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Program Curbs Teen Substance Abuse, Delinquency

Prevention efforts focused on the community pay off, study finds

MONDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) Substance abuse and delinquent behavior among teens was significantly reduced in communities that tried a university-designed prevention program, a new study found.

The Communities That Care prevention system, employed in a dozen small and mid-size towns in seven states, slashed alcohol use by eighth graders by nearly a quarter, binge drinking by 37 percent and smokeless tobacco use almost in half, according to the findings to be published Sept. 7 in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

"This study shows we can prevent adolescent risk behaviors community wide by using this system," lead author and co-developer of the program, J. David Hawkins, founding director of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a university news release.

Municipalities in the prevention program were instructed on risk factors that could lead to local substance abuse and behavioral problems among teens and then trained in how to run effective programs for managing these threats. Each community was paired with another of similar size and makeup that did not receive the training to compare success at handing the issues.

In tracking more than 4,400 teens, the ongoing five-year study found that use of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, inhalants, marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs and other illicit drugs dropped over time. Most notably, binge drinking -- consumption of at least five alcoholic beverages in one sitting -- was lower among eighth graders in the communities using the program than those who did not adopt it.

"We know kids who drink that way are at risk for developing alcohol abuse and dependence later. This binge drinking is occurring when children are 13 and 14 years of age, so we are actually preventing the likelihood of later alcohol problems. This is very important from a public health standpoint," Hawkins said.

Teens in the communities' program also committed 31 percent fewer acts of delinquent behavior, such as stealing or vandalism, and were notably less likely to begin smoking, drinking or causing trouble in the community between the fifth and eighth grades.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about the Communities That Care program.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, news release, Sept. 7, 2009

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