PROSPER Program Improves Substance Abuse Rates Among Children

One age group that seems particularly susceptible to drug use are middle school children. This is often the time when curiosity and experimentation take place, and a key point of early intervention if drug use is to be avoided. In an effort to make a large impact on this at-risk population, experts in the field came together to develop a program called, PROSPER. PROSPER (PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience). And a recent study shows that this type of programming is proving successful in deterring children from using harmful substances that could lead to addiction later on in life.

“Prevention programs like PROSPER can help delay the experimentation with substances at an early age. And, now, with this latest research, we see more positive outcomes for these kids as they enter adulthood, which hopefully will carry over into more positive long-term outcomes in terms of parenting and career success,” said Janet Welsh, coordinator for the Pennsylvania PROSPER team. The idea behind PROSPER is that community and family interventions among younger people can intercept a child before drugs really become a problem. This is often done by connecting schools and communities with trained PROSPER interventionist teams that can help mediate situations.

And, according to the study, this is working. Research shows that there has been a 41% decrease in lifetime use of methamphetamine among 19-year-olds, 30% reduction of marijuana and cocaine use, and a 20% decrease in prescription painkiller use.

Additionally, the researchers were able to see conclude that the earlier a child gets involved with PROSPER, the more likely they are to maintain a life free from illicit substances. This is also the case with drug use – the earlier a child uses drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction as they age. With the success of the this program, it is likely that communities all over the country will look to adopt this methodology, which focuses on communities coming together with families to protect youth against the dangers of drug addiction.

Extreme Side Effects of Synthetic Drugs Among Adolescents

One population that has been greatly affected by the rising popularity of synthetic drugs, specifically synthetic marijuana, is adolescents. This is likely due to the fact that young people can often obtain the substances without going to a drug dealer, they are (falsely) perceived as being safer than street drugs and there is very little education on the dangers of these types of compounds. In an effort to combat this trend, a group of researchers has published a study that examines and highlights the grave dangers of using such drugs, especially on the developing brain of an adolescent.

One of the important factors of this study was that it was a longitudinal study. This means that the 964 high school students that were interviewed about their drug use, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms and any other emotional or physical ailment was conducted again on the same students a year later. This type of study allowed the researchers to document the changes, if any, that were being reported.

They found that students who exhibited depressive symptoms appeared to be more likely to gravitate towards the use of synthetic marijuana. This was important information because educators, health care officials and parents can learn to spot indicators before a child resorts to synthetic marijuana use. Preventing experimentation and abuse of this drug is vital because the side effects of synthetic marijuana are extreme. Suicidal thoughts and ideations, seizures, strokes, paranoia, extreme anxiety and depression are all common among young people who use these drugs.

And while the outcome of the study was to highlight the dangers of synthetic marijuana use, the researchers did not set out to make this the focus of their work. “Substance use is one of the risk factors that we were particularly interested in studying, and of course, we think alcohol, drug use and other mental health outcomes are important to examine in their own right. Over time, we became aware of synthetic cannabinoid use in adolescents and decided that it was critical to add that variable to our research as well,” explained Gregory Stuart, co-author of the study and psychology professor at The University of Texas.

Memories May be Clue to Future Drug Abuse Tendencies

In order to determine some of the common factors in adolescent drug use and abuse, researchers gathered data from 387 young adults. The group was compiled eight years ago, and monitored through surveys, until they were 18-20 years-old. The researchers, working with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, were able to track potential risk factors that make it more likely a teenager will use drugs more heavily than others.

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of this long-term study was the influence of working memory on drug use potential among adolescents. Working memory is a term used to describe the ability to concentrate on a task without being easily distracted. The researchers in this study found that the participants who had poor working memories were much more likely to experiment with drugs in the future, and also more likely to develop drug addiction problems. They noted that the children with above average working memories were much less likely to develop drug abuse problems in the future. This information is new to the health community and raises a lot of questions regarding current drug education and treatment solutions.

