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Research Abstracts

Implementation and impact of a family-based substance abuse prevention program in rural communities

Abbey, A., Pilgrim, C., Hendrickson, P., Lorenz, S.
The Journal of Primary Prevention, Vol. 18, No. 3


A family-based alcohol, tobacco, and other drug abuse prevention program was evaluated. The program targeted families with students entering middle or junior high school. The goals of the program were to increase resiliency and protective factors including family cohesion, communication skills, school attachment, peer attachment, and appropriate attitudes about alcohol and tobacco use by adolescents. The Families In Action program is a structured program which includes six 2-hour sessions, offered once a week for six consecutive weeks to parents and youth. The program was offered to all eligible families in eight rural school districts. Families who chose to participate began the program with lower scores on several protective factors as compared to nonparticipating families. Analyses of covariance controlling for initial differences found several positive effects of program participation at the one year follow-up. The results were strongest for boys. These finding suggest that providing parent and youth with similar communication skills can be an effective approach to substance abuse prevention.


The concept of "Checkpoint Parent Education" was contained in the 1986 document "Mental Disability Prevention in Michigan." This effort was based on the philosophy that there are developmental phases in the life of a family when parents are most in need of and most willing to seek out parenting information and support. These checkpoints are when children are born, when they enter kindergarten, when they enter junior high or middle school and when they enter high school. The first checkpoint program implemented by the AuSable Valley Community Mental Health Services agency (AVCMH), in cooperation with participating schools and county human services councils, was titled "ABC's for Parents: Assuring Better Children." It was developed in 1989 to address family prevention issues as children enter kindergarten. Based upon the success of that program, AVCMH implemented the Middle School Checkpoint Parenting Program entitled "Families in ActionÑMeeting the Challenge of Junior High and Middle School" (FIA), with funding from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. In cooperation with participating schools, FIA was designed to meet the substance use prevention needs of families as children enter the adolescent years. The current article describes the underlying theory behind the FIA program, its structure and research supporting this approach.


Numerous theories have been developed to explain adolescent substance use (Kandel, 1980; Needle, Lavee, Su, Brown, & Doherty, 1988; Newcomb, Maddahian, Skager, & Bentler, 1987; Rhodes & Jason, 1990; Simons, Conger, & Whitbeck, 1988). Hawkins and Lam (1987) argued that a variety of adolescent delinquent behaviors, including substance use, are best explained through a social developmental model which emphasizes the critical role of family, school, and peers in adolescent development. As they mature, youths sequentially "bond" or "attach" to parents, school, and peers. Positive familial attachment encourages bonding with school and prosocial peers. These positive bonds with family, school, and peers, in turn, encourage prosocial behavior and discourage substance use and delinquency (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992).

Hawkins, Catalano, Jones and Fine (1987) suggested that parents can be trained to modify the behavior of their children. By increasing parents' skills, parent training can increase school achievement, decrease problem behavior, build the capacity of the family to solve problems, and reduce juvenile crime. By creating successful opportunities for children to interact within the family, setting clear expectations for their children, and in practicing consistent and contingent family management, parents can positively influence their child's behavior. Hawkins et al. (1992) suggested that children raised in families with low communication and involvement between parents and children are at high risk for later delinquency and drug use. In contrast, positive family relationships appear to discourage youths' initiation into drug use.

The FIA program was built upon the research by Hawkins and colleagues described above. The FIA program includes modules addressing parent/child communication, positive behavior management, interpersonal relationships for adolescents, and factors which promote school success. Each of these components is designed to increase the attachment between youths and their family, school, and peers.

The FIA program was developed to provide students with more than information about the negative social and physical effects of substance abuse. The focus was on teaching a combination of general life skills and social resistance skills and providing opportunities to practice these skills (Abbey, Oliansky, Stilianos, Hohlstein, & Kaczynski, 1990; Botvin, Baker, Dusenbury, Botvin, & Diaz, 1995; Botvin & Botvin, 1992). In addition, the FLA program targeted the entire family, as suggested by Hawkins and colleagues (1987). Another facet of the program was to make families aware of community and school resources which could provide additional assistance if necessary.

The decision to target all families in the specified age group was based upon research conducted by Hawkins et al. (1987). They suggested that if only high-risk families are singled out for intervention, there will be a stigma attached to program participation. his stigmatization will reduce the program's ability to attract families in need of assistance. In addition, the inclusion of well-functioning families in the program provides high-risk families with models of desirable family interaction and communication.


The goals of the FIA program were to increase resiliency and protective factors within high-risk youths and their parents in order to reduce the likelihood that youths would use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATODs). Specifically, the FLA program sought to significantly increase amongst participating students: 1) positive attachment to their family; 2) positive attachment to their school; 3) positive attachment to their peers; 4) willingness to talk with counselors when needed; and 5) appropriate attitudes toward the use of ATODs by minors. For parents, the goals were to increase: 1) positive attachment to their family; 2) time spent in enjoyable family activities; 3) involvement in their child's school; 4) willingness to talk to family or school counselors when needed; and 5) appropriate attitudes toward the use of ATODs by minors. It was hypothesized that those students and parents who participated in the FIA program would show greater increases in these domains over the course of a year as compared to a group of nonparticipating students and parents.

A few substance abuse prevention programs have found differential effects for boys and girls (Moskowitz, Schaps, Schaeffer, & Mahin, 1984), thus gender differences in program effectiveness were considered.

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Rev. 3/06