Addiction Prevention is About the Same as Recovery

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

We spend ample time opining on how addiction treatment can be improved.  We don’t talk as often about what helps prevent addictive problems in the first place.  Interestingly, what helps people overcome addictive problems is essentially the same as what helps prevent addictive problems.  In this article we’ll take a look at what helps prevent addiction, and of course, toss in a few sarcasm-laden critiques of some of the traditional prevention methods.  

If only addiction prevention was as easy as trying to terrify children about how bad drugs are so they just say no.  DARE programs, just say no, scared straight, and hateful propaganda campaigns encouraging and promoting harmful addiction stigma awaken kids to the possibilities of drug use more than they prevent experimentation.  

If what we’ve done to prevent addiction thus far in the United States had the opposite of the desired effect, what actually helps prevent addiction?  Key protective factors in the prevention of addictive problems include personal successes in academics, occupation, and/or relationships, self-efficacy, problem-solving, and a positive view of self, amongst others.  With a breadth of quality relationships people are much more likely to view themselves in a positive light and far less likely to develop addictive problems.

Prevention strategies that aim to improve problem-solving and social skills, self-control, and self-esteem are more effective than scare tactics and training in refusal skills.  Refusal skills training has been shown to have less than desirable outcomes on adolescents.  Scare tactics are notorious for exaggerating the negatives of substance use.  Exaggerating negatives undermines credibility and trust. 

Teaching and modeling self-regulated use (rather than pretending like nobody uses drugs) gives children an example to follow as they develop their own relationship with drugs.  We know that modeling is a highly effective teacher, so it makes logical sense that a child with a model of responsible drinking is more likely to learn to effectively self-regulate alcohol and avoid addictive problems.  Trusting relationships help children develop the aforementioned protective factors against addiction, and those same protective factors are key to helping people overcome addictive problems.