“Unanswered in our earlier work was whether it was specific forms of early use that predict later substance abuse. People really hadn’t focused on the heterogeneity of drug-use patterns. Some youths can start early and experiment but not progress while others experiment and progress into heavier drug use,” explained Atika Khurana, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at the University of Oregon.

The researchers pointed out that current drug prevention strategies target all youths. It is common to communicate that any drug use will lead to a drug addiction, but researchers point out that this is not true, and a much more effective way of educating young people on the dangers of drugs is to tailor the material to specific needs. For instance, if a teacher has a classroom full of students with above average working memories then a drug prevention talk may be more focused on limiting experimentations and effective ways of staying safe. While a teacher with a classroom of students with poor working memories may be helped more by a talk with a stronger focus on the dangers of abuse.

The continued examination of drug use and abuse among youths is vital in developing effective prevention curriculum as well as effective treatment solutions.

Key in Avoiding Teen Drug Use is Support

As children get older, many parents begin to worry about the potential for underage drinking, drug experimentation and other temptations brought about by spending more time with peers. Teenagers are often susceptible to the pressures of fitting in, and parents are often presented with the problem of keeping their child safe from drugs and alcohol, while still maintaining a relationship where the child feels safe to talk and bring up concerns about their life. This fine line is difficult to walk, but a recent study may provide some parents with answers on how better to achieve this.

The journal Addictive Behaviors recently published a study that shows that the more openly negative a parent is towards drugs, the less likely it is that their child will experiment with drugs. In fact, this is so powerful that sometimes it works on friends of children who have more authoritative parents. For instance, if a child has a friend whose parents are very authoritative and open about their disapproval of drugs, that child is less likely to use drugs, even though they are not even his parents.

Researchers also found that parents that do not express their disapproval for drugs are more likely to have a child that is willing to experiment with drugs. Sometimes it is difficult for parents to express their disapproval because they are preoccupied, depressed or struggling with their own drug issues. But, the researchers point out that this has a major effect on children, especially in their decision-making when it comes to future drug use.

“Depending on how long something like that lasts, that would set the child up to feel hungry for affection, attention, approval and acknowledgment; all the kinds of emotional nurturance that children rely on parents to provide. If that’s missing, then that child is going to be and feel deprived,” commented John Bachman, Ph.D., licensed psychologist.

This study underscores the fact that parents are the first people a child will imitate, even before their peers. In fact, children whose parents do abuse drugs are three to four times more likely to abuse drugs as well. Children who have parents that are more authoritative when it comes to drug use have their chances for using drugs reduced by 57%

Access To Drugs And Alcohol Makes Substance Abuse More Likely

adolescent substance abuse journalInformation from 15,000 adolescents was gathered and analyzed before researchers determined that children are more likely to engage in substance abuse if they grew up in homes where alcohol or drugs were readily available. Researchers at Michigan State University were able to conclude that ease of access is a powerful indicator of future drug use, which is an important distinction from children that grow up in households where one or more family members are addicts.

“While there have been many studies linking alcohol and drug use by parents to substance use among youths, there is limited research on how the availability of alcohol and drugs in the home may influence patterns of use among offspring in the future,” explained the researchers. This means that while parents may not necessarily be alcoholics, if a child grows up in a home where wine and beer are always around, they are more likely to suffer from alcohol dependency issues than children who grew up in homes with no alcohol.

The initial data was gathered as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Researchers at Michigan State University were able to analyze information gathered from the same subjects at ages 16, 22 and 29 years old. This allowed them to track how early influences may or may not have influenced them later on in life. The results were published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse.

Further examination of the study participants showed that white males were especially susceptible to this phenomenon. The data showed that males were more likely to abuse illicit drugs if they grew up in homes where illicit drugs were present. Additionally, the researchers noted that Asian and Hispanic minors were more likely to be around illicit drugs and/or alcohol, but white children were more likely to develop addictions later on in life. More research needs to be done to figure out exactly why this occurs.

Researchers are hopeful that parents of young children will take this new research seriously. Ensuring that children grow up in an environment where drug and alcohol consumption is not the norm will have a positive effect on their future.