver prevention programming.

The delivery of effective, comprehensive services requires a comprehensively trained and effective professional. Crippen (1983) concluded that an expert with knowledge in many subjects, including hard and soft sciences, best delivers prevention programming. Beverly Mills-Novoa (1994) conducted a qualitative study on substance abuse prevention programs at five institutions of higher education. Thirteen factors emerged as characteristics of successful programs. One of these characteristics described the effective substance abuse prevention professional as one with diverse skills, strong community ties, broad-based expertise in prevention education with special expertise in substance abuse, excellent communication skills, personal compatibility, enthusiasm, and dedicated persistent commitment. Pransky (1991) cited other qualitative characteristics of the effective prevention professional. These included possession of an indefinable spirit and commitment, a sense of collective regard, an ability to get results, and perseverance, flexibility and openness to overcoming obstacles. Komines' (1988) research suggested that substance abuse prevention professionals need to be effective leaders. This skill is echoed in the Promising Practices." Campus Alcohol Strategies Task Force Planner (Anderson and Milgram, 1998), which suggests the campus Coordinator, or substance abuse prevention professional, coordinate on- and off-campus resources, coalitions, and multiple programming efforts. …

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