School-based drug and alcohol prevention: What works?

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This resource has undergone expert review.

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School-based drug prevention: What works?

When selecting resources or programs to use in your classroom, it is important to consider the “evidence base” (e.g. research) that informed development of the resources and shows whether they will be effective. To guide your resource selection, we have provided an overview of what the current evidence tells us about what works, and what doesn’t work.

What works?

  • School-based interventions based on social influence and/or skills development (e.g. refusal skills, problem-solving) are helpful for reducing alcohol and drug use.
  • There are a number of multi-component programs that have been developed and tested in the Australian context and shown to reduce alcohol and/or drug use (e.g., OurFuturesSHAHRP). In our Recommended Programs section, you will find a full list of programs that have been tested in schools and found to be effective in preventing alcohol and/or drug use.
  • There is some evidence that interactive teaching is more effective than passive teaching methods, although additional research to investigate this question is needed. 

What doesn’t work?

  • There is no evidence that scare-tactics or presentations by speakers with lived experience of drug and alcohol dependence are effective.
  • There is no evidence that unstructured, dialogue-based sessions are effective.

What's uncertain?

There is limited evidence available about the longer-term benefits of prevention programs. Some international studies have demonstrated that prevention programs delivered in secondary schools have benefits in terms of reduced substance use up to 9.5 years after program delivery.

In Australia, the long-term benefits into adulthood of school-based prevention programs is currently under investigation. However, we do know that there is evidence of benefits (reduced alcohol use and related harms) associated with both universal (OurFutures) and selective (Preventure) programs for at least 3 years following program delivery.

What does evidence-based mean?

To say that a resource is “evidence-based” is to say that it is informed or supported by evidence. The evidence that supports a particular resource may take different forms.

In the case of the factsheets listed on Positive Choices, “evidence-based” means that the information provided in these factsheets comes from a reliable information source and is backed by research studies. For example, the "Party Drugs"/MDMA/Ecstasy factsheet was developed by a leading research institute (National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre). To develop the factsheet, researchers conducted a review of published research studies reporting on the patterns of use, effects and harms associated with the drug ecstasy. This means we can be confident that the information is fact-based and accurate.

School-based prevention programs
In the case of a school-based prevention programs, “evidence-based” means that the benefits of the program have been tested in a research study. For example, the OurFutures Alcohol & Cannabis module is an evidence-based prevention program, because it has been tested and shown to have benefits in a randomised controlled trial. A randomised controlled trial is a study in which roughly half of the participants are randomly allocated to receive the program being tested (in this case, OurFutures), and the others are randomly allocated to receive a comparison program (in this case, standard drug education for NSW schools). By randomly allocating participants and comparing different approaches, this type of study design provides strong evidence. In this example we can say OurFutures is an evidence-based program because students who received the program drank less and used cannabis less over the follow-up period compared to students who received standard drug education.

The evidence-base for resources is important, as this helps us to judge how reliable and effective the resource is. To help you evaluate the resources listed on the Positive Choices portal, we provide information about who developed the resources (under "Developers"), and the evidence that supports the resource (under "Evidence Base"). We also provide an “Evidence Rating” as a shortcut to help users assess the strength of the evidence supporting each resource.

Evidence Base

This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at the University of Sydney, the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, and the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University.

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