Giving teens life skills plus information looks a promising combination in preventing substance misuse

When it comes to encouraging youngsters to make healthy lifestyle choices and to resist the temptations of addictive and harmful substances such as tobacco, drugs and alcohol, schools can play a vital role. But how can they best do that?

An appraisal of a systematic review on school-based marijuana and alcohol prevention programmes targeting ten to fifteen year olds has been prepared by health-evidence ca., based at McMaster University in Canada. The review compared the effectiveness of school-based programmes which were knowledge-based interventions, providing information only, and comprehensive programmes, which taught refusal, self-management and social skills alongside giving information.

Health Evidence rates the review as high quality and notes that the review is based on six studies of good methodological quality. However, it is also noted that all studies relied on self-report data for measuring alcohol and marijuana use and no studies took into account other ‘confounding’ factors such as age or gender.

Health Evidence makes these key points:

  • Comprehensive programmes were more effective than knowledge-only programmes in reducing alcohol use (mean reduction of 12 days alcohol use/month compared with 2 days/month)
  • Comprehensive programmes resulted in a mean reduction in marijuana use of 7 days/month
  • A single study of a knowledge-only programme showed a reduction in marijuana use of 25 days/month
  • Programmes that include the development of life skills, refusal skills and self-management skills are preferable to knowledge-only programmes to reduce alcohol and marijuana use
  • Public health and school officials should promote and support school-based, comprehensive programmes lasting over a year for this age group, aimed at preventing alcohol and marijuana use

If you’re interested in keeping up with research on tackling substance misuse, do follow my cousin The Mental Elf, as he often blogs about the latest research and guidance on this important topic. The Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol Group is always hard at work, too, producing high quality systematic reviews in this area of healthcare, and you can find their reviews listed here.


DeCorby K, McRae L, Dobbins M. (2012) School-based marijuana and alcohol prevention programs targeting adolescents aged 10-15: Evidence and implications for public health. Hamilton, ON: McMaster University. (PDF)

Lemstra M, Bennett N, Nannapaneni U, Neudorf C, Warren L, Kershaw T, Scott C. A systematic review of school-based marijuana and alcohol prevention programs targeting adolescents aged 10–15. Addiction Research & Theory, 2010, 18(1):84-96.

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Sarah Chapman

My name is Sarah Chapman. I have worked on systematic reviews and other types of research in many areas of health for the past 17 years, for the Cochrane Collaboration and for several UK higher education institutions including the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Nursing Institute. I also have a background in nursing and in the study of the History of Medicine.

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