Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention

Risk Factors

Risk factors are characteristics that occur statistically more often for those who develop alcohol and other drug problems, either as adolescents or as adults. Recent research points to a considerable number of such factors, including individual, family, and social/cultural characteristics.

Community Environment:

Living in an economically depressed area with:

  • High unemployment
  • Inadequate housing
  • High prevalence of crime
  • High prevalence of illegal drug use

Minority Status Involving:

  • Racial discrimination
  • Culture devalued in American society
  • Differing generational levels of assimilation
  • Cultural and language barriers to getting adequate health care and other social services
  • Low educational levels
  • Low achievement expectations from society

Family Environment:

  • Alcohol and other drug dependency of parent(s)
  • Parental abuse and neglect of children
  • Antisocial, sexually deviant, or mentally ill parents
  • High levels of family stress, including financial strain
  • Large, overcrowded family
  • Unemployed or underemployed parents
  • Parents with little education
  • Socially isolated parents
  • Single female parent without family/other support
  • Family instability
  • High level of marital and family conflict and/or family violence
  • Parental absenteeism due to separation, divorce, or death
  • Lack of family rituals
  • Inadequate parenting and little parent/child contact
  • Frequent family moves

Constitutional Vulnerability of the Child:

  • Child of an alcohol or other drug abuser
  • Less than 2 years between the child and its older/younger siblings
  • Birth defects, including possible neurological and neurochemical dysfunctions
  • Neuropsychological vulnerabilities
  • Physical disabilities
  • Physical or mental health problems
  • Learning disabilities

Early Behavior Problems:

  • Aggressiveness combined with shyness
  • Aggressiveness
  • Decreased social inhibition
  • Emotional problems
  • Inability to express feelings appropriately
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Problems with relationships
  • Cognitive problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficult temperament
  • Overreacting

Adolescent Problems:

  • School failure and dropout
  • At risk of dropping out
  • Delinquency
  • Violent acts
  • Gateway drug use
  • Other drug use and abuse
  • Early unprotected sexual activity
  • Teen pregnancy/parenthood
  • Unemployed or underemployed
  • At risk of being unemployed
  • Mental health problems
  • Suicidal

Negative Adolescent Behavior and Experiences:

  • Lack of bonding to society (family, school, and community)
  • Rebelliousness and nonconformity
  • Resistance to authority
  • Strong need for independence
  • Cultural alienation
  • Fragile ego
  • Feelings of failure
  • Present versus future orientation
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inability to form positive close relationships.
  • Vulnerability to negative peer pressure

Risk factors are only indicators for the potential of problem occurrence. While they can be helpful in identifying children who are vulnerable to developing alcohol or other drug problems, they are not necessarily predicative for an individual child. Children growing up under adverse conditions often mature into healthy, well-functioning adults. In addition, the use of risk factors to label children poses its own risk. Consequently, there is increasing attention on those factors which seem to protect children from developing alcohol or other drug problems.

There are no simple solutions for helping youth at high risk for developing alcohol or other drug problems. Reducing risk factors and fostering resiliency are part of a comprehensive approach to prevention and are consistent with a public health approach to reducing problems.

Source: Breaking New Ground for Youth at Risk: Program Summaries. OSAP Technical Report 1 (1990) BK163