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What is Prevention?

Just as with other public health problems, alcohol and drug abuse and dependency can be effectively averted through preventive interventions. The goal of prevention services is to reduce risk factors and promote protective factors to deter the onset of use, reduce the length of time that early signs of substance abuse continue, and to halt the progression of substance abuse from becoming chemical dependency or addiction.

Researchers have known for some time that certain conditions in the lives of children and adolescents make it more likely or less likely that they will use alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. These conditions are known as RISK FACTORS such as:

  • Poverty

  • Failure to achieve in school

  • Parents or caregivers who are substance abusers or addicted

  • Genetic and biological factors

​Researchers have also noted that certain characteristics appear to protect children from circumstances that could other wise lead them to engage in substance abuse and other self destructive behaviors. These characteristics are known as PROTECTIVE FACTORS such as:

  • Having a sense of safety and positive support from a variety of caring persons

  • Belief in one’s self and the ability to adapt to change

  • Having a sense of spirituality

  • Experiencing academic and social successes

Prevention services can be described as Universal, Selective or Indicated. These approaches are based on the people the service is attempting to reach. The most successful prevention occurs when multiple strategies are implemented within families, schools, neighborhoods and communities.


Universal prevention reaches the general population such as all 6th graders, all pregnant women, or all Austinites. Strategies used include media campaigns, drug and alcohol education and awareness, community mobilization.

Selective prevention targets at risk groups or subsets of the general population such as children of drug users or poor school achievers. Strategies used include life skills training, mentoring, student/peer assistance, parent/family skills training.

Indicated prevention is designed for people who are already experimenting with drugs or who exhibit other risk-related behaviors. Strategies include problem identification and referral, counseling, family care management, crisis intervention.

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