Prevention is a broad term used in public health to support the health and well-being of people by preventing problems before they start.
Coalitions like ours work on prevention by supporting and promoting events, policies, educational curricula, information, and activities for youth, families, and professionals that help to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors.
How do Risk and Protective Factors Affect Health?
Risk factors are things that increase the likelihood that someone will have a negative health outcome like develop a disease, have an accident, or start using alcohol and drugs at an early age. Protective factors reduce the likelihood of a negative health outcome and support good mental and physical health. There are multiple risk and protective factors for each type of disease or other health-related concern.
Some examples of risk and protective factors: For diabetes and heart disease, one risk factor is lack of access to healthy, nutritious food. You can probably guess that access to healthy, nutritious food and regular exercise are protective factors! For youth substance use, one risk factor is easy access to alcohol and other drugs. Protective factors include opportunities for positive social activities at school and in the community, caring and involved parents/caregivers, and social-emotional skills. Some risk and protective factors are really interesting and even surprising. Learn more about risk and protective factors here.
Why is preventing (and reducing) youth substance use so important?
Adolescence is a time of rapid brain development. Drugs and alcohol can harm the developing brain in ways that have long-term consequences for our young people’s physical and mental health, ability to learn, and their futures, well into adulthood. As adults who care about young people, we have a responsibility to protect kids and teenagers and to do everything we can to ensure that they have healthy lives.
We don’t want a young person’s challenges to “boil over” into substance use. We know how to prevent a pot from boiling over on the stove: we can turn down the heat, add some cool water, move the pot away from the flame, and make sure that the pot isn’t too full when we put it on the stove in the first place!
Preventing youth substance use is similar in some important ways. Research is clear – effective prevention is a community issue, not something that is up to one child or teen. What wholesome ingredients are important to support in our community? How can we reduce stress and turn down the heat in a child’s life? How can we start early to prevent substance use problems in the future?
Youth Substance Use Prevention is the science of protecting young people’s health by supporting the whole community through:
- Providing education for parents and other important adults in kids’ lives
- Advocating for policies that reduce the likelihood that a young person will have access to alcohol and drugs
- Fostering an environment in which young people have the skills and support they need to thrive
- Health equity and racial justice work
- Youth leadership Initiatives
- Changing systems to create communities, laws, and norms that are supportive of the health of young people. For example, having community events that are not focused on drinking. These are also great for families and people in recovery.
- School-based prevention programs, like LifeSkills Training, and supporting school-connectedness.
But prevention is more than just that! Most public health prevention efforts work by supporting health and well-being, not just preventing problems, so prevention leads to happier, healthier, more connected individuals and communities.
Supporting the emotional and physical health of young people expands their opportunities for the rest of their lives. Preventing problems like substance use and violence keeps doors open for them.
Our coalitions focus on youth substance use prevention and violence prevention. Both of these types of prevention can be done in many of the same ways, because creating a healthier environment for kids, teens, and families is what works the best for both.