Canadian researchers believe early intervention for behavioral problems can reduce or prevent substance use in adolescence.
The new study found that delivering a comprehensive two-year intervention program to disruptive kindergarten children from low socioeconomic backgrounds resulted in significant reduction in substance abuse throughout adolescence.
Alcohol and drug use are highly prevalent and problematic among young people, and the link between childhood behavior problems and adolescent substance misuse is well-recognized.
As reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Canadian researchers set out to examine whether a two-year prevention program in childhood could stop substance misuse problems in later life.
One hundred seventy two (172) boys with disruptive behaviors participated in the study. They all came from low socio-economic backgrounds, and were a subsample from the Montreal Longitudinal and Experimental Study of Low SES boys, a kindergarten cohort which was initiated in 1984.
Forty-six (46) boys and their parents took part in the two-year intervention program, when they were aged between 7 and 9 years old.
The program included social skills training for the boys at school with an emphasis on promoting self-control and reducing impulsivity and antisocial behavior.
Parental training was also provided to help parents recognize problematic behaviors in their boys and to learn how to set clear objectives and reinforce appropriate behaviors.
A further forty-two (42) boys received no intervention and acted as the control group.
The remaining 84 boys were assigned to an intensive observation group, which differed from the controls in that their families were visited in their homes by researchers, attended a half-day laboratory testing session, and were observed at school.
All the boys were followed up until the age of 17, to assess their use of drugs and alcohol.
The researchers found that levels of drug and alcohol use across adolescence were lower in those boys who received the intervention. The reduction in substance use continued through the boys’ early adolescence right up to the end of their time at high school.
Researcher Natalie Castellanos-Ryan, Ph.D., said: “Our study shows that a two-year intervention aimed at key risk factors in disruptive kindergarten boys from low socioeconomic environments can effectively reduce substance use behaviors in adolescence — not only in early adolescence but up to the end of high school, eight years post-intervention.
“This finding is noteworthy because the effects are stronger and longer-lasting than for most substance use interventions that have been studied before.”
Researchers believe the intervention was effective because boys’ impulsivity and antisocial behavior during pre-adolescence (between the ages of 11 and 13) was significantly reduced.
The study suggests that by selectively targeting disruptive behaviors in early childhood, substance use behaviors in later life may be reduced with better long-term outcomes (without having to address substance abuse directly).
“More research is now needed to examine how these effects can generalize to girls and other populations, and to explore aspects related to the cost/benefit of this type of intervention,” says Castellanos-Ryan.
Source: University of Montreal