Adolescents' Perceptions of Substance Abuse Prevention Strategies

Article excerpt


As part of a 3-year evaluation of substance abuse prevention strategies (Harding, Safer, Kavanagh, Bania, Carty, Lisnov, & Wysockey, 1996), this study examined the perceptions of 719 sixth- through ninth-grade Chicago public school students. School-based programs were rated as significantly more effective on six prevention objectives than were television ads, testimonials by famous people, billboards, and print ads displayed on public transportation. Students perceived the two school-based programs, Project DARE (a national program conducted through local police departments) and Captain Clean (an intense live theater program coordinated with student participation), as being equally effective overall, although the interactive theater program was rated as significantly better at encouraging students to talk about their feelings concerning substance abuse issues and at relating to the students' ethnic/racial backgrounds. When students were categorized according to frequency of alcohol use, nonusers, infrequent u sers, and frequent users differed significantly in their ratings of the school-based programs.


Experimentation with alcohol and other drugs is no longer characteristic of only a small proportion of youth; rather, it has become the norm among the current generation of American adolescents (Schinke, Botvin, & Orlandi, 1991). It appears that adolescents may even perceive drug experimentation as a "transition" to maturity (Jessor & Jessor, 1980). Awareness of the extensiveness of substance use has led to numerous attempts at prevention, particularly in schools. Evaluation of prevention programs indicates that improvement in knowledge and some attitude change may occur; however, there is little evidence that these programs serve to actually reduce or eliminate drug use (Bangert-Drowns, 1988). This lack of evidence of program effectiveness may be due to at least two factors: the complexity of risk factors leading to adolescent substance abuse (Beman, 1995) and the difficulty of evaluating prevention programs.

Most research on substance abuse prevention strategies has employed pretest-posttest designs to identify changes in either knowledge, attitude, or behavior, or some combination of the three. While these designs indicate that prevention strategies are producing only limited change, the findings provide little information about why particular methods are not successful. Several studies have sought to extend our knowledge of why strategies are or are not successful by investigating participants' perceptions of what is required for preventing substance use. For example, Blount and Dembo (1984) and Schwartz (1991) examined adolescents' perceptions of the effectiveness of prevention strategies regarding such outcomes as learning the consequences of drug use, improving decision-making skills, and learning ways to "say no to drugs."

The present study examined junior and senior high school students' perceptions of prevention strategies currently used in Chicago. Two school-based programs were assessed: Project DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a national program involving police officers, and Captain Clean, a musical theater program followed by an interactive discussion and role-playing session (Safer & Harding, 1993). In addition, four public approaches were included for the students' evaluation: television ads, testimonials by famous people, billboards, and print ads displayed on public transportation.

The theoretical framework employed in this study is based on problem behavior theory (Jessor & Jessor, 1980). Jessor and Jessor have posited that an individual's proclivity for problem behavior, such as substance abuse, depends on the interaction of personality, perception of the environment, and repertoire of behaviors. For each of these, there are variables that are proximal, or more powerfully related (e.g., peer support of the problem behavior), and those that are distal, or indirectly related to the problem behavior (e. …


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